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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Thai Elephant: Sabai Sabai Becomes So-So Thai in Zamalek
When news spread that Cairo restaurant Sabai Sabai was closing its doors, Zamalek residents feared that they’d need to leave the island to satisfy their pad Thai and coconut milk curry cravings. However, the venue quickly reopened as the Thai Elephant. Now, Zamalek residents just need to leave the island for good Thai food.
Next to the Nile Zamalek Hotel and popular hangout Pour Vous, Thai Elephant is an eclectically decorated eatery. Although the venue has space for outdoor seating, customers are almost always urged to sit inside. While there are usually never more than a few full tables in the spacious dining room, the persistent wait staff will seat customers close together; preventing patrons from having an intimate experience at the Thai Elephant.
Customers are immediately presented with a large bottle of water (9LE) and miniature fried spring rolls as a gift from the chef. The vegetarian amuse bouche is served piping hot alongside cool sweet and sour sauce; and is sure to be one of the high points of dining at this restaurant. If you can’t get enough of this savoury starter, a full order can be had for 10LE. Appetisers include several varieties of spring rolls, fried shrimps and soups, all ranging from 10LE to 30LE. A popular Thai dish, coconut milk broth soups are available with either chicken or vegetables. While the broth itself is tasty, the added ingredients actually subtract from the soup’s quality.
Although a long list of main courses exists at Thai Elephant, we suggest sticking to the simpler dishes on offer. The vegetarian green curry (29LE) is filled with lightly fried, firm tofu and a variety of vegetables including carrots, courgettes, mushrooms and broccoli. The tofu and carrots are satisfactory, the broccoli is actually quite fresh and tasty, but the courgettes are waterlogged and the mushrooms are canned. Thankfully, the green curry sauce has a nice kick and a rich flavour. Rice is not included; so expect to pay 7LE to make a full meal out of this dish.
The shrimp pad Thai (39LE) is not the best rendition of this Thai cuisine staple. The noodles are cooked fine and the shrimp is perfectly average, but the dish lacks an overall quality of freshness and has a slightly funky smell.
Overall, this isn’t the best Thai joint in Cairo, and it is rather overpriced for the quality and quantity of food, easily reaching 250LE for a simple meal for two. Still, if you’re in the neighbourhood and need to satisfy your Thai craving quickly; Thai Elephant will nearly get the job done.
Asian cuisine seems to be on the rise in Cairo, and luckily for us, we’re huge fans of anything from-the-wok.
One of the lesser known restaurants in Maadi is Yam Yen. Maadi is no stranger to Thai cuisine, with several options to choose from should you be in the mood to eat with chopsticks, but this particular restaurant has one thing most of the others don’t; a good venue.
With a nicely landscaped garden area featuring a fountain, wooden archways and bamboo decorations, Yam Yen is a break from the overly stereotypical decorations found across all Asian restaurants—including Indian.
The interior features dim yellow lighting contrasted against dark wooden furniture, and dining areas are divided using opaque glass panels with metalwork.
We were seated indoors by a pleasant waiter and handed our menus. Featuring all the regular appetizers as well as some interesting soup options, the main courses feature red and green curries, as well as building your own stir-fried shrimp, fish, chicken, beef or vegetables main course from the wok in a sauce of your choosing.
We opted for the Tom Kha Chicken Soup (34LE) alongside Shrimp with Sweet Basil and Chili sauce (59LE) and Beef with Oyster Sauce (54LE). For the sides, we opted for a Vegetable Pad Thai (39LE), Stir-Fried Egg Noodles (39LE) and an order of Vegetable Fried Rice (19LE).
The food took a little longer than average to serve, but the soup was definitely worth the wait. Wonderfully bursting with coconut milk flavour, the Tom Kha soup, featuring pieces of tender chicken, galangal, lemon, mushroom and coriander, was the highlight of the night.
We tried different combinations of rice, noodles and pad thai with the main courses, but we found the Stir-Fried Noodles to be the weakest and most lacking in the flavour department.
While the Beef in Oyster Sauce was tasty, the portion was relatively small. The Shrimp was even smaller, consisting of exactly four pieces of shrimp in a sea of carrots and bell peppers. Both their sauces were interesting, but there just wasn’t enough of either to enjoy it for very long.
The Pad Thai was probably the tastiest, aside from the soup, featuring bean sprouts and peanuts in good non-overpowering amounts. The Fried Rice, topped with eggs and vegetables, was also quite filling and better than the average side of steamed rice.
The problem with Yam Yen isn’t the quality of food, it’s how little of it you get for so much money. The venue is clean and the service decent, but with the sides costing almost the same as the main courses, expect to either leave it hungry, or pay a hefty amount.