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Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
Tom & Basal: Disappointing Egyptian Food in Nasr City
Trying the local cuisine is an inextricable part of exploring Cairo; you haven't completely comprehended the nature of Egyptians until you have tried the food that has been passed on from generation to generation.
Tom & Basal is a local restaurant chain that serves up traditional Egyptian food for jaw-dropping prices. Don't get this wrong; you can feed up to eight people for less than 100LE, which – given the sky-high prices of Cairo – is a bargain.
With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, tables overlook the street and customers can enjoy their meals while witnessing the hustle and bustle of Nasr City’s daily life and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Perhaps the restaurant is better suited for families with kids yelling and laughing adding to the cosiness of the atmosphere. Tom & Basal is your-run-of-the-mill, wallet-friendly but not diet-friendly restaurant.
Every table has a pre-served jar of water, which had tomato sauce smears at the time of this reviewer's visit. The water had floating black bits, which can only make you guess how many greasy-handed customers have used it. So, we decided that we weren't thirsty anymore.
Tom and Basal is famous for its koshary, which was surprisingly disappointing. Apart from the scarce presence of rice that should dominate a big chunk of a typical koshary dish, the macaroni was overcooked. For an extra 1.25LE, you can add more ta'leya (fried onion), black lentil or chickpea. You can choose from several sizes with prices starting at 4LE. Tom & Basal just proves to this reviewer that nothing beats home-cooked koshary.
With a hefty menu of savoury and sweet fiteer to choose from, in medium and large sizes, we ordered local Roumi cheese filling for our fiteer (15LE), which was cooked with green pepper, olive and chopped tomatoes. It was deliciously greasy and scrumptiously fattening – molten butter dripped as we ate.
We also tried the powdered sugar fiteer (4LE), which was immensely greasy and had us worried about our cholesterol. It smelled heavily of butter and had us dizzy with the prospect of oncoming calories. We had to literally scrape the butter off in hopes of the fiteer being more merciful on our stomachs. Although we ordered the medium-sized fiteer, it was too big for one person to polish off.
The service was relatively slow. It took about 45 minutes for our fiteer to arrive and the only thing worse than an angry customer is a hungry customer.
As for dessert, we opted out altogether. Although rice pudding with nuts (3.25LE) seemed tantalising, we couldn't risk a food coma.
As far as we know, the biggest twist on shawerma in Cairo involves pomegranate molasses; and if you’re really out-of-the-box maybe you’ll add extra cheese. Well, that’s so yesterday because Shawarmaister is taking shawerma to the next level by introducing Coleslaw shawerma and BBQ shawerma, as well as a Light shawerma.
Located on Taha Hussein Street in Zamalek, the restaurant is divided into two floors; the ground floor is for takeout and other is for dine-in. The whole place is filled with posters with seemingly irrelevant quotes and sayings like “Ma bethez el 3orosh ela El neswan wel qorosh”, which make no sense whatsoever to the concept, while the yellow ceiling is a little overwhelming compared to the otherwise demure interior. On the bright side, the couches were very comfortable and the ambiance is very chill.
We kicked things off with Kobeba (20LE) and French Fries with a Garlic sauce dip (5LE). Apart from being a bit salty, the kobeba had a crispy exterior and great amount of flavourful minced beef filling. Even though the garlic sauce had a good consistency for dipping and was delicious, the fries didn’t need a dip, because not only were they cooked perfectly and far from oily, but also had very impressive seasoning blend.
Moving to the mains, we opted for the Kofta Halabi Platter (45LE); four pieces of kofta with a side of basmati rice and a special halabi sauce that we had mixed feelings towards. The rice was light, fluffy and had a beautiful yellow colour which had us expecting exquisite flavours from the spices – but it was just bland. Meanwhile, despite bursting with flavours thanks to the seasoning, the kofta was a bit dry and overcooked. As for the special halabi sauce, the waiter mentioned that it was infused with mustard, coleslaw and has sweet and sour flavours, but it was just your typical tehina.
Of the new shawarma, we tried BBQ Shawarma Lahm sandwich (Large 22.5LE). Served in Saj bread, the mixture of beef shawarma – which was a bit chewy - caramelised onion, BBQ sauce and coleslaw created an exquisite modern twist on the classic shawarma. If you’re into sweet and savoury fusion, then this is the perfect sandwich for you.
We couldn't leave without also chicken shawarma. Served in Lebanese bread, the Shawarmaister Shawarma Djej (Regular 17.5LE) was filled to the brim with chicken, the restaurants amazing fries, pickled cucumber,and garlic sauce. With the generous amount of filling and the sharp flavours, this sandwich showed simplicity at its best.
Despite service being slow at the time of our visit, we can’t help but appreciate Shawarmaister adding twists to a classic and actually making it work. Whether you’re looking for a basic chicken or beef shawerma or something a little more out-of-the-box, there are few places better than Shawarmaister.