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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Maharaja and Zen Zen: Four-Cuisine Asian Restaurant in Maadi
There’s no shortage of Asian-inspired restaurants in Cairo. Thai, Korean, Indian or Chinese cuisines are found everywhere and Maadi is no exception. However, choices can be a double-edged sword; where picking a single place to eat can be challenging. So when we heard of an Asian restaurant in Maadi that serves four varying cuisines - essentially hitting four birds with one super hungry stone - we were instantly curious and set off to discover what it’s all about. Welcome ladies and gentlemen to Maharaja and Zen Zen.
Located on the ground floor of a residential building, the restaurant was empty – very large and very empty. The furniture was old and the walls covered with generic Asian art; the stained and ratty-looking tablecloths left much to be desired and the marble flooring looked like it hadn't seen a mop in years. It looked like a typical Chinatown restaurant and when Celine Dion began playing on the stereo, all was complete.
The menu presented us with the first pleasant surprise of the evening - over five pages of options. After looking through the menu for several minutes, we decided to try both the Chinese and Indian food; ordering a bowl of hot and sour soup (12LE) and an appetizer of vegetable samosas (12LE).
The Chinese menu was the most extensive with a lot of appetisers, including popular items such as spring rolls, going between 12LE and 20LE. The selection of beef and chicken was also quite impressive; including known dishes such as sweet and sour, chop suey, beef with broccoli and kung-pao. We settled on chicken kung-pao (43LE) and the more health-conscious option of vegetarian Dal Maharaja lentils (26LE).
The food arrived a few minutes later, piping hot and smelling delicious. The portion of the soup was generous and extremely flavoursome, spicy and full of sliced vegetables. The vegetable samosas were three to a platter and were perfectly crunchy; they accompanied the soup surprisingly well, with their potato filling evening out the spicy tang of the soup.
The chicken kung-pao was colourful and perfectly cooked. It had a nice amount of sprinkled peanuts and the spiciness level was just as requested. The Dal Maharaja lentils, despite being made of only a few ingredients and nowhere near as complicated as kung-pao, held its own in flavour. The lentils were puréed just right, and despite not being served with traditional Indian naan bread, the dish was filling and light at the same time.
The dessert was fried bananas, topped with vanilla ice cream and honey. Although it was not as awe-inducing as the previous courses, it gave the much needed warm and sweet ending before having to step back out into the cold.
Our waitress, the only waitress in the place, was chatty and an absolute delight. We discovered that Maharaja and Zen Zen has been in Maadi for over nine years with another branch in Rehab City. However, most people don't visit and have their food delivered instead. This might be due to its unappealing ambiance. Since we can‘t find a reason to warrant going back there, apart from the food, the delivery menu will most certainly be given its place on our fridge.
Within its ever-growing restaurant scene, Cairo has several eateries offering Indian food; perhaps Maharaja in Maadi, is one of the best we’ve tried so far, with its savory affordable genuine Indian dishes.
With two other Indian restaurants down the corner including Maharani, Maharaja already faces some serious competition over who’s the restaurant serving better authentic tastes. As soon as we stepped into the cozy 6-table lounge, the kitchen was close to the dining room as the smell of spices and cooked food invigorated our nostrils and we felt the aggression of them to the extent that some tears were about to drop from our eyes; yet we could hardly wait to see what’s in store for us.
Maharaja’s ambiance is encouraging a substantial Indian experience; with beautiful elephant picturesque on the walls, an overpowering aroma of spices and songs playing in the background—similar to the ones we hear in Bollywood movie productions on television. The place wasn’t crowded there were only three other customers sitting next to us, yet if the restaurant was crowded we wouldn’t have felt much comfortable `as all the tables are connected with one large couch.
Drowning amidst the names of the dishes, one of the waiters—who was quite friendly and helpful, explained what most of the dishes comprised of, while also recommending Maharaja’s signature dishes.
As a starter, we ordered a Tikka Nan (15LE)—traditional Indian bread stuffed with carrot and chicken, and garnished with watercress. The dish was mildly spiced and served with three different sauces; mint, spicy mango chutney and pickled peppers. The Tikka Nan was light, crispy and quite tasty. The sauces were also quite delicious—of which we specially loved the mango chutney sauce with its sweet and chilly taste; only the pickles sauce was too bitter for our taste.
As our main dishes, we opted for a Chicken Korma–curry chicken flavored with clove, cardamom, bay leaves, cauliflower and pepper (40LE) and a Ran Maharaja (60LE) with Vegetanie Biryani rice (35LE). Full of cashew, parsley and garlic the Chicken Korma was moist and spicy and well cooked; apart from two of the pieces which were almost burned and still had bones. The rice had a beautiful appetizing aroma and a great taste—especially when we sprinkled some Masala sauce on it. It wasn’t however served on our table, only rather upon our serving request; one of the restaurant’s measures to avoid having lots of wasted food.
Served on a small flame, our Ran Maharaja seasoned with Masala—India’s signature blend of ground spices, and plopped in old cheese, cream sauce and spices, looked and tasted fantastic. Overall the dish made a nice change to the tomato-based sauces and curries that have to define Indian cuisine outside of its native kitchens.
As our dessert, we ordered a Coconut Ice Cream— served in a coconut fruit with peanuts, raisins, cinnamon and a sweet carrot topping (20LE) and we were served two other complimentary ones from the house. The ice cream was quite refreshing; only the coconut fruit left an over sugary taste in our mouths; making it hard for us to gobble most of it.
With its music and overall ambiance, Maharaja is a restaurant that brings you the Southern flavors of Asia; it is surely a straight flight to India. The menu has variety of interesting dishes especially for vegetarians who want to try something new. Overall, apart from several overcooked chicken pieces and the small space—inconvenient for those who hate small restaurants, dining at Maharaja was a delightful experience.