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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.
There’s not many Indian restaurants in Cairo, sadly that can be attributed to the fact that it’s one of the lesser known cuisines in Egypt.
The comparison between the restaurants that serve Indian cuisine is also strange, with some in hotels and others hidden on smaller roads, there’s no clear cut demographic that they serve.
What we do know, however, is that Indian cuisine is pretty delicious, so we decided to drop by one of our favourites and see how it’s been doing.
Maharaja and Zenzen is a collaboration of Indian cuisine plus all things Asian, including Korean, Thai and Chinese. We had previously visited the whacky coloured venue in El Gazaer Square in Maadi, while the decor is certainly misleading, and not the most comfortable, you will quickly forget about it when you’re served your food.
We opted for Fried Dumplings (12LE) from the appetizers, Beef with Black Mushroom (50LE) and Chicken Makhani (48LE) from the mains and Vegetable Fried Rice (21LE) for the sides.
The Dumplings, while a small portion, were fried to perfection with a tasty chicken and veggie filling. The Beef with Black Mushrooms came steaming hot in oyster sauce. The beef was juicy and tender while the mushrooms were large, plentiful and bursting with flavour.
The Chicken Makhani, better known as Butter Chicken, was exceptional. Served extremely hot, the portion of chicken was filling while the butter sauce was thick and unbelievably delicious. We wished we had ordered some Naan bread to dip in the sauce.
Both dishes are complimented greatly with the Vegetable Fried Rice with Eggs which left us with a thoroughly hearty and filling meal that’s worth every penny.
It’s tough to assume the food would be so good by the look of the restaurant with its generic Asian decor and not-so-clean marble floors. It may not be the best place to take someone out to or hold a business meeting, but if you’ve never had Maharaja and Zenzen it’s a surprise waiting to happen and we really recommend you drop by, or order to your home, if you haven’t already.