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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Nawab: Zamalek's Beloved Indian is Still the Best in Cairo
Even with an exterior appearance that looks more like a barbershop than a place of gastronomy, Zamalek’s premier Indian restaurant Nawab has always had a place in many a Cairene heart. As with many ethnic cuisines in this schizophrenically consistent city, purveyors of good, reasonably priced Indian food are few and far between. Nawab’s slight new look, kitchen and considerate staff make a good go of filling that most desperate of needs.
Although Nawab conveniently provides home delivery, the food never seems quite as good as when you occupy the restaurant itself. Why? No one knows. It can’t be the rather drab decor or the feeble attempt at infusing the place with an air of authenticity by playing Bollywood films and music videos. Whatever the reason, eating out is as much about the feeding all five senses anyway.
Dinner began with an order of vegetable sambousak (12LE). Presented with two saucers of dips, the two pieces of sambousak were bursting with well cooked vegetables, although they were a little cold. The yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip clashed with the vegetables, while the tamarind dip was sweet with a bitter kick; a perfect foil to the rich pastry of the sambousak.
Late in its arrival, the prawns pakora (27LE) fell short of the other appetiser. Though it was served sizzling hot, the deep-fried pieces lacked seasoning and weren’t as agreeable to the complement of the dips as the sambousak was.
Luckily though, the mains blew away any dissatisfaction. An extraordinarily creamy khoya mutter paneer (33LE) tasted great with both garlic butter naan bread (8LE) and jeera rice (17LE). Although the meat of the dish, so to speak, is the paneer cheese, it’s the incredible gravy that makes it one of the best Indian dishes on the menu. The plain tasting paneer, which falls somewhere between halloumi and cottage cheese, added little to the dish, whereas the cashews and peas added a texture to the gravy. It complimented the sharp cumin of the jeera rice and the crunchy flakes and soft centre of the naan bread perfectly.
As did the lamb kadai (60LE), which is one of the more expensive items on the menu. Although the decent-sized pieces of lamb ranged from slightly dry to melt-in-your-mouth tender, the crimson massala sauce gave the dish a spicy tang. It’s also one of the sexiest looking dishes you’ll ever see.
Stumbling out of Nawab with a full-belly-induced limp and a slight throb of spice on your tongue, the only regret is that this marvellous restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol. Because everyone knows that nothing goes better with a curry than an ice-cold beer.
The favoured destination for authentic North Indian cuisine offers set menus that make the perfect alternative to a typical fetar meal. We chose the vegetarian tour for two (139LE) and picked a few plates from the non-vegetarian set menu to sample.
Courses at Nile Bukhara begin with an amuse bouche to open the senses. Ours kicked off with a bite: a plate of pickled onions paired with a fresh mint vinaigrette. As soon as we were pickled out, a medley of colourful curries covered our table including vegetarian classics like aloo mutter (potato and peas), dal (lentils), and palak paneer (spinach and fresh cheese).
To soak up the curry, an assortment of carbs—papadum, pullao, samosas, and naan—is within hands-reach. Thin, spicy papadum crisps can be an oily disappointment, but Bukhara’s is dry, as it should be, and when broken over the fluffy rice grains of Indian basmati pullao and peas, is a crunchy, appetising topping.
Bukhara’s vegetable samosas are pyramid pockets that point to the heavens. The popular street food and tiffin (a light lunch in India) are a fried pastry packed with a batter of pre-cooked potatoes, peas, and spices, but would be better served with a sauce or mango chutney. Take caution; devour slowly. The stuffing is usually piping hot.
From the tandoori kitchen, in plain view from our seats, New Delhi native Chef Rana dishes out the baked and barbecued delicacies from the cylindrical, clay oven representative of South Asia. Rana stretches naan dough to an oblong shape, presses the round against the walls of the tandoori oven until flaky, and brushes the flat bread with melted butter. With a slightly sweet end, the Indian staple mops up our plates.
Into the last week of Ramadan fetars, spice it up a bit and go Indian at the twenty-year-old Nile Bukhara, where friendly servers have yet to be jaded and where we’re never too old for the well-needed bib.