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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 key to success for restaurants in Cairo isn’t always about gourmet food and lavish interiors. Sometimes it’s merely value for money, as is the case with Hamada; a low-key Italian restaurant located on Mohamed Bassiouny Street in Downtown Cairo.
The restaurant is small in size and divided into two floors, with the bottom half serving as the kitchen and the top as the dining area. The decor is rather confused; with paintings on the walls and cushioned embroidered chairs, it reflected more of an Oriental or Turkish atmosphere and in no way hints at Italian. While culturally confusing, it was still a comfortable and pleasant atmosphere.
We opted for pasta in béchamel sauce (6LE) and pasta in tomato sauce (6LE) with two side dishes of vegetables (3LE) and liver (3LE). Canned drinks cost 3.50LE and water 3LE. The food took a little under five minutes to serve.
There is no ingenuity or creativity when it comes to ordering béchamel or tomato sauce in Egypt – two staples of Egyptian home cooking when it comes to pasta. So, the real evaluation isn’t so much dependent on providing a twist, especially at this price range, but rather the execution of classic dishes.
While certainly not fresh, the pasta in béchamel sauce was pleasingly creamy and cheesy, and the difference in texture between the pasta, meat and sauce created a very satisfying mix. Similarly, the pasta in tomato sauce was full of flavour. The presentation, however, is somewhat sloppy, with the restaurant using paper plates and foil cartons – but then again, you get exactly what you pay for.
Hamada also offers a larger meal consisting of pasta in tomato sauce accompanied by half a chicken (22.50LE) or a quarter of a chicken (15LE). Once you’re done with your meal, you can choose between Mahalabia and Rice Pudding at (2.50LE) for dessert.
While by no stretch of the imagination is Hamada the most luxurious of restaurants, it provides very cost effective solutions to the crowds of hungry people getting off work in the afternoon and, while the presentation of the food is weak and decor totally unrelated to the cuisine, these are factors you simply will not care about if you’re looking for a 6LE paper plate of pasta.