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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.
Despite not being the most popular cuisine in Egypt, Indian restaurants in Cairo enjoy a steady existence, with eateries like Zamalek’s Nawab maintaining a solid fanbase.
Punjabi brings Indian cuisine to the traditional fast food setting in Maadi. The venue’s seating consists of red plastic chairs, tucked beneath black marble tables, while the walls are adorned with miscellaneous stock images of India, such as smiling street vendors, the occasional Bollypop album cover, wise old sitar players and, naturally, the Taj Mahal.
The menu is simple but offers a diverse range of dishes, wraps, curries, salads and sides. The only appetiser available is vegetable samosas - in three (12LE) or seven pieces (24LE). Surprisingly, the only soup offered in the restaurant is chicken noodle soup (12.50LE), which hints at another region of Asia altogether. Variations of curry include chicken curry, chicken korma, chicken makhani and chicken vindaloo (42LE/each). Tikka chicken meals are also available (18.5LE-124LE) along with drumsticks and wings (19LE-35LE).
Vegetarian dishes are also available as sabzi mixed vegetables (29LE) or daal lentils (27LE). Rice is served as Jabi with tikka chicken (28LE/33.50LE), plain jabi (15LE) or jasmine (11LE). Naan bread, meanwhile, is offered in mini pieces (5LE), plain (5LE) or buttered (8LE).
We ordered one daal korma, plain jabi rice, a chicken curry and a sabzi vindaloo. On the side we enjoyed a loaf of butter naan bread, minty yoghurt raita dip (M7.5LE L17LE) along chana paste (17LE) – India’s version of hummus.
Unfortunately, despite the fast-food approach, the service at Punjabi is far from fast. When asked, the waiter would courteously reply that our food would be ready in no more than 3 minutes, which evidently wasn’t the case.
When it finally arrived, the food was served in plastic tableware along with disposable cutlery. The bread was fresh and doughy, but it was most certainly not naan, and was lacking in butter. Nonetheless, the chana paste complimented it well and was thick and spicy. The raita dip had potential, but needed more mint to make it more authentic to true Indian cuisine.
Luckily, the chicken curry mix was delicious, served with a tub of jasmine rice and a handful of tender chicken cuts swimming in a hot curry sauce. While made with fresh green beans, peas and potatoes, the sabzi vindaloo’s lack of sauce contributed to its weak aroma and flavour. In contrast, the daal korma – lentils prepared with a rich coconut sauce – tasted airy, refreshing and juicy with plenty of sauce.
The only dessert offered at Punjabi is Gulab Jamun (5LE per piece; sweet samosas with milk and pistachio stuffing, soaked in rosewater and cardamom honey syrup. While the description in itself sounds great, the end product was unfortunately bland and in need of more pistachio.
And so while Punjabi’s attempts to bring the worlds of Indian food and fast-food together, too many shortcomings do a disservice to true and authentic Indian cooking.