Punjabi: Indian Cuisine Gets Fast-Food Treatment in Maadi
Ahmed El Dahan
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.