Thai is Not the Same as Chinese: Five Cairo Restaurants Which Understand That
"Thai food ain't about simplicity. It's about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Some westerners think it's a jumble of flavours, but to a Thai, that's important; it's the complexity they delight in.”
Thai food expert and chef, David Thompson, sums up his cuisine of choice almost with a sense of defeat – the world will never truly come to appreciate Thai food. Often lumped into a generic ‘Asian cuisine’ category amongst restaurants in Cairo, Thai food has never been given its due on the dining scene in Egypt’s capital, either. While it certainly shares overlapping elements with Chinese cuisine – many dishes have been adopted and reworked over the years – the food of Thailand enjoys its own unique nuances; ones that largely go underappreciated in Cairo. And while many a menu can be found to be peppered with a few Thai dishes, few places have carried that particular banner with as much gusto as these restaurants.
A longstanding favourite on the fine-dining scene in Cairo, InterContinental Semiramis’ Birdcage has been unanimously thought of as one of the best, if not the best, Thai restaurants in the city. Taking all the kind of luxury you’d come to associate with an international hotel and fusing it with subtle but manifest Far Eastern touches, the restaurant has also been considered one of the more reasonably-priced of its standard and quality – a quality that is reflected in its concise but impressively-executed menu.
As the only restaurant on this list that doesn’t identify itself exclusively as a Thai restaurant, Conrad Cairo Hotel’s Kamala is one of the few restaurants of its kind that executes all quarters of its pan-Asian menu in equal quality. There’s plenty of choice on the menu, which spans over Chinese, Indonesian and, of course, Thai cuisines amongst others. Kamala is generally an excellent restaurant, but it’s Thai dishes in particular are top-notch, especially the curries. Same applies to the classic Pad Thai.
One could rightly assume that a Thai restaurant at a Thai hotel chain would do a good job with Thai food. That’s correct in theory, but the laws of logic rarely apply in Cairo. Luckily, though, Ruen Thai defies the odds and stands as one of the best restaurants for authentic Thai dining. Located within the grand confines of the Dusit Thani LakeView Cairo in New Cairo’s Fifth Settlement, it certainly isn’t a cheap dining experience, but what you get for your hard-earned money is a dining experience that is big on flash, big on taste and just straight-up immodest. If ever there were such a thing.
Owned by an Egyptian-Thai husband-and-wife, Sabai Sabai isn’t located in the most inviting of locations – the unkempt ‘Metro Market building’ in Zamalek – but is one of the most authentic Thai restaurants in the city. Taking solace in the rather kitschy surroundings, which give off an unfussy, if slightly generic, Far Eastern feel, the restaurant serves up big portions and big flavours and what it lacks in refinement, it more than makes up for in character. There’s a “…so good they named it twice” joke in here somewhere, but we’ll leave it alone.
A hidden gem in Maadi, Yam Yen is far from perfect, with its irregular pricing – many of the appetisers are almost as expensive as the mains – being a particular thorn in the side of the Cairo 360 reviewer who visited it last. But if you tend to develop selective information processing in extreme moments of hunger, a delightful Thai dinner awaits you. With garden, fountain, wooden archways and bamboo decorations, yam Yen looks the part and the dishes – some smaller in portion than you’d like – are delivered with authenticity and precision.