'Authentic Surprise' restaurant series: Indian cuisine

Dahlia Ferrer, Friday 14 Oct 2011

For authentic Indian/Kashmiri cuisine, try Nawab in Zamalek

Papadam Masala at Nawab Indian Restaurant, Cairo
Papadam Masala at Nawab Indian Restaurant, Cairo (Photo: Dahlia Ferrer)

You just might pass Nawab (meaning aristocracy), like most places in Cairo. The entrance has a medium-sized sign and you go down a few steps through the glass facade covered in a modern semi-transparent Bollywoodish image.

Immediately upon entering, you don’t just smell but feel the impact of lively spices around your eyes, nose and ears. It’s a preparation for what’s to come. On the right side of the room one can buy things straight from a pantry for customers. Then to the left the small restaurant opens as much as a small restaurant can: the L-shape of the restaurant at least eludes the galley feel of many narrow buildings, with good illumination and comfortable benches.

The service was efficient, quick and not an obstruction to our good ole’ fashioned conversation. Chitra and I arrived at six-ish and we had the place to ourselves (people started arriving around seven).

“So, what makes an authentic Indian meal, what distinguishes it? How can you tell it’s really good?” I asked my dining-mate and Indian food GPS, Chitra.

She paused and thought for a moment, conjuring up that flavour, that je ne sais quoi that signals that the cook must be a 60-year-old and grew up in the kitchen since they were a wee thing.

“Well, firstly, the base has to be well-made: with masala, for instance, you can really go wrong,” she says. The base, a sort of sofrito, usually has chopped onions, but can be oil-and-ginger-based, or mustard-and-cumin-based. Tomatoes, of course. And then it comes down to getting the right balance of coriander, turmeric, chilli and salt.

Chitra gave it some more thought; working a good recipe on her tongue and the right words to match. “And how long you simmer it,” she added a number two. Chitra says that although you have so many different flavours, spices and ingredients in Indian food; really what a cook seeks to achieve is a homogenous, consistent flavour throughout. There are a few specialty dishes that don’t fit this rule, but on the whole, the longer you simmer something, the softer it gets and the more the each component permeates and at the same time soaks in all the other flavours.

Therefore, it says a lot that Chitra chose this restaurant as authentic. Just like their name suggests, Nawab Authentic Indian Restaurant is a favourite among those who know their masala.

However, Chitra pointed out that it’s mostly Mogul and Kashmiri style, with the Kashmiri dishes including a lot of lamb. Kebabs also stand out.

We opened the parade of colours with their Papadam masala entree: crispily fried thin, white round bread with aromatic cilantro, bright tomatoes, chopped onions sprinkled lightly with chilli powder. I recommend getting one portion per person because your mouth will constantly look for this combination of: slightly salty, crispy and fresh. LE12 for two pieces.

An intense pea green chutney sauce and another; a deep red oak-coloured tamarind sauce called khatti were the centre of attention in the little round, white bowls. Just a little sauce gave some real intensity to the Papadam. Warning: take it easy on the spicy stuff.

As a main dish we chose a thick, white, subtly sweet sauce that smothered homemade cheese - a tempting, unique version of the more typical red-sauced Paneer butter masala. LE30 Thick but light-tasting ... and unforgettable.

We add another dish: Aloo Gobhi, which absorbs cauliflower, potatoes and peas in its tomato-based sauce. It has just enough of a pleasant touch of oil. LE25.

Of course, I take the lead from Chitra as she picks off a piece of the Garlic butter naan (large, round wheat bread) and Chapati (round, wheat bread), cups it between her fingers and plunges it into the saucy foods we share in the middle. The breads where LE8 and LE4, respectively.

What a great way to have dinner: sharing interesting cuisine over great conversation.

All in all we only paid LE100 for food and drinks for the two of us. This was on the lower-end, considering our dishes were vegetarian. You might be looking at LE150 for two meat-eaters and if you want to top it off with dessert.

Starters ranged from LE10-28, although an average is about LE18.

Kebabs ranged from chicken for LE38 to prawns for LE68, with lamb in the 40s.

Chicken dishes were in the LE39 – LE43 range, lamb dishes are all priced at LE52, fish and prawns from LE42 – 60 and veggie plates from LE22 – 33.

Of course, most people eat rice and a veggie rice dish costs LE22, whereas the meat and rice dishes range between LE40-60.

Lassis (yoghurt drinks) are on the menu! LE12 sounds like a bargain to me.

So are some Indian deserts: Kulfi (interesting ice cream), Gajar halwa (grated carrot milk pudding) and Gulab jamun (soft dough ball of milk solids deep fried and served in sweet syrup) at LE16, LE14 and LE15, respectively.

Delivery available.


Address: 21 B Baghat Aly Street

Monday - Saturday 1pm - 3pm and 6pm - 11pm
Sunday 1pm - 3pm and 6pm

Phone: 27360433, 0100016706


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