Dine | Cairo
 
We arrived in Cairo as excited with the monuments and artifacts of Ancient Egypt as with the promises of culinary diversity and bargain of this modern-day capital.  In the end, we did encounter a nice mix of cuisines but good deals were rare in the limited places where we ventured.  What’s more important, however, was the fact that we ate ourselves silly and happy no matter how the food tasted.
 

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Four Baguettes
The Moghul Room  
Mena House Oberoi
Pyramids Road, Giza
+20.2.3377.3222 (ext. 6840)

 
Euro - 9 to 16
The guide book calls it, “Cairo’s top Indian restaurant.”  The man at the front desk reminded us, as we were checking in, that it would be best to make a reservation a day in advance.  So, on our very first night at the Mena House Oberoi, we made a mental note to call for a table for the next day’s dinner, after our tour of the pyramids.  We shouldn’t have bothered.  For as we were flipping through the menu later that first night in front of the restaurant, a man in a suit (likely the restaurant’s manager) invited us in, sans reservation.  To sweeten the deal, he declared unabashedly, “This is the best Indian restaurant in the Middle East.”

Inside, we were seated right next to the three-piece band – tabla hand drums, sitar, and harmonium – whose performance, including the liltingly sweet vocal of the harmonium player, brought loud applause from a table of Indian diners in the corner.  From the look of it, it was no different in décor than your average Indian restaurant in the States and the lighting was a bit too bright.  However, the impeccable service from the large contingent of servers more than made up for the odd ambiance.
 
 
 
 
 
  Crunchy and full of subtle flavors:  The garlic naan (L.E. 15) was perfect to soak up the remnants of the many different sauces.
 
 

 
 
 
The food was downright excellent.  On our shiny, metal-top table with intricate geometric etchings, the food arrived in small pots and stayed warm on metal hot plates.  The server whispered the name of each dish as he doled out a small portion onto our waiting plates.  “This is murgh tikka makhani,” (L.E. 90) he said as he scooped chicken cooked in fresh tomato sauce and cream onto Nez’s plate.  The tender pieces of poultry bore the rich flavor of the orange-yellow sauce and blended nicely with the basmati chawal (L.E. 38).  Next, he served Riot his dish of laal maas (L.E. 98), a traditional Rajasthani lamb curry cooked with red chilies and spices.  The massive flavors of the sauce (we asked for medium spicy; the menu warned, “No mild version of this dish.”) accentuated the taste of the delicate chunks of lambs.  Finally, to offset the meaty meal, Nez ordered the chana masala (L.E. 45) of chick peas and potatoes cooked with onions, fresh ginger, and green chilies.  It was a fine dish in its own right but could not compete with the others.  While the chicken and the lamb dishes were devoured to the last drop with the able assistance of the garlic naan (L.E. 15), some of the vegetable dish remained at the end of the meal.
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Hot little pots of wonders:  (Clockwise from top) The murgh tikka makhani (L.E. 90), chana masal (L.E. 45), and laal maas (L.E. 98).
 
 
 
 
 
  Perfect little portions as doled out by the attentive server:  Chicken, lamb, or chick peas with potatoes, they all went well with the versatile basmati chawal (L.E. 38).
 
 
 
 
We could not help but return once more on our last day for lunch before another visit to the Great Pyramids of Giza.  “Welcome back,” said the friendly waiter and, just as before, he rushed to our table every time one of us made an attempt at refilling our plate or glass.  We ordered the same tried-and-true dishes, including Nez’s favorite mango lassi, with the addition of the eminently likable gosht vindaloo (L.E. 98), a “fiery lamb curry from the west coast heavy on coconut and vinegar.”  (Although the vinegar was a phantom taste.)  Pumped from our previous experience we even asked for all of our dishes to be spicy.  They were spicy.  Water-gulping, head-sweating spicy.  But immensely enjoyable nevertheless.

The final verdict?  While this was the only country we had been to in the Middle East and while we had not tried any other Indian restaurants in Cairo, we would do worse to doubt the restaurant manager and the guidebook.  While the prices weren’t cheap (at approximately $1 = L.E. 5.6, 1€ = L.E. 7.2), this source of the distinct, wafting smell in the elevator and the above hotel floors was definitely one of the best Indian food we have had, anywhere.
 
 
 
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