Indian spices

Never been much of a Cairo road warrior. My quest for heroic Indian food, however, roused me to leap into the car and venture beyond my Downtown environs to Zamalek, to lap up the stand-outs and staples of Pacha boat’s latest gem Maharani. 
With Cairo’s most accomplished Indian cuisine entrepreneur Karvin Oberoi at the helm, the restaurant serves up northern Indian food in the tradition of Rajasthan and Punjab, from where many of India’s traditional royal families have emerged. 
The poetic word for Empress, for millions of Indians Maharani signifies the loved one, the sweetheart, or someone close to the heart and the solid main course options here will indeed seduce the most discerning palates. In fact, this is where the regal treasures really lie. 
In the vegetarian department, try the aloo ghobi (potatoes with cauliflower), palak paneer (cheese in spinach), or bhaingan bharta (spicy eggplant). The champion within the meat dishes is the murgh makhani, curried chicken in a decadent butter sauce. The tandoori grilled meats and lamb curry rogan ghosh are also sturdy options. All should be sampled with ample servings of fresh garlic naan. 
The deserts are reasonable, nothing to write home about. For those of you seeking a different take on traditional ice cream, try the slightly chewy Indian version kulfi. If you don’t mind a gooey infusion of sweetness, try the gulab jamun balls. 
There’s much less of an emphasis on rice and spicy soups, as you will find in southern India, and much more emphasis on breads, especially home-baked naan, vegetable curries, and tandooried meats. 
For me, the quality of Indian food is in direct proportion to the quality of the pickles service along side it, the mango, lemon, and bean-inflected spicy accompaniments to the meal. In this, Masala excels. Mr. Oberoi once described to me the process for making his home-made pickles out at Masala — fresh ingredients, Indian spices, imported Rajasthani chefs, and considerable time —and I presume the same process is in place at Maharani. 
The results are spectacular; a little taste of these pickles, accompanying a bite of curry wrapped in fresh naan makes you wonder if you have been transported to Delhi. 
If I were you, I’d skip the starters, a fairly generic collection of fried bits and bobs, and content yourself with the wafer-thin papadum, accompanied by various pickles, that the friendly waiting staff will bring out as you look through the menu. 
Up until fairly recently, there were only two heavyweights in town when it came to superb Indian: the Mena House Oberoi, and the Masala restaurant at the Karvin Hotel in Heliopolis, yet Maharani looks set to shake up the competition. 
I say this with all due respect to Bukhara, which provides solid, if unspectacular, Indian food a bit closer to home in Mohandessin and Maadi. But, if you really have a hankering for the real thing, Bukhara doesn’t quite pass the test. And, though the Mena House has declined a bit of late, the freshness and spicing of its food no longer quite justifying the hefty price tag that comes along with it, these two options would justify the trip out of my inner city comfort zone, as well as any traffic jams encountered on the way. 
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Karvin Oberoi has been an influence behind all three of these fine establishments: he managed the Oberoi for some time, he created and still manages Karvin’s Masala, and he was brought in as an advisor by Pacha’s manager Johnny Zahra while creating Maharani. 
If you decide to dig in Indian-style without cutlery, making a curried mess of your hands, no one will complain. On your way out, be sure to sample ‘sampf,’ an aromatic blend of spice and sugar to help you recover from the pleasurable discomfort of overeating that usually accompanies a trip to Maharani. 
While Maharani is yet to draw huge crowds and pinch Masala’s reputation for having Cairo’s best Indian food, this relatively new player’s quality positions will certainly give it a run for its money by providing an excellent option closer to the city center. 
Details: Maharani, Le Pacha Boat, Saray El Gezirah, Zamalek. 02 2735 6730, Open 2-12 every day. Lunch about LE180 per person. Alcohol served. 

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