Finding Exclusivity in Sun City

After passing the construction site that would soon become the Sun City mall for a year and a half on a weekly basis, I was thrilled to learn that the mall had, after quite a delay, finally opened its doors to the public. Situated in Heliopolis, right next to Cairo International airport, Sun City looks small on the outside but is surprisingly huge on the inside.

Because of the airport next door, building regulations are tightly controlled in the area, making it impossible to build up. So the mall was excavated several storeys deep to bring us this shiny, stylish mall that I likened to the ones in Qatar. It looks classier than City Stars and the floors shine to the extent where you can see your own reflection.

The mall is built on a total of 200,000 square meters, with a total of seven floors. Those who want to shop at Carrefour are better off parking on the roof since the giant superstore is located on the top floor.

Even the ticket you receive for your car is unique — a small yellow plastic coin. It all felt very Las Vegas-y. (You won’t feel very Las Vegas-y if you lose it though — the fine is 75 Egyptian pounds — so be sure to keep it safe.)

Quite suitable named Sun City because of its location in Heliopolis (the Greek word for “City of the Sun” or “Sun City”) the attention to detail was what I liked most, the golden pillars, the brass railings, and the shiny, creamy floors. I even found the chandeliers to be quite charming, consistent throughout the mall.

There are a range of stores, mostly high-end, which gives the impression that the mall is targeting a particular, upper-class clientèle However, there were independent stores I had not heard of before, but with the same high-end quality in mind, so as to complete the mall’s consistent theme of luxury.

There are a range of stores, mostly high-end, which gives the impression that the mall is targeting a particular, upper-class clientèle However, there were independent stores I had not heard of before, but with the same high-end quality in mind, so as to complete the mall’s consistent theme of luxury.

Sun City mall may not be as large as City Stars and other malls in Cairo, but I prefer it when all I want is a quiet cup of tea or a hassle-free-window-shopping-stroll.

Although many stores and facilities are yet to open, it is worth just visiting the food court, the cinemas, and browsing the stores that have already opened. You could escape Egypt’s oppressive summer heat and be transported to another dimension where you might make-believe that you were actually shopping at the Duty-Free next door, waiting for your flight out of Cairo.

But now to the delicious discovery: The food court. It surprised me because it was much more spacious than the food courts in other malls, well-lit and to reiterate my point – quite spacious. What also surprised me was the fact that it was quiet, with only a few people eating. Was I really in Cairo? More importantly, would it always be this quiet? Even if it wasn’t — avoid holidays and weekends if you prefer an adequately-sized population — I would definitely be visiting on a weekday afternoon to avoid the manic crowds.

That aside, if you’re looking for a Duty-Free-themed-exclusive-experience without checking into the airport, Sun City could be the perfect place to spend the day.

Sun City
Next to Cairo International Airport,
Autostrad Road,
Sheraton Buildings,
Heliopolis,
Cairo.

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The Karvin Hotel’s Indian Restaurant

Still, on the quest for an authentic Indian restaurant that I could liken to the dishes, I regularly feasted on in London, my family and I ventured to Massala at The Karvin Hotel in Heliopolis. Off the main street, one finds the independent hotel on a quiet narrow road, making parking a little tricky.

The hotel, a relatively tall apartment building nestled between other such apartment buildings, stands out from its noticeable sign, glass doors, and security metal detector out the front. The full garage meant we had to park right outside the hotel, having to leave the key with hotel security.

But this did not matter, for the promise of delectable Indian spices waited in close proximity. Much to our surprise, however, was the “Massala restaurant is undergoing refurbishment and is closed until further notice” sign that greeted us upon entering. Deflated, and about to turn on our heels and leave, the receptionist informed us that the Massala kitchen as still open, just not the restaurant. We could eat in the Chinese lounge instead. So far, my emotions could be likened to a heart monitor, up one minute, down the next, and up again. The food had better be worth it.

It was a little bizarre entering the empty Chinese restaurant, and one could not blame customers for staying away. I imagine this is what Charlotte Bronte had in mind for Jane Eyre’s traumatic experience in the Red Room, the lounge pulsating a reddish glow that even Al-Ahly fans would detest.

I wanted to be the Hotel Inspector right that minute and order things to be taken away with a clap of my hands, including the Chinese lampshades that were causing an attack on the eyes, and the strange Chinese figurines on the old, wooden piano. Everything seemed to be a different shade of red, including the tableware. The walls also needed repainting (preferably a different color). Gordon Ramsay would not be happy here, and I could imagine him using quite a few profanities about the chosen décor.

But the menu was brought to our table and it was time to study my hopes and dreams of revisiting my comfort zone. Scanning apprehensively through the list, I have to admit I was a little disappointed because there wasn’t a good selection of choices in the non-vegetarian section.

I noticed the prices were in the 45 Egyptian pounds range for the main dish, having to order the rice separately. For three people we would pay a total of three-hundred and fifty Egyptian pounds, which included starters and drinks.

I chose number 25, which was as close as I was going to get to butter chicken. We also ordered number26, and number 27. What I liked was that the waiter asked whether we wanted the dish to be mild or quite spicy, something that we were not asked in the previous Indian restaurants we had ventured to. We ordered two of the dishes to be mild, with one being very spicy.

While we waited, we ordered starters, naturally. The samosas were shaped unlike any I have laid my eyes on, which was an entertaining change. Breaking into its crusty exterior with my fork, I could smell the delicious spices already.

After tasting it, I was pleased that the vegetables inside did contain the spices I remembered so well. The fried onion, however, failed to please me, as all I tasted was fried oil.

Now, my dish looked quite interesting. The chicken had a nice tandoori taste to it, appreciating that it was marinated quite well. But the sauce was just too rich in tomato purée, and I couldn’t detect the taste of butter, cream, or even a hint of coconut which was always delightfully added to the Indian dishes back in London. This meant I wasn’t really satisfied with the dish on the whole, although the tasteful spices were there, unlike Indira’s restaurant at the Holiday Inn.

This dish was number 26, the tandoori chicken boneless cooked with bell peppers and onions. It didn’t really have a sauce like my dish, and the bell peppers hindered us from tasting the spices that I enjoyed in my dish. So this was a disappointing choice. The saffron rice with peas was cooked well, the peas giving it a pleasant, crunchy texture.

Number 27, the tandoori chicken in a rich, spicy tomato sauce, was surprisingly spicy for those of us who could tolerate it. And this was the authentic spiciness we knew and liked, not like the awkward Egyptian chili one splashes on a plate of Koshary, which was offered to us at the Indira Restaurant, passing it off as Indian. (Tsk.)

The garlic naan was a much better version of Indira’s too (couldn’t help but compare). It was juicy and tasted of butter and garlic, just as it should. But the bread was a little strange, and I couldn’t help but think this was not the naan bread I was accustomed to. It was a little thick and just didn’t taste the way I know a naan should taste. However, the one portion was quite generous, with four large naans to accompany you with your main meal.

On the whole, I would rate the atmosphere with a big, fat juicy zero. The décor was outdated and ghastly, even if it wasn’t the Massala restaurant. Perhaps after the Massala restaurant is refurbished, it will prove itself worthy for customers to venture inside and enjoy a quiet meal. Although the hotel has a roof terrace to enjoy one’s meal, it was too cold that night to even comprehend eating outdoors.

The service was good, the waiters helpful with suggestions, giving us an idea about each dish. They gave us our space but were also fast to appear when it came to wanting their attention. During our stay, another small group came in to have a meal without looking at the menu, so I got the impression that the restaurant must have its regular customers.

Overall, the food was definitely an improvement from the last two Indian restaurants I visited; the spices and tandoori were authentic. The fact that there weren’t many choices in the non-vegetarian section means it is unlikely I visit again unless I am in the mood for the same dish I tried. But I would ask the waiter that the chef go easy on the tomato purée. And if the chef was open to suggestions, I’d even ask for something off the menu.

The Karvin Hotel’s Indian Restaurant

Massala at The Karvin Hotel
11 Mohamed Ebeid st.,
El-saba`a Emarat Square,
Heliopolis,
Cairo.

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The Life of a Doorman in the Modern Face of Egypt

Egypt prides itself on being a pro-elite country, thanks to the status quo that has, for the better part of thirty years, studiously promoted the Egyptian dream–a carbon copy of the American dream, only warmer.

With every home now connected, legally or illegally, to satellite channels, even Egyptians forced to live among the dead in makeshift homes amongst graveyards across the country are subjected to provocative commercials of luscious green gardens with lustrous, spacious villas in their midsts, shining like a beacon of light in their darkness. If you are wealthy, you are promised a beautiful life in Egypt. The poor can only dream, and sometimes even dreaming can be expensive.

Being poor in Egypt does not even begin to describe the injustices this “class”, a deeply embedded cultural notion, of people face. They are marginalized, outcasts of society, ignored, and more than often discriminated against, by their government, council, and people, as not belonging to the modern face of Egypt, with its sprawling malls, compounds, country clubs, high street shopping districts, five-star hotels, and restaurants.

But those who do not live in the ever-increasing shanty towns, with sewer water to drink and bathe in; those who do not have solid roofs over their heads–at the mercy of Egypt’s harsh summers and freezing winters–are employed as doormen, or a bawab, for apartment buildings and villas all over the country.

A cheaper version of a bodyguard, protecting buildings from burglars and such, doormen usually come from villages across the country, to make a living in the bustling city of Cairo. They are usually accompanied on this unmerciful journey with their family, comprising of a wife and a few children in tow.

Shabaan, the doorman of a relative’s apartment building in Cairo, wakes up in the morning to clean the cars belonging to each home-owner. He is paid for this task at the end of every month, which is another way he can accumulate money to add to his meager income. Shabaan’s wife will more than often help, their children watching as they play on the steps of the apartment building.

Calls on the building’s main intercom from the home-owners will usually consist of small tasks for Shabaan to undertake, including shopping trips to the local supermarket to buy items such as milk, bread, frozen chicken, and such. Other tasks will include trips to the pharmacy. While he is out running his errands, on foot or on his bicycle, his wife will keep watch at the apartment’s entrance.

Sadly, however, the architect of this particular building did not construct a place of residence for a doorman and his family to live. These are usually found at the perimeters of newly-constructed apartment buildings, a small, brick shelter, roughly three-by-three, enough to house two tiny bedrooms, a toilet and stove. Or a closed-off room under the stairs at the building’s entrance.

Because one was not made for this building’s doorman, Shabaan and his family have to live on the first floor, which has not yet been sold. It does not have a door for privacy, the floor is rough with cement and pot-holes–freezing in the winter–and in place of windows, planks of cardboards have been nailed in place.

Upon entering, one feels as though one has left civilization and has entered a cave, while a few stories above, residents live in luxurious settings, turning a blind eye to these living conditions. But other doormen would envy Shabaan’s temporary residence. There are doormen who have to live in under-the-stairs one-by-one cloakrooms-turned-homes, where you cannot stand because of the low ceiling, where an entire family will live.

As though not having a humane place of residence is not enough, Shabaan and his family also have to tolerate being treated quite abusively. Residents often treat Nawabs, grown men, harshly, a complex deeply embedded in Egyptian culture, that because one is a doorman and works for “the master”, one has to be treated as a lesser human being.

When Shabaan wished to conceive a second child, he had to ask the home-owners permission to gather money for the artificial insemination, only to be met with outcries from the majority of residents who told him one child was enough. Although some residents believed it was his right to have more children, others argued that his living conditions were by no means a place for more children to grow up in. And yet, nothing is being done to improve these living conditions.

Hajj Abdullah lives around the corner from Shabaan. Also from a village in Egypt, he was employed by a lieutenant who owns an empty plot of land, almost stolen during the revolution by conmen. To avoid this, the lieutenant employed Hajj Abdullah and his family to protect the land, without protecting them from the harsh winter that was right around the corner. We watched him build a two-by-three brick shelter for a family of seven; the roof consisting of planks of cardboard, secured by several scattered bricks and palm leaves.

While the lieutenant and neighborhood ignored their plight, it was only second-nature to donate some blankets to the family. Upon visiting them, we learned they did not even have a stove to cook their food, having to rely on building a small fire that even Boy Scouts wouldn’t envy. Although they now have a stove, blankets, and warm-cooked food offered to them every now and then, they feel alone, abandoned; Hajj Abdullah watching new apartment buildings being sold for over a million Egyptian pounds rising above his head.

But it is not bad news for every doorman in the country. Some residents look after their doormen, as though part of the extended family. Their children are put through school, so they could have better prospects than their parents.

Like Gamal, who started working for a family member seven years ago. He was previously working in an apartment building as a security guard, and after facing injustices on a daily basis resigned from his post. A graduate from a university in Egypt with a degree in accounting, Gamal couldn’t find a job in his field. A trustworthy individual, he was employed straight after he resigned from a relative’s apartment building, but a the age of thirty-seven, he felt quite alone in the quiet suburb of the city of Cairo. Gamal was given a decent salary. He was also given money to be well-equipped to get married, and after a year became a proud father to a baby boy.

His son, Hamada, is treated and looked after a family, and not seen as “the doorman’s son who must be treated like the plague”, like Shabaan’s two-year-old blue-eyed, fair-haired son, who is usually seen dirty and barefoot in the middle of winter, although they have clean, hot water. “It’s so nobody gives him the evil eye,” his mother once told me.

“This is something we learned back home in the village.”

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Finding Courtesy in Cairo

This Friday afternoon found me sitting on a soft, green prayer mat in a mosque in Cairo, listening to the Imam’s sermon on Egypt. I try to avoid crying in public, something about feeling vulnerable and judged, but I was reduced to tears as the voice through the speakers passionately believed that what Egypt was facing was going to pass. Things would get better.

His words were like salve; it soothed the wounds that led to my heartache over the state of my beloved Egypt. I heard other women’s cries echo around the mosque.

Thoughts distracted me from the rest of the sermon as the tears ran. I thought of my year in Egypt. I thought of the lack of social etiquettes, something I took advantage of in British culture.

I thought of an Egypt where people would hold the door open for the person behind, not have the complex of being mistaken as a doorman if they did. I wished people would stop jumping the queue and respect that the other person has places to be too. I wished people would start respecting laws and rules, driving etiquettes and such. I wished sexual harassment would end, and that tough law was implemented to deter the perpetrators. I wished this culture of bullying and deceit would stop. I wished for so many things that if listed, would turn into a book. So I sat there, wishing for a better society, a society Egypt deserves.

After the sermon, I stood on the edge of the green carpet as we got up to pray. The line was a little crooked, and so the women asked we all move back a little to straighten it. I complied, not realizing that there was no carpet behind me, so my feet would be standing on the cold marble floor. I didn’t even notice, because my mind was elsewhere; on Egypt, on the bloodshed and instability.

But the girl next to me noticed this small detail. Before I knew what was happening, she was telling the other ladies that we couldn’t stand back a little, because my feet would be on the cold floor. She suggested we move forward a little so that we could all be on the carpet, including me. Some of the other women were a little impatient, telling her I could deal with it, others saying I could shuffle a little forward, others argued if I did that then I wouldn’t be in the straight line.

But to be honest, I wasn’t even listening to them. I was overwhelmed by this act of kindness and consideration from this girl. I didn’t even notice that I was standing on the cold floor, yet she kept insisting that I not stand on it, to the point where I finally managed to speak and tell her it was okay, I would hopefully get a reward for this. I thanked her for her kindness. However, she didn’t turn, she was adamant about my feet’s rights. A few seconds of negotiation, someone finally thought up an idea, to shuffle to the left so that I could stand on the carpet.

Now, reading this, one might think what a silly detail to cry over, but cry I did. There I was, during the sermon, thinking that all was lost in Egypt, but God showed me a small act of kindness, that to me, wasn’t small but weighed as heavy as a mountain of gold.

I was still trying to get over the fact that someone actually thought of someone else, just when I thought it was rare in a country where the majority of people are caught in their own little bubble.

She left quickly after the prayer, not looking for a thank you, not looking for something in return. It was an altruistic act, one I hadn’t expected to happen to me in Cairo.

Maybe there is hope for Egypt yet.

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Sandstorm Hits Cairo

A little later than expected, the yearly sandstorm finally hit Cairo yesterday. With gale force, winds threatening to rip apart my windows, and visibility poor, I, what some would call bravely, ventured outside to capture what Egyptians call the Khamaseen. It is expected to last for three more days. Below, a man covers his face with a scarf as he walks and move through the sandstorm. Litter spirals in the background. Leaves hang on for dear life.

People aren’t dressed as heavily as one would expect in such weather – freezing winds that make your hands feel numb.

Visibility is quite poor, the sandstorm covering buildings in the background.

Students have no choice but to venture out in the sandstorm.

For an hour or two this afternoon, Cairo turns an orangey-red as the storm reaches its peak.

Some find this weather a little exciting, something new to experience.

Cairo turns red for the afternoon but thankfully does not last long.

A family wearing hats to keep the cold from numbing their heads and ears.

Many are dressed up in warm jackets. But I would definitely have worn socks in this weather. Since this only happens once early in the year, we can tolerate it, but hope for rain after the storm.

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Busying Myself with Nature in Tumultuous Times

During the revolution, when I felt despair invading my veins, making its way to move my heart, I looked to nature to soothe my nerves and calm my mind. And nature always delivers, uplifting my spirits. The wind carries a soft but sure whisper that everything is going to turn out for the better. That it is always darkest before dawn. These days I am found pondering God’s creation, with my camera producing a few mirror images of God’s glory. Because I can depend on God, the Eternal, while everything else turns chaotic. And I can depend on the sun to always rise.

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour if we will only tune in.” ~ George Washington Carver

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” ~ e. e. Cummings

“Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.” ~ Alan Cohen

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” ~ John Burroughs

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

~ Anne Frank

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Attending the Cairo Book Fair for the First Time

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to go to the Cairo Book Fair. But there was a little problem. I was always thousands of miles away in England. I have known about the fair since I was a young girl. My friends and relatives in Egypt would call me and tell me all about the books they perused and bought.

I have been a bookaholic since I learned how to read, and browsing through thousands of bookshelves is part of the fun. So I always felt quite sad that I couldn’t be in Egypt during the months of January and February when the fair is usually held. And so a longing cultivated inside me for many years, waiting for the day I could finally attend.

You can guess then, that last year, my first winter in Egypt, I looked forward to the book fair quite fervently. And you can guess how disappointed I was that it was canceled, not postponed till later in the year, due to the political climate in Cairo, when everything was canceled, even flights at Cairo International Airport. I will never forget how empty and quiet the sky looked on the night of January 28–a sky that was usually filled with activity every minute as planes made their descent on the lit runway.

The Cairo Book Fair is considered the oldest and largest of its kind in the Arab world. It is the second largest in the world after the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. This year marked its forty-third year; the year we were both finally destined to meet. Located on the grounds of the Cairo International Fair in Nasr City, there is parking in front of the grounds, where you pay the attendant seven pounds.

At the entrance, there is a ticket booth to buy your ticket to the fair–one Egyptian pound. Yes, one pound. That’s ten pence, British Sterling. I could now understand why it was so busy, filled with young children, high school students, university students, and adults like me, eager to get our hands on the books we wanted.

Although most of the makeshift tents sold Arabic books, the first enormous white tent that greeted me was where the English stalls were selling every topic you could think of in the English language. Held in the ‘Italian’ tent, I walked past it because I didn’t think English books would be sold in a tent with that name. After moving around the entire grounds of the fair, purchasing a few books from the AUC Press stall at the far end of the grounds, I had to ask for directions.

There were publishers from many parts of the world, such as Saudi Arabia, which had a grand tent of its own, Lebanon, Syria, America, and Britain. Some offered discounts on their books, from thirty percent to fifty percent. But some books were overpriced, especially if they had been shipped in from another country. There was a tent dedicated to books on Islam, available in Arabic, French, and English.

I was surprised at how many Malaysian and Indonesian students there were, all carrying bags of recently purchased books for their studies, most likely students from the nearby Al-Azhar university. I overheard conversations in English from British men on their phones. I also saw families from Libya and Syria and the Gulf browsing stalls. There were also British Pakistani men talking to each other about the books they had bought, carrying many bags in their hands. I also carried many bags–the more bags I held, the happier I felt, too. I loved the smell of new books, and the feel of their fresh pages and the creaking sound hardbacks make when you first open them.

But because of Cairo’s sandy weather today, my hands were quite grimy at the end of touching so many books. I could see that everyone was dusting their hands after picking up a book, just like I was doing. The smell of sand and the few grains that invaded my eyes did not put a damper on the feeling I had, however. I was thrilled that after all these years, I had finally made it to the most prominent fair in the region.

Cairo Book Fair
(Usually, Every Year at the End of January, Beginning of February.)
International Fair Grounds,
Nasr City

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A Bland Indira Indian Restaurant Experience at the Holiday Inn

Still, on the quest to find a good Indian restaurant in Cairo, I was quite excited to try Indira, under the assumption that since it was under hotel management, the food and service, would be of high quality. It had been months since my taste buds were tickled by succulent spices and herbs, and looking at the menu outside the restaurant inside City Stars made my mouth water. Sadly, however, that was as far as the drooling went.

Upon walking into the small restaurant, we were met with an x-ray machine, quite an unusual start. Because it was busy, the waiter sat us down to wait in front of the prep kitchen, until a table was available, where chefs were busy kneading dough for what I assumed were the garlic naans. It was entertaining to watch, for the first few minutes, and we were handed our menus to peruse. The menu came in the form of one large sheet of paper, held by a leather holder, available in Arabic and English. I decided to try the Chicken Tikka Massala, while my company decided to try the Butter Chicken and a vegetarian dish with potatoes.

Fifteen minutes had passed and we had still not been seated, although a couple of tables had been cleared. I had by now memorized how to knead dough into little naan shapes. I had also by now learned how to place minced chicken onto a skewer, and how to dip said skewer of chicken into a deep pot that I assumed was where the marination took place. We had asked two waiters if we were going to be seated soon, and they, looking quite rushed off their feet, would reply in the affirmative and then disappear.

As we waited some more, I took a good look at my surroundings. The restaurant design was sort of a hybrid–an East meets West, what with the orange wall at the side, with small, squared niches scattered across, displaying oriental artifacts I assumed was Indian. It wasn’t ultramodern, but modern enough for a hotel situated inside a mall. Being part of a corporate hotel chain, it did not look like an authentic Indian restaurant.

Half an hour had passed and we had still not been seated. In that time we had spoken to the chef and asked him what part of India he was from–Vikram from the north–whilst he told us the food in the menu was from different parts of India and not one specific area. That should have signaled alarm bells for me, as surely a chef cooking from different areas of a large, rich subcontinent is spreading himself too thin, meaning the food was going to be lacking.

That and the fact that the waiters were nowhere to be seen. It was then that I noticed other people waiting too, on the verge of complaining to the invisible manager. Something was definitely not right with the staff here.

Forty minutes later–twenty of which two empty tables were available but not yet cleared–we were seated. But the waiting was not over for us, the waiter was nowhere to be seen. The table near us joked about holding up their hands like children do in school, to call the teacher’s attention, so we did the same until the waiter finally noticed us.

It was nearly fifty minutes and we still hadn’t ordered. When the waiter finally came to our table he did not apologize for the wait, as professional waiters usually tell us. So we had to tell him how long we waited and ask how much longer we were going to wait for the food. Twenty minutes we were told, with a “I’ll be very upset if you’re upset” speech before he disappeared into the kitchen.

In the meantime, we were offered dips to dig into while we waited. The problem was, we didn’t have anything to dip with, no poppadoms, or naan–how were we supposed to eat the dips? We asked one of the staff who told us that the poppadoms had not arrived from India yet, so they were basically out. We were puzzled by two things: why couldn’t they make the poppadoms from scratch in the restaurant, they were making all types of naan in front of us in the prep kitchen, and why entice us with dips we couldn’t eat?

Thirty minutes had passed–making we wait a grand-total of over an hour. We had taken to playing with the rotating elevated glass table-top in the middle, passing around our drinks, anything to keep us entertained, when finally the food made an appearance. Now, it looked Indian, but it did not smell Indian–I could not detect the aroma of the special spices I was so used to back in the United Kingdom. But being ravenous by now, we tucked into our meals, a frown appearing on each of our foreheads one at a time.

It sure looked Indian, but it didn’t taste remote anywhere near the Indian subcontinent. The garlic naan, the ones we had watched being kneaded and placed in the oven, was shiny from the butter, and the texture was good, but I could not detect a hint of garlic, or anything for that matter. It was all very bland, from the rice to the main dishes.

So we asked for curry, and the head chef himself came over and presented a little saucer for us. He explained that foreigners who came to the hotel did not like their food to be spicy, which is why they were not allowed to make the dishes too hot. We suggested that they asked upon ordering how hot or mild the guest wanted their food, so as to avoid disappointment. After he had left, we added the chilly to our dishes and again, our foreheads creased. This was not the Indian chilly we knew and loved. This was the type of chilly you were offered in Koshary establishments.

We had had a disappointing evening so far, what with the waiting and the quality of the food that did not have a resemblance of any type of Indian we had devoured in our lifetime. It was time to leave. It was now approaching two hours since we entered the restaurant. We asked for the cheque, not expecting another wait. But wait we did- for another fifteen minutes. Waiters were either in the kitchen, or taking photographs with a tourist who wanted to savor the moment. As it was now approaching ten in the evening, most of the tables were empty, so we were unsure why there was a lack of staff.

By now we were at the end of our tether and wanted to move. We reminded another waiter of our cheque, who reminded the waiter was serving us, who then remembered to go to the computer and print out our bill. Unprofessionalism does not even describe it.

Two hours and a half of torture, the three of us paid the grand total of 550 Egyptian pounds. If the food was good, if the staff were competent, if the atmosphere was authentic, we would have gladly paid and tipped the waiter serving us. But Indira turned out to be a dire event that would not be repeated.

Upon leaving, the waiter handed us a little box with an Indira logo. He told us it was a little gift from the restaurant, something we had seen waiters hand out to every guest leaving. Looking inside the box, it was a packet of Indian spices.

We laughed and wanted to hand it back to the waiter.

If anything, the restaurant needed it more than we did.

Indira Indian Restaurant
Holiday Inn – City Stars
Heliopolis
Cairo

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