Foraging in the forests of leafy Maadi for foodie trends, Gamal Nkrumah
discovers the delicacies of Lan Yuan
What distinguishes Lan Yuan from any other Chinese restaurant I have eaten in is not just its inventiveness. The chef is Egyptian and proud of it. He has a passion for Chinese cuisine. "You will never see a dish like this one in China. That's why I am here in Maadi," he chortles merrily. "I live round the corner."
Mina Nabil, the manager and proprietor of Lan Yuan, has set up his own little gastronomic hideaway. He hopes to develop his venture from its humble beginnings into a gastronomic empire.
Mina does not go for wild ingredients. He has the Egyptian customer uppermost in his mind. The food might not be authentically Chinese, but it suits the Egyptian palate perfectly. Mina is doing us all, the residents of Maadi, a great favour. Those who have passed through his kitchen may soon bring its pleasures to homes in Shubra and Heliopolis.
Connoisseurs now have greater choice. Clusters of restaurants around Road Nine in Maadi provide customers with an intriguing array of international cuisine. The transition to gentility along Road Nine, the commercial hub of Maadi, has been phenomenal. The number of such restaurants has been growing apace.
There is no more glorious way of ending a hectic albeit sunny Indian summer day than with a cool, refreshing glass of Heineken beer. And, Lan Yuan bar is sponsored by none other than Heineken. Will alcohol and local politics in Egypt ever blend into one harmonious pot-pourri? I fear not.
Lan Yuan is a restaurant with dollops of character. Don't be disturbed by the periodic rumblings of the railway. It is important to remember that such deafening sounds emanate from the Metro and not from Lan Yuan's kitchen.
Waiters who work with Mina seem more like members of a sect. So attuned are the staff to the credo of this unconventional Chinese eatery it's as though they were under what could be described as the Lan Yuan spell.
He hovers over our table, egging us on. My prawn Barbecue on a sizzling hot plate was terrific. The ginger girlfriend I was dining out with preferred steamed fish with mushroom and soy sauce. We also ordered and shared a huge bowl of glass noodles with shrimps.
Mina also makes sure that none leaves without savouring a chilled Heineken beer at the Lan Yuan Bar. By this stage I had learnt that Lan Yuan had a refill open buffet every Saturday and Sunday. A free home delivery service within Maadi is also available. But the free home delivery has a minimum charge per order for LE50.
Chinese cuisine is still a minority taste in Egypt. Some customers of Lan Yuan would say that the entire Chinese gastronomic cuisine experience in Egypt is a gimmick. But Mina suspects that such "naive assumptions" may soon change. With concomitant cultural pressures for sampling non-Egyptian delicacies, demand for Chinese dishes could be a desirable alternative to local staples.
Mina is meticulous about not introducing the more bizarre Chinese delicacies such as insects, even though he tells me they are highly nutritious and very low in fat. Egyptians are generally put off by the notion of munching crunchy insects no matter how nutritious they are. "I can imagine a time when insects will feature on the menus of the most exquisite Chinese restaurants in town. Insects such as locusts and certain non-poisonous arachnids have been an integral part of the human diet among certain societies such as the Chinese for centuries. Many African and Arabian communities regard grasshoppers as a rare delicacy," Mina roars with laughter.
However, he has no intention for the moment of introducing bugs on his menu. "Visitors to China and some other Asian countries often sample insects in sauces without prior knowledge. Often people won't even notice."
Dinner for two: LE250