Shahriyar and Scheherazade
gets a sneak peak behind the tent flaps of One Thousand and One Nights
Marriott, purveyor of all things luxurious, has traditionally chosen to work its magic both behind closed doors and outdoors. With Egyptian Nights it is changing tack.
Mint tea and small talk when trouble is brewing. She makes a stunning entrée with a spangled peacock-green and midnight-blue décolleté frock and accessories to match for the special evening -- turquoise and sapphire necklace and bracelets.
Queen Tiye is exceptionally tall and dark-skinned, so the Mediterranean blue ballerina pumps are exceedingly becoming. Not a single Saint Valentine's traditional ruby red is in sight. Even her lipstick is a lustrous royal purple. Her nail varnish is aquamarine. She offers an array of bolder, brighter takes on the most brilliant blues.
Shahriyar and Scheherazade step on stage and sing as one omnipotent voice. Predictably her crimson bright florals and his bold gingham checks clash violently on the rostrum. "Why are they screeching so," Queen Tiye clutches her gigantic Yves Saint Laurent handbag, cobalt and Prussian blue, of course, and embarks on a scathing indictment of the couple that dared eclipse her. She gazed around as screams rang out, much to her chagrin, throughout the Egyptian Nights. "I'd like some hawawshi," she barks at the ashen-faced waiter in her huskiest inflection, having inspected the menu, which she then haughtily pushes away.
"There's nothing I like more than the oven-baked minced lamb, sizzling in its own grease, onions caramelised in the crust of steaming hot brown baladi bread," she growls and grimaces like a surly Sekhmet, the Lioness warrior goddess of ancient Egypt.
With the tail end of winter in full swing, the main courses should seem less daunting as Spring has certainly sprung in mid-February. Hawawshi is a typically working class urban Egyptian street food favoured by those with especially hearty appetites.
The pallid waiter wonders sheepishly if we'd like an aperitif. "A Heineken and a glass of red wine, preferably Cape Bay Merlot," I pipe in. There is an unmistakable flash of irascibility as one of the waiters loiters a little longer than is strictly necessary around our table. "Why does this waiter linger like some wretched footman?"
Our drinks arrive followed shortly after by her hawawshi. Queen Tiye has ordered what must be one of the most expensive pieces of mince lamb sandwich in all Cairo, but leaves her exorbitant slice of light repast virtually untouched. My hopes of a convivial Saint Valentine's dinner were dashed.
"I'll go for the Moroccan harira soup with lamb and chickpeas," I ventured timorously. "I'll have the lentil soup with garlic bread croutons," she countered.
Though she can't resist the jab, Queen Tiye strikes as far less prickly when I bring up the subject of authentic Egyptian dishes. "Let's try felafel, shall we?" The fritters are one of the most popular fast foods in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. "Did you know that the word felafel derives from the Coptic 'pha la phel' or 'of many beans'? I bet you didn't know that," I chip in.
"Really?" she snarls, wrong-footed by this unexpected insight into the folkloric food of the fellahin, the Egyptian peasants. "The deep fried patties made from fava beans were first conjured up by Coptic Christians during Lent and other fasting seasons when they eat no flesh or animal produce," and out emerges my most mischievous smile.
Talk of felafel emboldens me to ask about fava beans. Is it appropriate for such an august and amorous occasion as Saint Valentine's? "I like my fava bean prepared in the Alexandrian fashion," declared Queen Tiye. "Or, shall we go for oven-baked sea bass? Or better still, neefa. I love it," she reiterates. Neefa, of course, is charcoal grilled braised goat served in Egyptian Nights with pickles and tahina, sesame paste.
Our plates are cleared away, Queen Tiye chortles, the acerbity reappearing. "Umm Ali for dessert" -- the pastry flakes, soaked in cream and honey, sprinkled with shredded coconut and almond, baked to perfection in the oven and served in traditional earthenware.
Marriott Hotel, Zamalek