The Thai touch
Fish? You have had your chips. Try the taste of Thailand instead, surmises Gamal Nkrumah
Our car sweeps up the breathtaking driveway of Dusit Thani Lake View in the desert to the east of Cairo. The Al-Tagammu Al-Khamis in New Cairo is shimmering in the sweltering heat and the haze turns an otherworldly Cerulean blue. We head for the refreshing cool of the Ruen Thai, Cairo's most celebrated Thai restaurant.
Buddha statues, fake palm fronds and scintillating ponds await our small company, as does a glass of thirst-quenching Merlot. Mind you, my nose is not as big a pointer as it was before the Muslim Brotherhood President-elect Mohamed Mursi stands poised to assume office. Congratulations -- iced hibiscus rather than mature vintage bordeaux sways the pallets of convivial wine geeks.
Glass stalactites dangling from the mirror and wood decorated ceiling tantalise us. The ravishing, traditionally dressed Thai belles welcome us with steaming hot fragrant towels, and complimentary prawn crackers.
One cannot go the whole hog at Ruen Thai. So be it. Sour fish curry with broccoli, cauliflower, onions and beans, or Geang som pia in Thai will do.
Gai Yeong E-San, marinated chicken from the northeastern region of Thailand, a traditionally impoverished area of the country, attracts my companion. Queen Tiye toys with the idea of "Crispy duck breast with Tamarind and lemongrass sauce," she salivates. The dish is called Ped Num Makhan in Thai.
I've got, I must confess, a personal phobia about garnishes. Crisp, fried, whole sea bass with tamarind and lemongrass was next. It literally collapsed on the plate, but did not in the least look messy.
It is blowsy, generous food. Pla Nueng Ma Nao, or steamed sea bass fillet with lime juice and garlic vinegar caught Queen Tiye's royal eye. Trimming it to a perfect rectangle, smart and succulent, and searing the outside made it look certainly a great deal more sophisticated than the lifeless fillets of less delightful eateries.
The Thai's acquired taste has taken Cairo by storm. Massaman gae, or lamb massaman curry? Penang smoked duck breast with kafir lime leaves, Peneang Ped? Yellow curry prawns with broccoli and zucchini -- Geang Rwang Gai? Food like that makes me want to dive into it with a rather ribald gusto.
As we settle at a tiny table, empty save for a tray of sparkling mineral water and glasses, head chef Panya Thosaunch ushers us unto the terrace. Dark teak colours indoors, ice cool aquamarine outside.
Queen Tiye was determined not to turn a roomful of Thai cuisine gourmets into a verbal mosh pit with her taste for the top brands of wine on offer. The role she played to greatest effect was to portray the frenzied desire for the perfect dish, at whatever cost.
Head chef Panya beckons us. Green beef curry with eggplant and basil? Geang Rwang Gai (yellow chicken curry with potato and tomatoes)? Or Poh Pia Thod (spring rolls with mice, chicken and shrimps)? It is precisely why I still feel awkward about chicken; I wag an index finger in disapproval.
Thud Mun Goong (deep fried shrimp cakes in chili sauce)? Yes. Kao Phad (Ruen Thai's special fried rice)? Certainly. The prices of such delicacies at Ruen Thai reaches untenable heights. The restaurant seats 60 inside the restaurant and includes two private rooms with seating for 30 on the terrace.
We end the sumptuous banquet with a slow finish, washed down with green tea. Sealed with a loving kiss we hurriedly left.
Dusit Thani Lake View Hotel
Al-Tagammu Al-Khamis, New Cairo