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Restaurant review: Ingenuously Nubian
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 10 - 09 - 2009

Restaurant review:
Ingenuously Nubian
Not by the Nile, nor particularly authentic, this eatery is nevertheless very Nubian
I lost my heart to the Nubian Village Café and Restaurant even though it ironically doesn't particularly represent such value that it merits a detour in its own right. It is no lure for gastronomes but the service is friendly and the prices are reasonable, and it boasts that it is an authentically Nubian eatery. And sometimes, it's good for breaking the fast on the run, before I head to work on the newspaper, television or radio.
There is always a long line at my favourite fish restaurants in Ramadan, even though Egyptians traditionally are not inclined to eat seafood in the holy month of fasting. This week, nonetheless, I decided to break my fast with the sacred dates of Nubia -- the highly valued gondeila and bartamouda dates. Next, I nearly took in one draught the mouthwatering Nubian onion soup. This tasty brew is very different from the more famous traditional French onion soup. You'll have to taste the Nubian variety to judge for yourself which one is tastier. The French is richer but the Nubian is far more refined. There are many Nubian villages in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, but this particular one in Mohandessin claims to be genuine.
If only the restaurant knew how to write a clearer menu. It might as well have been written in the ancient Nubian or Meroitic script. This eatery is ostensibly Nubian, but so suffused with Egyptian delicacies that the exotic sounding dishes that grace the menu turn out to be all too familiar Egyptian delights. This is not particularly surprising since the assimilation of Nubians into mainstream Egyptian culture has accelerated in the past three decades. Nubian dishes, however, tend to be more spicy than their Egyptian counterparts and that is especially so as far as vegetable stews are concerned.
I searched in vain for kisra, the traditional Nubian bread. Unperturbed, I rushed with my oozing, scrumptious okra (Lady's fingers) cooked -- I was assured by the waiters -- with special Nubian herbs to gulp down some delicious iced hibiscus juice. Indeed, grilled beef and chicken are also spiced with Nubian herbs. Many of these herbs are supposed to be medicinal, but the waiters did not have a clue as to the therapeutic properties of the herbs used in the various dishes.
Refreshing cold drinks made of the natural products of Nubia such as doum and hibiscus ( karkadeh in Arabic) are readily available to wash down the spicy Nubian dishes on offer. Tamarind is another drink associated with Ramadan in Nubia, as in the rest of the country.
Nubian tea, which is strong, sweet and milky, is said to be of British origin. Egyptians rarely drink their tea with milk. Mint perhaps, but not milk. Nubians, on the other hand, have acquired a taste for the British tradition of having milk with their tea.
The café also offers a wide range of herbal teas and specialties such as spicy ginger hot drinks and cinnamon milk drink. These again are not exclusively Nubian, even though they are presented as such at this presumably uncorrupted Nubian restaurant.
The restaurant was resonating with the sounds of the familiar music of Mohamed Mounir. The hypnotic beat and mesmerising melodies lent the place a special charm.
"So how come there is no madida [a flour, milk and bean sprout Nubian specialty] on the menu?" I asked the waiter somewhat sheepishly. He smiled and waved his hand in a gentle, universal symbol of acceptance. He is from Aswan, after all. Any son of the city of cool understands that certain things must be left behind.
Nubian Village Café and Restaurant
144 26 July Street , Agouza
Behind Baloon Theatre, Mohandessin
Tel: 3346 0183
Iftar for three: LE270
By Gamal Nkrumah

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