The chain restaurant Asha’s opened in Cairo recently. Serving what it terms as contemporary Indian cuisine, and being quite acquainted with what I understand to be typical Indian cuisine, I expected to be surprised — and happily, I was.
The food is good, the ambience lovely, but I failed to understand what was novel and contemporary throughout the entire menu. There were some novelties and spins on what I understand to be status quo Indian dishes, but never mind.
Regular Indian food is good enough and restaurants’ attempts worldwide to update their staple dishes and catch on to food trends is, I find, bothersome. Let food be food and let’s get down to simply enjoying it.
Asha’s is located on the Giza Corniche, operated and run on the same premises as Asian food restaurant Chop Chop. The dining space for Asha’s is bright, modern and light. Perhaps that was the contemporary Indian touch they meant?
Menus were quickly handed to us and poppadoms were immediately set on the table upon being seated with yoghurt dip, papaya chutney and a spicy vegetable dip alongside with it. Warm and elegantly presented, we made our way through them quickly.
For starters we ordered the Aloo Matar Ki Tikki (LE 36), a vegetarian starter of pan friend potato cutlets stuffed with mashed green peas, flavored with nutmeg and spices. We also ordered the Chingli Chaap (Rahul Dev Burman Style) jumbo prawns, marinated in spicy ginger-garlic yoghurt, breaded and deep fried.
The potato cutlets were thick, with a slight crisp shell and soft mushy filling. There’s nothing more beautiful than warm peas and potatoes, call it nostalgia, call it winter food, but spiced as it was with minty yoghurt sauce and some sort of balsamic vinaigrette that had been painted in long streaks on the plate, I was beginning to get a sense of what direction of contemporary my meal at Asha’s was heading towards.
The jumbo prawns were delicious. The texture of the breading gave a nice crunch to the prawns that had been seemingly butterflied in half and fried. Always hesitant about eating seafood in Cairo knowing that more often than not it’s usually frozen and not freshly sourced, the prawns were juicy and tender.
For mains the menu is divided into kebabs, main course curries, main course vegetarian, biryani and rice, and breads and accompaniments. Dining with a vegetarian, she ordered the Vegetarian Seekh Kebab (LE 82), I ordered the Dhaniya Murg Curry (based on our waiter’s recommendation) of chicken cooked in a coriander seed and cashew nut gravy (LE 90). An order of garlic naan (LE 10) and Bahurangi Biryani (LE 95) were ordered as side accompaniments.
Portions are generous. The vegetable kebab pleased my friend; and my chicken, though I couldn’t distinctly make out the flavors of cashews, had a perfect consistency in the thickness of it gravy.
We had ordered a vegetable biryani that came down quite colorful. Assorted vegetables were delicately shredded and cooked throughout. The naan was delicious, light, hot and airy, and dripping with butter and garlic. Avoid polite company thereafter.
Indian desserts are delicious things: spiced ice creams, thick pudding like desserts or else dumplings seeped in sugar syrup or creamy reduced milk. Indian food always makes sense to me in winter because the spices heat you up and because you can afford to sit and pace yourself through a long meal of different textures and tastes, and end with desserts that are warm to your palate.
The kulfi ice cream caught my attention but I’ll try that later in the year. The Gulab Jamun (LE 40) cottage cheese dumplings served with a sweet milk reduction and all floating in a sugar syrup was the perfect end note. The dumplings were densely packed and saturated in syrup, the taste of sweet cake and soft cream.
Overall, I’d highly recommend Asha’s to any lover of Indian food. Not all dishes have been contemporized, but the quality of the food is as authentic as it can get and the setting is modern lacking the kitsch décor and music we’re so used to in other Indian restaurants across town. Prices are fair considering its foreign food but certainly not cheap. In any case, we’ll be sure to visit again.
Ask for a mini menu to take away with you, they don’t deliver yet but you can place an order by phone and pick it up on the way home.
Asha’s Contemporary Indian Cuisine
4 Ibn Kathyr St.,
Suez Canal Tower, Giza
Tel: (02) 3761 8808