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A Ramzan feast... the Egyptian way

This Ramzan, pamper your taste buds with truly Egyptian food at New Delhi's Hyatt Regency. SUMITRA SENAPATY suggests a bite after bite... .

Chef Mohammed Abdel Razek presents chicken shawarma.

TO EAT like an Egyptian, check out cuisine from the land of Pharaohs and Pyramids at Hyatt Regency's Café. Sharm El Seikh's visiting chefs bring in the scent of Egypt for this culinary binge. Sure makes you dream of coffee with cardamom, men in galabeyyas smoking velvet-clad pipes, women with their kohl encircled eyes and the shawarma, shredded lamb or chicken rolled in pita, breaking the roza and silence of Ramzan evenings.

You start with classic Egyptian appetisers like hummus and babaganouj. The former is a blend of chickpeas and sesame sauce with a hint of garlic, and the latter is roasted eggplant seasoned with sesame sauce and garlic. Both come with fresh pita bread. On the babaghanouj salad, the eggplant purée is in a fresh style with the natural eggplant flavour forward, served with a nice salad picked up with a dab of parsley-rich tabouleh. The real news for salads, though, is the addictive couscous with rocket leaves; also a feta cheese based rich salad to go with the warm bread. For carnivores, the kofta and shawarma are certain to please. Kofta, a charbroiled combination of ground lamb, parsley, onion, and spices has a texture much like that of a sausage, with a subtle range of tastes that makes it good on its own, and even better when combined with hummus or tabbouleh. The shawarma -- rotisserie roasted strips of lamb and spices -- is similarly savory and tender. Though the meat dishes are tasty, the vegetarian ones left my lunch dates and I battling for the last bite. The tabbouleh is excellent. As opposed to the usual grain-dominated version, this tabbouleh consists mostly of parsley and mint leaves, tomato, and onion, all coated in a light lemon dressing. The complexity of flavours and particularly the preponderance of mint and lemon make it a refreshing complement to the heavier meat and beans of Middle Eastern cuisine.

The assortment of lemon-and-mint-dressed salads, stuffed-pita sandwiches, and sundry meats twirling on spits is rather satisfying. There's no mistaking the pedigree of the breads from Egypt. Here, they are meals in themselves, something akin to pizza -- round, flat, and delectably topped with za'atar, a mixture of sesame seeds, ground sumac, olive oil, and fragrant thyme. The succulent chicken shawarma, crisp, charcoal-edged, and slathered -- on request -- with a hummus sauce, is rolled tightly and squished into the bread with onions drizzled with limejuice. Stuffed kibbeh, fat little deep-fried torpedoes of bulgur wheat filled with minced meat, onions, and pine nuts, is another item to go for at the festival -- crisp golden-brown outside, juicy and aromatic with a hint of cinnamon within. Egyptian desserts of pastry or puddings are usually drenched in honey syrup - Om.

Ali is an Egyptian dessert that contains puff pastry, milk and nuts. Other sweet preparations include the ever-present Bakhlava, and an Egyptian version of the bread and butter pudding -- rich with nuts and raisins, to be eaten with ice cream. The Egyptian food binge is on till November 17 and the Café scores with first-rate hummus, smoky babaghanouj, and bracing tabouleh.

Don't pass it up.

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