With few restaurants in the city serving food that complies with Islamic traditions, Taipei can seem unfriendly to those who follow a halal diet. This is one reason Karim el-Nile opened Pharaohs, a restaurant and cafe serving Egyptian cuisine.
The establishment, which opened seven months ago on Taipei’s Taishun Street (泰順街), sports a modern wood-paneled decor and has the vibe of a casual, family-friendly cafe.
El-Nile, a 30-year-old Cairo native who married a Taiwanese and moved to Taipei almost three years ago, consulted with an Egyptian expat friend to come up with a modest menu of classic dishes from their native country.
For first-timers, El-Nile recommends the lamb stew with okra (NT$280), or Egyptian spicy beef stew with vegetables (NT$260), both of which are served with rice shaped in a pyramid (a novelty the kids will enjoy). He says these dishes are Egyptian versions of Moroccan tajine, a kind of stew slow-cooked in an earthenware pot. Pharaohs also offers beef (NT$160) and chicken shawarma (NT$160), the grilled meat that is a Middle Eastern fast food staple often served in a sandwich or wrap. El-Nile serves his with a homemade chipati-style flat bread.
On a visit earlier this week, our meal didn’t blow us away, but it did start and end well. For appetizers, we ordered freshly made hummus (NT$70) and baba ghanoush (labeled as eggplant salad on the menu). Served with warm flat bread (Arabian bread, NT$40) slightly thicker than a pita, the hummus had a creamy texture and was more satisfying than the baba ghanoush, which was nicely spiced but not quite thick enough. Or perhaps the hummus won because it was served with a smile: two chickpeas and a curved line of paprika made up the beaming face that topped our dish. The hearty lentil soup (NT$50 per bowl) was also well received, and together with the hummus and bread, would make a satisfying light meal.
Address: 28 Taishun St, Taipei City (台北市泰順街28號)
Telephone: (02) 3365-3397
Open: 11:30am to 10pm Tuesday through Friday and 10:30am to 10pm Saturday and Sunday. Closed on Mondays
Average meal: NT$180 to NT$500 per person
Details: Credit cards not accepted, menu in Chinese and English
On the Net: 0233653397.tranews.com
The seekh chicken kebab (NT$220), whose name and curry marinade suggests an Indian or Pakistani flavor, is a recommended item on the menu, and one we didn’t regret ordering. The chicken was cooked just right — grilled and lightly charred on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. The meat is sliced into big, non-fatty chunks and skewered with onion and red, yellow and green peppers.
El-Nile says he has to strike a tricky balance with his recipes: he wants to please expats in the Muslim community and those familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine, but he also doesn’t want to alienate his Taiwanese customers. His solution is to make his fare “not too salty or oily” and to cut down on the sugar.
But maybe a little more of the bad stuff would have been better for the kofta dawood basha (NT$210), or beef meatballs served in a light tomato sauce with rice. We found the meatballs to be bland, although some might appreciate the unusual piquant sauce, which El-Nile says contains a “secret” blend of spices.
If you’ve been to Egypt and tried the local food, you might notice a few signature dishes missing from Pharaohs’ menu: falafel (which is said have originated in Egypt) and lamb kebabs. El-Nile says he plans to serve the latter in the near future; for now, falafel-lovers will have to stick with Sababa on Heping East Road (和平東路) to get their fix.
The friendly servers at Pharaohs wear fezes, which is vaguely charming, but it’s the milky-sweet rice pudding and rich panna cotta (NT$40 each) that will convince you to make a return trip.