- Matthew Schniper
- Pistachios abound come dessert time.
Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian uprising during Arab Spring. In Cairo, police flooded the streets, those speaking out against the president were detained, while protesters were beaten during small clashes. The New York Times reported that many Egyptians say they are "too weary, or fearful, to take to the streets again." Not only have "the demands of the revolution" not been met, according to one citizen, but Egypt now struggles with high unemployment and inflation, declining tourism, and woes such as tomb-raiding and looting of antiquities, recently reported by Vice.
But Ahmed Nor ElDeen cites none of this as his reason for moving here in 2014, obtaining a green card as a network engineer. Instead, like many Colorado immigrants inspired by vacation amidst the aspens, he says "we love the green landscape and mountains," and "Cairo is so congested."
His young son is now the "biggest fan of the Broncos," he says, sounding well assimilated, having been encouraged by friends to open Land of the Pyramids in early November. His wife Safaa acts as the primary cook, grilling fresh Halal-certified meats constructing sappy pastries, and whipping up ample "magic sauce," a simple but effective garlic mayo drizzled across plates.
She cooks in a limited kitchen portioned off past a service counter just inside and to the left of the strip-mall entryway. To the right rest five dining tables, papyrus prints adorn the walls, and a central corridor gives access to a tri-aisle import grocery market hosting spices, tea, dry goods and the like. The air smells strongly of fryer smoke (and so will your clothes later) and Middle Eastern music plays quietly from a boombox.
Properly potent and muddy Turkish coffee from copper cups or honey-sweetened cardamom-mint-sage-clove tea gets poured in decorative Egyptian demitasse cups and saucers atop engraved silver platters. The polish belies an unevenness in the food executions, particularly with two new-to-me plates: kushari and macaroni béchamel. The first is a working-class dish, widely eaten in Egypt, and is somewhat of a vegetarian Sunday gravy, i.e., a kitchen-sink heap of rice, lentils, chickpeas and pasta with a garlic-tomato sauce and fried onion garnish. It quickly stuffs you, proffering little spice or personality behind the starch and carb assault, feeling indeed like a pantry raid. The macaroni béchamel, influenced by the French a century ago, also lands fairly bland as a cheese-and-chicken-stuffed casserole cube with burned edges and another no-frills homestyle feel.
Better are the more general Mediterranean items, like a moist but crumbly falafel or beef or chicken shawarma, all wrapped in thin flour tortillas instead of conventional thick pita, lightening them a little. The magic sauce or a cumin-rich tahini sets them off, as do pickled turnip bits and banana pepper garnish. The mild Kufta Kabob could do better sans dried-out, well-done ground beef, while vibrant za'atar seasoning clings to pita chips as a side, and crispy fries dip nicely in the magic sauce.
Filo layers are thick on the modestly stuffed, cinnamon-heavy baklava rolls, with crumbled pistachio, which also garnish the cream-topped honey-vanilla rice pudding, nicely under-sweet. And again the nuts and sweet cream top the kunafeh, a sticky shredded-wheat cake with an odd papery finish flavor.
Overall, I'm glad for the cultural addition of the Springs' first Egyptian eatery, even if it feels familiar at its finest moments and underwhelming at its most uncommon.