There’s something so satiating about Thai food. Perhaps it’s the fresh vegetables and herbs, the perfectly cooked rice and/or glass noodles or maybe it’s the peppers of sadomasochist origin that are so hot they leave a trail of fire burning down your throat. When I come across carefully made spring rolls or a mouth watering plate of Pad Thai I can’t get enough. I lived in Bangkok for a couple months in mid-00 and recall frequenting the street vendors close to my flat 3 or 4 times a week for a bowl of wok-tossed seafood and fried rice or noodles. At that time I was still riding the dairy and gluten train, but eating Thai style (more vegetables, soups, noodles and rice) for half a year caused many intolerant-related symptoms (bloating, headaches, discomfort) to fade into the background. It was the first time in a long time that I had a diet that didn’t revolve around processed food and it was oh so good.
I still go after Thai – or Southeast Asian food for that matter – whenever I can. It’s tricky; however, since it doesn’t always taste authentic, it doesn’t always seems like the chef took his/her time in putting together dishes (soggy noodles and/or the overuse of sauces to mask poorly cooked meat) and some places the kitchen insists on assaulting their food with a good helping of MSG (why, why is this additive be used?!). In Cairo there are a couple of nice places that serve edible phat khi mao though the quality varies as much as the prices do. Birdcage probably leads the pack and while it will seduce your senses it will also put a dent in your wallet. It’s a posh and elegant affair located in the Semiramis Hotel in Garden City that is worth every penny if you have plenty of pennies to give. If you’re looking for something a little more low key it takes some trial and error.
Last week after a late night yoga class I pined for something Southeast Asian and in the neighbourhood (of course). I steered clear of Thai Elephant since the last time I was there the service was poor and the food…satisfactory at best. A friend of mine had caught wind of a new place near Hotel Flamenco called Sabai Sabai – located above Metro Supermarket – that looked intriguing enough we figured we’d give it a try.
Accessing Sabai Sabai is tricky because you have to enter on Gezira el Wusta street opposite Hotel Flamenco and climb two flights of stairs in a somewhat grungy (albeit well lit, let’s count our blessings) stairwell. The outside of the restaurant is inviting with photos of succulent dishes, pictures of Thailand and large motif of Buddha; however, it’s only once you step inside that you sense you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
The interior is clean and there are references to Thailand scattered throughout. The restaurant is small and probably seats 25 comfortably and that evening three tables were occupied by a mix of expats and – always a good sign – Thai/Southeast Asian patrons who were talking and laughing away in the corner. The servers were swift and attentive and competent at answering various questions about how the food was prepared, and they were also able to flag offensive ingredients. Bonus marks on that point alone. While it did take longer than usual for the appetizer to come out, we chose to be all zen (like Buddha of course) and look on the bright side: our food was being made from scratch. Anyhow, it’s a moot point really because in the end, it was worth the wait.
The spring rolls and dim sum were plentiful and delicious, and would be more than enough for a meal on their own. The dim sum (with chicken) was especially enjoyable and I moved quite swiftly through the vegetable and glass noodle spring rolls that tasted fresh and exquisite, particularly with a touch of the peanut sauce that came on the side.
For the main there was rice, morning glory mixed with peppers and a shrimp salad with lemongrass and basil that was so good I nearly cried. Kindly note: I nearly cried not only out of my love for lemongrass, but also because there were large chunks of pepper scattered throughout the dish and a several found their way into my mouth. This was the “little bit spicy” version of the dish mind you.
Hey, at least my sinuses were cleared.
The presentation was lovely, I liked how lettuce leaves were used to create a “bowl” for the salad and the abundance of shrimp, mint, cilantro and basil. Another welcome addition was that none of the vegetables were wilted, brown or chewed around the edges. The platter of morning glory – which is such a fantastic vegetable – was also nice, wonderfully fragrant, but a bit too much soy sauce was used. Perhaps the only thing I’m hesitant about when it comes to Asian fare is the ample use of sauces and condiments (oyster, fish, soy), several of which contain gluten and/or far too much MSG and sodium. As far as we knew, there was no use of MSG in our food and aside from the morning glory all the other dishes/sauces were nicely balanced.
In the end Sabai Sabai was a great find and it ticked all the right Intolerant boxes: Quality and timely customer service: check. Vegetarian and vegan options: check. A short walk away from my house – check. Stupidly affordable – check. A surprisingly nice interior that makes you momentarily forget what city you live in – check.
Thai food that comes pretty close to tasting like it does on the streets of Bangkok – check.