The Worship of Food
David Blanks finds inner peace, balance, harmony and culinary bliss at Maadi's latest Asian addition, Zentro.
A Zen master visiting New York City goes up to a hot dog vendor and says, "Make me one with everything."
The hot dog vendor fixes a hot dog and hands it to the Zen master, who pays with a $20 bill. The vendor puts the bill in the cash box and closes it.
"Excuse me, but where's my change?" asks the Zen master.
"O my brother," says the vendor, "change comes from within."
As any foodie in Cairo knows, there have been remarkable changes in our restaurant world since the revolution. I am not entirely sure why this is. Maybe we’re just hungry for change. But as us foodies also know, for the most part this has meant more options, and not always better quality. Now that too is changing.
Last week my Hippie Princess and I were invited to the opening of a new restaurant in Maadi that turned out to be the most exciting happening in the local dining scene in recent memory. Zentro has arrived.
Zentro. Yes, exactly, Zen central. That’s pretty much all you need to know. In all my years in Cairo eating and writing and grumpily wishing that things could be different, I have never known such a thrill over a first meal at a newly opened venue. I needed this. Maadi needed this. The whole damn city needs this.
Walking into Zentro is like entering a foodie spa: clean lines, open spaces, soft lighting, ambient music, grey walls, soothing brown wood. You know this is going to be something entirely out of the ordinary. And the food . . .
Ordering at Zentro is not so much choosing from a menu as it is a spiritual consultation. Gliding through her minimalist space, food lover and culinary guru Sharon Chu alights near your table with all-knowing eyes and a reassuring smile. Once she gets a sense of who you are, and gauges your mood, she will guide you. As the food arrives—in our case shark fin dumplings; money bags; Zentro’s original sushi roll (cucumber, volcano sauce, salmon, tuna, shrimp, eel and salad); thick beef curry in sweet peanut sauce; deep fried chicken with honey and plum sauce in sesame; pineapple fried rice; dandanmian—each dish speaks a Zen message of its own: “In this plate of food, you will find the entire universe supporting your existence.”
My Princess was well-fed and well-pleased, smiling, eyes half-closed. Me? I was having an out-of-body experience. People around us, having just eaten, were ordering more to take home.
Husband and wife team Sharon Chu and Amir Abdel Ghaffar have meditated on every detail of this project. “She is the brains,” Abdel Ghaffar told me, “I’m the muscle.” Meaning, with his engineering background, he is the project manager who worries about organisation, business plans, construction costs and anything else he can get his hands on, Sharon worries about whether you are enjoying yourself—and her passion for culinary perfection pours forth from every plate, like water gently trickling through a mountain forest. Balance, harmony, peace, contentment.
If you are serious about what you put into your body, crave new tastes, have an eye for aesthetics, or just really want to impress someone you love, do something different for a change and make a pilgrimage to this temple of truthful Asian cooking. It will make you feel good.
Find out more about Zentro.