Friday, February 24, 2012

Ägypten: eine andere Welt

A cliche it may be, but sometimes a meal can transport you to another place. This is true at Horum -- I don't know if it feels like Egypt in there, but it certainly doesn't feel like Berlin. In some cities, you can duck in an out of different worlds multiple times a day. In fact, it's hard to avoid in some cities (New York...sigh). Maybe my life in Berlin is more confined (although I prefer to blame it on Berlin), but Horum made me realize how much I miss the feeling of experiencing other places just by turning a corner. I'm not saying Berlin is monolithic; if it was this blog would really have no point. Clearly there are ethnic restaurants here, but so many of them feel designed for, even dumbed-down for Berliners. You might still get a taste of another place, but it's more like dipping your toe in the pool than going for a swim. So, it was refreshing when I walked into Horum by myself (my friend had not yet arrived) and the waiter gave me a what-are-you-doing-in-here look (he was actually quite friendly).

If you order carefully you can eat quite well at Horum for very little money. It's possible you don't have to order carefully to eat well, but we skipped the broccoli with Gorgonzola sauce and the the steak with herb butter and French fries, so I can't tell you if they are any good. Maybe Horum offers these items to pacify the guests at the run-down-looking Ludwig van Beethoven Hotel next door? The place was full of Arab (Egyptian?) men smoking hookah, drinking glasses of tea, and playing batgammon, but some of them were eating and I'm pretty sure it wasn't steak with herb butter.

In any case, we arrived somewhat uninformed and made a few menu errors. First, we attempted to order a beverage: Belila, described as a warm drink with milk, wheat berries, and nuts. OK, this is a weird drink to have with one's meal, but we wanted to try something different. Belila, although it is listed on the menu with the drinks, not with the desserts, turns out to be more of a porridge-like dessert. In fact, it is served in a bowl, not a cup/glass/mug. But, while it isn't really the ideal aperitif and we might have benefited from some gentle waiterly guidance, it is delicious: sweet, creamy, hearty, nutty. It's exactly what I want for breakfast on a cold and rainy Berlin winter morning. As we were finishing our Belila, the waiter brought out a mountain of kushari (seriously, it was enough for three eaters) and an order of falafel. Thanks to sloppy menu-reading (or less-than-clear menu-writing?) we ordered a plate of falafel with tahini sauce rather than a dish of falafel with tahini sauce and ful medames -- disappointing because ful (an Egyptian staple) was our main target. Alas.....the falafel were quite fluffy, but a little on the greasy side. The tahini sauce and mini salad were both delicious. I won't even pause to wish that they made their own pita, put it could have been a tick fresher. The kushari, on the other hand, was excellent. Pasta and lentils may not sound like much, but when cooked with enough olive oil and topped with caramelized onions (and tomato sauce at Horus), they can be downright luxurious. This is food for manual laborers or serious hikers, though. The two of us together only managed two-thirds of the ginormous pile. And then were were too full to order Um Ali, some sort of delicious-looking Egyptian bread pudding.

The decor at Horus is a little over the top: a mishmash of hyroglypics, scenes of Egyptian street life, fake palm trees, photos of elder statesetc.), but it sort of works. The major downside to the restaurant is that despite the two no smoking signs, it is a pretty smoky place. It's better to sit in the hookah section, than in the dining section (especially because you can recline on the benches and watch the batgammon), but after a couple hours the cigarette smoke has wandered over to mingle with the hookah smoke and it's time to move on.

Cafe Bistro Horus
Hasenheide 16

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