acations on the Sinai Peninsula’s east coast captivate city-dwellers with quiet beaches, clear skies and, some would say most importantly, freshly cooked Bedouin food. Whether you are staying in a five-star resort or an eco-friendly camp along the Taba-Nuweiba Road, an authentic slow-cooked meal is an integral part of the experience.
While you can easily order up such a meal in a camp for LE 70 or 80, it is worth springing the extra LE 100 to enjoy a slow cooked meal at the day-use resort Castle Zaman.Perched atop Al-Borqa Mountain, 35 meters above sea level, is an actual castle, with a bar, restaurant, pool, foosball machine, and reading materials, as well as a gift shop designed like a treasure trove.
Zaman offers a high-end splendor most camps lack, without compromising the spirit of the Sinai.The granite and basalt stone walls give the building a fortress-like feel that is softened by palm-frond porch roofs, clay pottery light fixtures and simple furniture crafted from wood recycled from other building projects.
On a slow evening, you have your choice of seating.The best seat in the house, we are told, is the rustic picnic table right above a Japanese Koi pond that overlooks the pool, the Gulf of Aqaba and, in the distance, the mountains of Saudi Arabia.
At night, the bartender tells us, the lights offer a breathtaking view.
Other tables along the edge of the main dining hall have similar views, there are even some near a fireplace, but we decide to sit by the pond.
Given the slow-cooking techniques, reservations are a must. Lucia, the extremely helpful Czech hostess, explained that patrons choose the type of meat — including turkey, beef or seafood — which is prepared according to house recipes and served with sides and salads chosen by the chef.
The turkey and beef come with rice and vegetables, while the fish dishes were accompanied by the Egyptian dish, firik made of dried wheat kernels.
All dishes take between one and-a-half to two hours to bake at low temperatures in the oven.
My companion and I both opted for seafood and made a 6pm reservation, taking Lucia’s suggestion to show up a couple of hours early — to be able to enjoy the pool and view.Our first stop after arriving was the Castle Bar, where they offer fresh juice, cocktails made with imported spirits, and beer served in chilled mugs.
My friend enjoyed his cocktail, but I found that my mango juice, while fresh, was watered down with too much crushed ice.
Castle Zaman’s website claims that it is “not child friendly,” in that there are no playground amenities nor a lifeguard for the pool.The castle’s staff are very family friendly, however.
While we were in the bar, a couple arrived with their baby sleeping in a stroller. They had reservations for later in the evening, but wanted to take a quick dip in the spring pool before the meal.
The bartender offered to watch the sleeping baby while they swam, and told them he would call them up when their food was ready.
A few minutes past six, the hostess’s radio belt beeped, signaling the arrival of our meal in two large handmade black clay dishes.We could smell the fresh seafood, baked in basil, cardamom and cumin, before we saw it. As the platters touched the table, we had growling stomachs and watering mouths.
In one, jumbo shrimp lined the edge and sat on a grilled perch fish, blanketing the bed of firik underneath.
In the second platter sat two crabs with a grilled octopus, still intact, on two large romaine lettuce leaves and a salad made of tomatoes, cucumbers and chives.
The presentation was almost too pretty to disturb, but once we registered the smells, it was difficult not to dig right in.The shrimp was juicy, full of flavor and easy to peel.
While I am not usually a fan of firik, this was flavored with anise and tamarind, giving it a sweeter taste and providing a pleasant accent to the plain grilled perch.
This chef could possibly win over a person who doesn’t like fish.
The dish with the octopus and crabs was another winner.The slow cooked method kept the octopus from becoming tough, a common problem when the dish is not fried or cooked with sauce.
However, it was the crab that reigned supreme, with its shell soft enough that we could dig in with our hands, without utensils; the meat inside was tender and full of its natural flavor.
Half an hour later, we were stuffed and our fingers were covered in crab, fish and shrimp oils, a smelly problem quickly solved with the bowl of lemon water brought to our table.As the sun set, the bartender brought out candles, and we leaned back to enjoy the slowly darkening horizon, feeling very much like kings in our castle. et
Castle Zaman is located 25 kilometers north of Nuweiba on the Taba/Nuweiba Road. Open 12pm to 10:30pm. Minimum charge LE 100 per person, applied to bar and/or meal tab.Main meals range between LE 100 to 200. Tel: (018) 214-0591 or (012)214-0591 for reservations or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.castlezaman.com
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