After hours of driving on an empty stomach, I arrived at Zafarana, located more than 200 kilometres from Cairo, bleary-eyed looking for any sign of coffee or food.
As I stubmled into the Zafarana Rest House, still half-asleep from the car ride, a blue and white glow shone into my eyes. Was I still dreaming or was I really looking at a White Castle?
I approached the store front with skepticism and disbelief. As I got closer, scenes from ‘Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle’ played in my mind. For the uninitiated, White Castle is the first ever American fast-food chain and was the gold pot at the end of the rainbow in the cult-hit ‘Harold & Kumar Go To White Caslte’.
“This is real!” I exclaimed with excitement.
However, the excitement was short-lived. The menu on offer did not resemble anything White Castle actually offered. Instead of offering sliders that get one’s taste buds salivating, this White Castle seemed to offer burgers that resembled a hybrid of Burger King and Hardee’s.
Nevertheless, I thought perhaps they decided to roll out a special menu for this random rest house in the middle of a desert in Egypt. And so, feeling hungrier than ever, I ordered a ‘White Castle’ burger with fries and a coke and a side of chicken strips.
The ‘White Castle’ came with all the standard ingredients you would expect on a burger: lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cheese, and sauce – essentially a Burger King Whopper with cheese.
The burger was not bad. The patty seemed to be seasoned with Middle Eastern spices – in a way a piece of kofta might be spiced – which was quite odd for an alleged ‘White Castle’ burger. The vegetables seemed fresh and the burger was juicy.
However, it was by far nothing special (and most certainly does not stand a chance against my all-time-favourite Superstar from Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr). From the very first bite, I could tell that this White Castle was no White Castle at all – simply a way to lure weary travelers from their search for the real deal.
The fries were well-seasoned and…fried. Not much to say there.
The chicken strips, meanwhile, were actually quite good for a random fast-food joint in the middle of the desert: hot and crunchy. However, it was while eating the chicken strips that my worst-fears were 100% confirmed: this joint was a sham. On the back of the chicken strips packaging was the name and details of the graphic designer behind this deceivingly good branding.
And so, I returned to the car, feeling a little sick from an over-sized and average tasting meal. All I could hope for now was to fall asleep and dream of the real White Castle.