I have lived in the Middle East for a fairly long time, but strangely, had not developed a liking for Arabic cuisine except for the occasional mixed grill or shawarma. Until on one hungry walk back from work, I decided to see what the neighborhood Yemeni restaurant had in store. The restaurant had no fancy trimmings, the menu was a simple printed sheet, but the tables were all occupied – it was buzzing.
“What’s good?” I asked the friendly cashier.
“Mandi! Good Yemeni Mandi!”
And so, with that first Mandi, I began my forays into the world of Arabic cuisine – and have since realized that it is a long way before I manage to experience it all.
During the cooking, wood is fired inside the oven and the meat suspended over the hot coals, while the rice cooks in a pot just over the coals. The dripping from the meat falls into the rice as it cooks below. The oven is closed during the cooking process, but an air vent allows excess smoke to be released.
The special spice rub used to marinate the meat ‘Hawaij’ is a mix of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, whole black peppercorns that are roasted till aromatic and then pounded into a fine powder. The meat is usually marinated for a few hours. Raisins or nuts are sometimes added to the rice.
Mandi is served with ‘Yemeni Zhoug (Zahawig)’ – a spicy chili paste somewhat like salsa. It is prepared with finely diced tomatoes and spices and served fresh. Because it is spicy, only a little is used with the main dish.
The simple dish makes more than a meal and can easily suffice for two persons. The prices, however, vary, dependent on the restaurant.
And here are a few other dishes in the same style:
Madbi – the marinated meat is grilled on charcoal and served with spiced rice and Zhoug.
Madfoon – the marinated meat is pressure-cooked to make it very tender and served with spiced rice and Zhoug.
Machboos – the rice here uses more spices and the meat simmered and served with a tomato paste called ‘Daqoos’.