On the eve of a long Dubai weekend in June, the Girls’ Supper Club visited Turath Almandi, a Middle Eastern restaurant on beach road (close to Dixie Lee Chicken) that had opened its doors about 8 months prior.
The restaurant serves “Felix Arabian” cuisine. Now, Arabian I’m familiar with. But Felix? Who is Felix? Or in this case, what is Felix?
According to the Turath Almandi webpage: “Historian[s] maintain that Felix Arabia has been the origin of the entire population of the Arabian Peninsula.”
I also consulted my usual research sites and discovered this on Wikipedia: “Arabia Felix was the Latin name previously used by geographers to describe the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, including modern Oman and Yemen, a country with an extensive history.”
So the Middle Eastern food served at Turath Almandi would have a Yemini and Omani focus with a few Emirati dishes as well.
I easily found street parking outside the restaurant and walked past fake billowing flames of fabric to enter a beautifully designed Mandi joint.
If you’ve never had Mandi before (I hadn’t but had heard much about it over the years in Dubai), it is the traditional dish of Yemen and is made with basmati rice, meat (lamb or chicken) cooked in a tandoor with a mixture of spices, raisins and nuts.
As I waited for the rest of the girls to arrive, I wandered around the different rooms of the restaurant.
Each room had a different vibe to it – different architecture, tables, chairs, place settings, light fixtures – if you are the type that gets bored with eating at a place because of the ambiance, this is the restaurant for you. You could eat there a few times and feel like you are in a different restaurant each time.
That night, our dinner conversation ranged in topics from upcoming travel plans to creepy crawlies (I recently had to toss out 5 kilograms of flour, risotto and pasta in my kitchen due to an attack of the evil weevils which led to the group sharing other pest stories and googling of images of ugly multi-appendaged bugs).
But the most important thing we talked about that night was to remind ourselves to not get so caught up in our everyday lives and to remember to not sweat the small stuff (even though the small stuff may seem substantial at the time).
My friend Billie Mac shared a story that night that I would like to share with you. It is a story about how spotting and saving a homeless kitten was a turning point in her life that helped put things in perspective for her.
A few years ago, Billie Mac was being given a hard time at a government typing agency (that’s like a public notary) for sponsoring a nanny. Females sponsoring domestic help isn’t common in Dubai and she was told point blank that she shouldn’t be doing this task, that her husband should be the sponsor. Eventually she convinced the typing rep to proceed with the paperwork and he did so, grudgingly.
Fuming at the man’s attitude (apparently, the idea of women’s equal rights hadn’t reached this corner of Deira), she left the typing office and because she wasted so much time arguing and trying to convince this man that she would indeed sponsor her nanny, she arrived at her next bureaucratic office two minutes too late and would have to return another day.
It was outside that last office that she noticed a stray kitten and in the moment when she realized that this poor creature had been abandoned, and never going to see its mother ever again, that she realized this was a sign for her to put her life into perspective.
Yes, she was given a hard time earlier that day by a chauvinistic official. Yes, she would have to make another trip to the closed government office (Billie Mac was heavily pregnant at the time, might I add). But life wasn’t so bad, is it, when you can afford to sponsor hired help? When the baby growing inside you will never be abandoned like that poor kitten.
With the help of her husband, she brought the kitten home with her until a permanent abode for it was found.
As we gabbed on and on about other things we were thankful, we also focused our discussions and taste buds on the food at Turath Almandi.
By the way, Turath Almandi means “heritage of Mandi.”
The menu, like at the Emirati restaurant Al Fanar, seemed to have a lot of slow-cooked and homey dishes. There were soups, bread, starters, hot starters, sandwiches, pizza, entrees with chicken, meat, mekhbaza and seafood, dessert (including an interesting sounding Liwa Cheesecake), and even breakfast items.
Most main course dishes were between 40 and 65 dhs. If you fancy camel meat, they serve camel burger and a dish called Kabsa Hashi which is described as “a rice dish cooked with camel meat.” We did not order any camel dishes that night but I’ll have to go back another time to try it along with the Mandi pizza which is described as a “Rome meats Hadramout treat.”
The first item we were served was a plate of complimentary Yemeni flat bread which Billie Mac couldn’t get enough of:
For our starter, we ordered the Lahm Sughar, lamb steak chopped into small slices sauteed with vegetables and served with traditional bread.
I didn’t know what to make of this one as the spices were very different. It wasn’t an instant favorite of mine but was liked by others at the table. Billie Mac made hers into a taco by wrapping the filling in flat bread with topping it off with the spicy Mexican green salsa-like sauce we were given.
We also ordered the Samosa Trio – each samosa was filled with a different filling of special meat, seafood, and cheese mixture. I enjoyed the flavors of the seafood and meat one but wasn’t very keen on the cheese.
I was intrigued by the sound of the Coastal Soup (interesting that it was called “Seafood Ecstasy” on the bill), a medley of seafood (clams, shrimps, white fish, squid) cooked in a creamy tomato bisque with fresh Zaatar (oregano) and Rayhan (basil) and potato.
This was more of a stew than a bisque and a very strongly-flavored one – the spices used were reminiscent of the Emirati spice mixture (bezar). I think I was the only one who enjoyed this dish. The toasted cheesy bread was a nice addition.
From the meat section of the menu, we ordered the Borma, which was goat (lamb was also an option) in a flavored broth cooked in a traditional handmade stone pot over firewood served with traditional bread or rice.
I loved the look of the stone pot…
…but we couldn’t make out if the meat looked like stewed beef, lamb, or goat, In the end, we decided that it tasted like well-cooked chicken in a bezar broth.
Next we had the Haneeth Laham – lamb marinated in traditional spices, the meat pieces are wrapped in banana leaves and slowly barbecued over hot coal.
The banana leaf imparted a very distinctive taste and smell to the meat. I liked this dish because it reminded me of Zongzi (which I made for the first time this year for the Chinese Dragon Boat festival).
And finally we get to the Lamb Mandi! The restaurant described it as a traditional meat dish slowly barbecued in a tight oven served with highly flavored rice slowly cooked under the meat.
The flavors of Mandi reminded me of Emirati machboos and I enjoyed it very much, especially since it did’t seem overrun by nuts and sultanas which was good since I’m not a big nut fan. I even tried a few and was pleasantly surprised that I did not dislike them. I did, however, find the meat too bony.
The restaurant is currently running a competition on their Facebook page for their one-year anniversary: To win a dinner for four, simply “like” their FB page and be randomly selected from their fan base. The winner will be announced on August 20, 2012.
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