You have probably heard of Mandi Rice, and you may have even tried it; but do you know much about it? This delicious dish has ancestor origins, and it is eaten in different cultures around the world.
It is said that Mandi rice originally comes from Yemen. And later on, it became popular among some Gulf nations and spread even further to Hyderabad, India. Back then, the traditional dish was mainly served on special occasions such as weddings and family gatherings. Today, you can easily find it cooked in many different styles in hundreds of Mandi restaurants across Dubai or the rest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
1. But what the heck does Mandi mean?
For me, the word ‘mandi’ is an interesting one as in my Indonesian language means ‘taking a shower.’ But of course, it has a totally different meaning in Arabic. I searched on the internet in a variety of sources and found that the word ‘mandi’ actually comes from Arabic word ‘nada’ which means ‘dew.’ Yes, the unique taste of this food comes from the ‘dewy’ part of the meat (lamb or chicken) that blends into the rice.
2. Spices and nuts are key ingredients
So basically, Mandi rice is a mix of meat, rice, and spices. Speaking of spices, they use many Arabic or Indian kind of spices such as saffron, cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, et cétera. The taste is even better when they also add some pine nuts, peanuts, green chili, and raisins on top of the food.
For the first time, I felt overwhelmed by just looking at the plate as it seemed big and heavy. But, as soon as you eat it, trust me, you will forget how big the portion was, as you tend to keep adding it to your plate. When I tasted it, I could feel the sensation of the spices and the soft chewy smoky of the meat.
3. Meat is cooked overnight
The waitress at one restaurant told me once that the meat becomes soft and tender as they cook it overnight with a unique underground traditional oven and using dry wood. To get it right, the rice pot is placed at the bottom of the oven. Then, the cook puts the meat on a rack over the rice. That way, the rice cooks with the dripping juice of the meat. No wonder Mandi rice tastes so good!
4. It is eaten on the floor
The way they served this dish is also an interesting one. If you come to one of the local mandi restaurants in Dubai, apart from the regular setting of the table, you will also find a family room that covers with a curtain. There is no table inside that room, so you must sit on the floor covered with a carpet.
5. Food to share
The plate in which they serve the Mandi rice is a big communal one. Then, they will give you a piece of plastic to put your food on with no knife and fork. After that, you sit in a circle together with your friends or family and eat it with your bare hand. Sounds interesting, right? But of course, nowadays, the restaurants provide you with the plates, spoon, and fork if you don’t feel comfortable to eat with your hand.
TAKEAWAY: In many Arabic countries it isn’t seen as appropriate to eat with the left hand. The reason is that they tend to use the left hand to clean themselves in the bathroom, so that hand is considered unclean. That’s why, when eating with your hands, you should always use the right one. And a little insider’s tip: to not get confused, you should sit on your left hand. That way, you won’t be able to move it and won’t make a mistake.
6. Side dishes are part of the feast
There is also a variety of side dishes to accompany the Mandi rice. They will give you a small bowl of white and clear pepper soup, a tomato paste (or I should say a tomato salsa as it is a bit spicy,) and some Arabic bread and salad. Last but not least, don’t forget to squash this heavy food with a glass of lemonade mint. It is a very fresh minty juice that is very popular among the locals. You can easily find this beverage in almost every local restaurants and cafes across Dubai or within UAE.