Chicken and rice that’s worth cheating for.

I confess I’ve romped about with many a plate of chicken and rice.

Growing up in Dubai, I’d come across my fair share of chicken biryani, though I’ve always looked at it with a certain sort of contempt – mutton always felt sacred to biryani, chicken felt like some watered-down version of the original. After moving to the US for college, I started eyeing styrofoam crates of chicken and rice from the Middle Eastern food truck in Philadelphia, a distant taste of home, and a pricier alternative to grease-dripping pizza in my more wholesome moments. Then I went on this mindless love-me-cause-I-look-anorexic fad diet, and while I don’t remember much of anything I ate at the time (anything I ate = very meagre amount of very tasteless things), I’m sure I indulged in high sodium chicken and rice Campbell’s soup to stave off cravings for real food. And then there’s that summer when I lusted after the chicken and rice served up by the Indo-Pak street food truck on 53rd and 6th Ave in NYC, queuing up with behind a hoard of fanatical New Yorkers to get my odorous pile of shredded kabab-style chicken, rice and creamy white sauce…and in my more dare-devilish moments, a dash of super hot chilli sauce. Oh, and let’s not forget my steamy affair with those thin smokey slabs of chicken fajita and Tex-Mex rice in Houston, rolled up with sour cream, guacamole and cheese in warm flour tortillas. All to be left behind once I started courting the Chicken Lamprais dished out by a small Sri Lankan joint also courtesy of New York, with chicken and rice and a million other fishy-curry-downright-yummy things all steamed up beautifully in a banana leaf.

Yes, I have been fickle. But judge me not.

If you haven’t yet shut the browser window in disgust, I’m guessing you’re a carnivore. Or a herbivore whose wife has mercilessly shackled you to the evil vegan-only diet barely three months after you diamond ring-ed her. Whoever you are, look back at the range of chicken and rice dishes you’ve sampled across homes and restaurants over the course of time…just close your eyes and recollect all the potential variations you’ve eaten through. Yep, who knew, but you’re a chicken and rice slut too.

For all those still in the market for chicken and rice variations, my latest infatuation is with Chicken Mandi, Yemen’s luscious gift to the brothel of chicken and rice.

Mandi is one of those many, many ethnic eats that’s been around Dubai for the longest time – at Al Tawasol since 1999 at least – but that I only discovered after moving back to the city last year.  It pains me to think that it was right next door, right through all those mind-blowingly ignorant adolescent years when all I craved for was a roast beef & cheddar or super supreme pizza from Fast Food Chains That Shalt Not Be Named.

Traditionally, Yemenis dig a hole in the ground, cake it with clay, and then slow cook the meat over charcoal. Or so says wikipedia. I have no idea how Al Tawasol does theirs. Sarah and Ahmed badgered the waiter on my behalf in Arabic and managed to squeeze out the fact that the chicken had been steamed. Now whether or not steamed = slow-cooked-underground I do not know…all I do know is that the very act of lifting up a leg of chicken generously massaged with ghee, feeling it glide off the rest of its body with buttery imprecision, and just soaking in chunks of perfectly cooked and tender melty white meat makes me want to hit rewind-stop-replay-rewind-stop-replay-rewind… all day long. This baby may not be one of your crazy spiced up concoctions – it may even be accused of being too bland for the spice-seeking palate – but what keeps me faithful is the texture of the chicken, supple and dripping in chickeny juices.

Something as simple and soulful as Al Tawasol’s chicken and rice deserves to be eaten in the utmost comfort…bare hands, cross-legged, sprawled in an Arabesque-upholstered majlis. I love meals like this one, where I can just strip away the silverware and eat in my own raw cavewoman element. It felt so natural to throw my gnawed-at-and-licked-clean remains right onto the plastic disposable sheet that the server had spread under our plates, I just may consider switching all meals at home to this Eat Lick Fling mode. Keeps your plate uncluttered and conveniently vacant for more food.

The main, and men-only, dining area. Women and families can use the smaller private dining area at the back of the restaurant.

Ahmed also made the very wise decision of diversifying past the Mandi and ordering up two more chicken and rice dishes…

…the Mazbi, grilled chicken with this charismatically charred skin, smoky to the core of its white smithereens of chicken flesh, laying flat on a bed of rice that’d been tumbled in tomatoes.

…and then Yemen’s take on Biryani, with chicken that had been sweetly spiced with cinnamon, grilled, and…and stretched dry? I don’t quite know how they got the chicken to take on that stretched texture, almost resembling some sort of dried cured meat. Whatever it was, I was intrigued, in a good way. It was nowhere as buttery as the Mandi, but an interesting contrast to a palate that was already indulging in chicken orgy.

Our chicken and rice spread also included the customary Yemeni condiments: spicy tomato salsa-like sauce, yogurt, and mixed nuts and raisins. I may have actually relied on these add-on’s had the Mandi been lacking in any way, but I honestly loved Al Tawasol’s chicken just the way it was, unadorned and stripped down to its bare essentials.

Al Tawasol is definitely making my list of all-time ethnic classics in Dubai. I’ve heard of a bunch of other Mandi places around town, so I’m keeping an open mind lest there be a more buttery, more tender, more soul-seducing chicken out there.

But in the meantime, if you’re just not that into your usual plate of chicken and rice, it may be time to cut your losses and hook yourself up with a buttery chunk of Al Tawasol’s Chicken Mandi.

Al Tawasol
Right before you hit the Clock Tower roundabout in Deira, driving down from Al Rigga Road
Phone: +971 (4) 295-9797

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

32 thoughts on “Chicken and rice that’s worth cheating for.

  1. accordingtodina says:

    super post!!! Loved the pic of the interior u captured!!! Would love to try yemeni cuisine sometime!!!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @sarahdining – Thank you! wouldn’t have had all the juicy chicken details without you and Ahmad…I need a culinary Arabic language course ;)

      @accordingtodina – hahaha…add to the giant beanstalk list of must-do-together? ;)

      @elaingan – glad you like, try it out with hubs!

  2. Judith Serrao says:

    Hey …nice neat write up. Chuckled a lot to read your bare-it-all ;) esp the ’Chicken & rice slut’ & ’Gift to the brothel of chicken and rice’…..he he.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @sarah-the-hedonista – you bet, I’m thinking of just planning an event here sometime.

      @Judith Serrao – hehehe…yeah, wrote this in one of my wilder brazen moments…!

      @Marta’s kitchen – ok, that makes elaine, sarah, dina and you….gotta do an event there!

  3. zerinb says:

    yummmm………… chicken and rice.. a combination that brings water to the mouth…. anytime!!!

  4. Saleem says:

    Have ordered take way once and it did not taste that good, guess will have to eat when it is served hot and fresh – will try once with you and see if it taste different.

  5. Ninu says:

    Yaaayyy you hit tawasol !! Tawasol and marhabani are my favorites for mandi so far but I recently pushed someone to tawasol and they came back with the opinion that their fav mandi joint in qusais is far better… Which has me lusting for mandi again.. Damn you woman ! Could get u the details if you decide to continue ur quest in scoping out chicken rice brothels. : )

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @zerinb – oh yeah, buttery chicken and rice = comfort food for the soul.

      @Saleem – I think we need to drown it in spicy sauce for you to like this dad :)

      @Ninu – Gimme the details, gimme gimme gimme….! I think you and I need to meet up and go on a chicken and rice jaunt together, that way there’ll be no damning when you see the write-up ;)

  6. fabez says:

    Second yaayyyyy..hok i am delurking coz I am a die hard mandi kabsa freak and thrilled that u tried one of our favourite haunts, that is mine and that hyper female who commented above(there i have finally acknowledged u in public nin).Have been trying to find the perfect mandi kabsa since i landed in dubai this year ,So far tawasols mandi is the best ,marhabani is also not bad .And at Malek al mandi there is a dish called mutton zorbian( not sure i spelled it rt)which supposedly gets sold out if ure not a hungry enuff early bird.Would love to read abt mr mandi exploits and live vicariously thru u arwa coz am in back of beyond ruwais with not a worthy chicken and rice brothel in sight…boo hooo…

  7. anamika says:

    You are bang on having an eternal love for chicken and rice. And most of the times inspite of knowing that I would be dissapointed, I cannot stay from giving a chance to everywhere I see it on the menu…BTW in my short stay in Dubai I too didn’t discover this place, But now when I would be visiting this month, I’m surely giving it a try :)

  8. Heba says:

    This looks so delicious. Never tried Yemini cuisine before – but would love to try!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @fabez – yay for more Ninu-partners-in-crime, welcome welcome! Thanks for all the suggestions…you guys seem like a hard core foodie lot, when y’all starting a blog? ;)

      @anamika – oh do try it and tell me what you think! definitely a place I would recommend to anyone visiting Dubai…just a different dining experience altogether, and oh so butterly tenderly good!

      @Heba – I wonder if you and Brenda could figure out a recipe for this…I’m sure you ladies could!

  9. Sally says:

    Count me in for an outing here. Would LOVE to go. Great post and find.

  10. Sliceofmylyfe says:

    Great post and how I seriously wish I wasn’t a vegetarian. The fabulous picture may just convert me back to being a non veggie again.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sally – It’s right next door for me lady, so no excuse for us to not pop over soon. Aaaah so many places to try, so little time….I need multiple mini-me’s chomping my way through the city.

      @Sliceofmylyfe – nooooooo….why didn’t I know you were veggie. Anita, you gotta consider switching over to the dark meaty side. ;)

  11. Ninu says:

    Arwa !!! I popped out a baby boy which explains the absence of damnation. I see my Sis has stepped in though lol. Marhabani is on jumeirah , if u re heading there from the palm strip mall side marhabani will be on ur left, it s in a villa with a bright blue board. I think they have a another outlet somewhere else not sure where so u ll have to scope that out. And yes, we L O V E to eat . Saw ur china sea post ,Went there a couple of times. Was good the first and not so good the second time around . On closer inspection I realized I haven’t hit most of the dishes u did. There was a green beans with minced chicken one that totally rocked my boat though. : )

  12. Guest says:

    Is it difficult to adjust back to the "this dining room is for men only" culture, after living in the US for so long?

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Ninu – Congraaatulations!! And once again, you leave me with a recommendation that goes on my must-eat list! You need to have a 1-888-NINU-RECOMMENDS line ;) Thanks lady, the Marhabani post will pop up on this blog sooner or later!

      @Guest – naaah…my business is with the food, not with the room and whether it’s men only or not. As long as it’s roach-free, I’m good ;)

  13. IshitaUnblogged says:

    I have had the wonderful experience of eating here. Beautiful pictures and a wonderful post – driving me slightly restless. I have taken a few guests as well – in search of real Dubai food after they have been satiated with Shawarma and Mocktail juices at the Falafel centres on Beach Road!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @5e8c32b20f4724711dd3c80c2633f364:disqus  – Glad you’ve tried and tasted Mandi here. I’m yet to try the mutton one…that chicken one is so gobsmackingly good that I find it hard to order anything else, but really I will get down to doing it someday.

      @facebook-899315214:disqus – MORE MANDI! There are so many places in that Ghusais area that are begging to be tried. If only I had two stomachs and could double my restaurant discovery productivity…

      Noor al mandi is officially on my list now, thanks! You’re a gold mine of info :)

  14. Fotogoldcreations says:

    I didn’t know Mandi was Yemen’s original… but sooo love the bbq they have at Joraif Al mandi along muraqqabat. sometimes, I practice hunger strike before i visit the resto, just to try and ensure I finish the whole plate .. =)


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