Azal Mandi is an exciting new Yemeni mandi restaurant in Karama. Located literally two doors down from thali masters Maharaja Bhog in the Hamsah Building (beside the Al Ansari Gallery) on the corner of Zabeel Street, its spacious interior is made up of floor seating cubicles, a majlis and a labyrinth of passageways poked with smaller dining cubicles. There are a couple of conventional tables and chairs for honkies like me who aren’t comfortable on the floor. It’s obvious from the scale of the operation that these boys don’t give two hoots for the pandemic and are expecting company.
The Azal menu goes well beyond the usual mandi, mazbi and madfoon, including a proper starters section followed by chicken, meat, seafood and desserts. My food companions and I started with Fahsa, a traditional Yemeni lamb stew, and an amazing dish new to me called Kebda – liver. The fahsa was carefully brought to the table in a hot cast iron pot; bubbling, hissing and spitting its spicy aroma and juices angrily in the air. It was accompanied by some delightfully flaky Mulawah, a flatbread similar to paratha.
And finally, the kebda was served – OMG! It’s amazing, the slivers of green and red capsicum and liver fried together giving it an almost Asian flavour. We should have stopped there but instead we ordered a Chicken Madhbi, a Mutton Madfoon and oven baked fish with rice – extreme gluttony.
The butterflied Farsh fish they served Sheikh Mansoor was so perfectly cooked he insisted Soheil and I try some – beautiful. It was almost comical watching him switch from the liver to the fish, rice to bread. Rarely have I seen him so happily flustered as he was at this meal – Nooshi Jaan. Soheil too was happy with his madhbi but I struggled with my madfoon, finding the meat either too fatty or too dry. It sure looked good when they opened the aluminium foil it was wrapped in. It dampened but not soured my experience.
I can’t ever remember being offered anything besides kunefe for dessert at a mandi restaurant (and kunefe isn’t even Yemeni). Although we were almost gagging, we ordered Bint al-sahn, a Yemeni sweet dish made from a dough and served with honey, and Fattah Tamr – Yemeni croutons, mixed with dates and clarified butter…also with honey. Speaking of honey, who could resist Yemeni honey? I soon forgot the desserts and spoon fed myself the honey. That’s a polite way of saying I didn’t think much of the desserts.
Service at Azal Mandi is friendly and accommodating. If you don’t speak Arabic, spend a minute to first find an English-speaking waiter – there are several. It makes all the difference. Thankfully we had Sheikh Mansoor with us who speaks Arabic but also, the lad who looked after us had a decent enough command of English. All-in-all, I think we all enjoyed our meal at Azal, none more so than Mansoor. Even though I was not happy with my madfoon I still have no reservations in recommending this restaurant in Karama. Easily worth a visit.
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Xerxes (pronounced Zûrk’seez) physically dines at, or orders from, each and every venue he reviews. He pays in full for whatever he and his companions eat, drink, take away or occasionally throw at each other. Xerxes accepts no money, gifts, discounts or free meals in return for reviews or favouritism. What you have read was NOT influenced in any way by the venue. Join his culinary journey on Instagram: @ravenousxerxes or reach out to him via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.