Mandi, the Yemeni Delicacy from Barkas

The Barkas area in the old city is home to many Hyderabadis whose forefathers were from Arab countries. The name of the place originated from the word “barracks”, as the area served as the barracks for Nizam’s army. The then army had a large number of Arabs, especially Hadhramis from Yemen. Thus, it is no surprise that the cuisine of the area is replete with localized versions of Yemeni food.

One of the Yemeni preparations, a dish which has become popular in Hyderabad is their traditional Mandi. A rice dish, usually with mutton, (known as Laham Mandi) it is also available with chicken, quail and even grilled fish. Initially, this was available only in the Barkas area, but now, restaurants in Tolichowki and Hitech City are also serving the delicacy to their customers. For any food lovers visiting Hyderabad, tasting the local Mandi has become part of the must-try list.

Mandi is a rice and meat dish with spices like saffron, cinnamon, and nutmeg, as well as pinenut, almond, and raisin. The name of the dish in Arabic means “dew”. The moistness of the dish is also due to the fact that the rice is cooked in meat stock.  The authentic Mandi in Arab countries is prepared in a pot which is put inside a specially dug pit in the ground. The meat is suspended on top of the rice, often separated by a rack or mesh. The pot is then sealed and mandi is slow cooked inside in firewood, often overnight, along with the meat and spices. It is said that the fat dripping from the meat adds further taste to the rice.  Flavour rather than masala is the hallmark of the dish.

However, most restaurants serving Mandi here in Hyderabad now cook it inside a usual tandoor.  The stock of the meat is used to cook the rice. Nuts and raisins, as well as Arabic spices, add further flavour and taste. However, in many places, there is a tendency to make the dish quite localized to the Hyderabadi palate by adding excessive spices. The dish is served with a special tomato chutney known as shawak, and sometimes a mint chutney as well as garlic mayo.

Mataam-Al-Arabi at Barkas is the best-known place to try out Laham Mandi in Hyderabad. Food lovers prefer to travel more than an hour to eat their favourite dish to this eight-year-old restaurant. The place offers a typical Arab style seating on the floor, where people sitting cross-legged share the dish with friends from the same plate, which is placed on a small chowki. Four Seasons in Tolichowki was also one of the first places to serve this dish. Now, there are many other small places where Mandi and another Arabic dish Khabsa are available. Al Qaswa near Masab Tank, Mandi@36 at Jubilee Hills, Yum Yum Tree in Madhapur and Al Zaara Mathbaq Al Mandi in Tolichowki are some of better known among these.  Mandi is now emerging as one of the most popular Hyderabadi dishes after biryani and haleem. It is also forming a part of the wedding reception menus in the city.

Note: This is an updated version of the article originally published in New Indian Express Hyderabad on 28th November 2017 

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