KARACHI: After nearly two decades of service in the United Arab Emirates, Bait al Mandi restaurant opened a franchise in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Friday, as eager customers lined up to try traditional Arab cuisine, particularly mandi, a medley dish of rice and meat and a signature blend of spices.
Mandi originated in Yemen and is extremely popular in many areas of the Arabian Peninsula. In Karachi, the dish is not entirely new. The popular Hanifia restaurant added mandi to its menu in 2007, and a speciality mandi restaurant called Ridan Mandilaunched in 2016. Many other restaurants that serve Pakistani food have also started offering mandi, albeit customized to Pakistani tastes, due to a growing demand for the dish.
Celebrity chef Naheed Ansari said Arab cuisine was fast making inroads in Pakistan, and mandi was becoming particularly popular given its similarities to the Pakistani pulao and biryani meat and rice dishes.
“I like mandi and Arabic cuisine but to attract more Pakistani customers, Arab restaurants will need to add a few green or red chilies,” she told Arab News, referring to a Pakistani preference for spicy food. “Arab cuisine will also need to fit into local tastes, the way we have done with Chinese cuisine in Pakistan, created a fusion.”
Customers at Dubai’s Bait al Mandi restaurant said the dish wasn’t as spicy as they were used to eating but they still found it appetizing.
“The food wasn’t spicy as is common here in Karachi but it was mouth-watering,” said Tamjid Aijazi as he walked out of Bait al Mandi with his family on Friday night. “We ordered chicken mandi as we are used to doing regularly when we visit Dubai. It was great.”
Adnan al Omare, the Jordanian general manager of Bait al Mandi, said the restaurant had aimed to keep its recipe simple and original, resisting the temptation to add spices or other local flavours.
“It’s the same dish as we have in Dubai and Oman,” Omare said, adding that all the chefs were Arabs. “They are trained and have twenty years of experience of cooking Arabic cuisines.”
Others like Hanifia and Ridan Mandi have preferred to alter the classic Yemeni dish to suit local tastes.
Umair Idrees, the owner of Ridan Mandi, said his chefs had trained for four months in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, before he started serving Arabic food in Karachi.
“We have added a little spice to our original recipe,” he told Arab News, so that it would be appetizing both for Pakistanis and the large number of Arab customers working and studying in Karachi.
Behroze Sabzwari, a Pakistani film actor who was a guest at Bait al Mandi’s launch event on Friday evening, said Pakistan had a deep emotional attachment with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world and it was a welcome sign that the countries were embracing each other’s food also.
“Besides our religion which is the core, there are cultural commonalities and food is a new addition,” he said, adding that he ate mandi when he visited Makkah and Madinah, or the UAE, but had to wait each time to go back to these countries to have the beloved dish.
“Now I don’t need to wait anymore,” Sabzwari said. “I finally have mandi in my own hometown.”