One of the best things about living in the Southeast Asia region is the ability to travel across the different countries, as most are a 2-3 hour plane ride away (if that). I’m currently based in Thailand (Bangkok) but have been traveling to Malaysia and Singapore a lot… and immensely enjoying the food.
More than enjoying the eating, I’ve been learning a lot about foods from different cultures, more than I did when I was living in San Francisco, New York, D.C., or LA. It seems so strange how some Asian countries are more diverse than the United States or even London (pre-Brexit).
Each region’s local food is mind-blowingly delicious — especially in Malaysia and Singapore. Malay and Singaporean foods are heavily influenced by Chinese and Indian and there are many dishes with roots from China and India but unique to the region. (More on that later… actually, there will be a piece published shortly about Malaysian food I wrote – yay!)
But what a lot of the more developed cities of the region (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, are the top three) do well, are foods from various countries (outside of China and India). For example, Bangkok — believe it or not — excels in Italian food. Pasta, antipasto, even mains such as osso buco are extremely delicious and a lot of establishments even import brick ovens from Italy for their pizza.
Singapore has pretty decent Middle Eastern / Mediterranean communities and those whom know me, know I loooooooove Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. From the spices: cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, saffron, sumac to the aromatics: mint, parsley, dill, oregano… I can keep going but I can’t get enough of the warm, deep, flirty flavors of Middle Eastern foods and the fresh, bright, acidity of Mediterranean foods.
The other day in Singapore, I had the tastiest lamb mandi, a Middle Eastern dish so I just have to share.
Originating from Yemen, mandi is a one plate dish consisting of a protein (usually beef, chicken, goat, or lamb) with rice cooked with a special blend of spices. The menu description reads: roasted lamb marinated with saffron and Arabic spices served with mandi rice and homemade mint tomato sauce
In actuality, it was the most tender leg of lamb cooked in this clay pan-like thing with this lovely fragrant rice. I couldn’t get the flavors out of my head, so I googled recipes and tried with chicken at home. It was good but not great – I’m blaming the cooking method (traditional mandi is cooked underground) but I’m hoping practice will make perfect 😉 Recipe is after the jump.
By the way, if you’re ever in Singapore, Byblos Cafe is highly recommended. Not pictured are the four other dishes my dining companion and I ordered… for lunch. There were only two of us and we ate enough for like five haha
14 Bussorah Street Singapore 199435
11am – 12am
+65 6296 8577
Yemeni Spice Mix:
2.5 tbsps cumin
2 tbsps coriander
1 tbsp black pepper powder (I ground black pepper in a pestle and mortar)
1 tbsp cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tbsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chili powder (optional — I opted out)
Mix all and put in air tight container
For the chicken:
1/2 chicken with skin
2 tbsp Yemeni mix spice
Salt to taste
2 tbsp butter
For the rice:
1 onion chopped
1 tomato chopped
1 green chili
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp Yemeni mix spice
1 cup long grain rice (Basmati)
2 cups boiling water
Salt to taste
Raisins and sliced almonds for garnish (I only used sliced almonds, opted out of raisins)
- Preheat oven to 375F. Season chicken with salt. Mix butter with spices and brush the chicken. Set aside for 10 minutes. Cover chicken with aluminum foild and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- In a pan heat olive oil on medium high heat, once heated, add onion and cook until translucent. Lower heat to medium. Add tomatoes, green chili and stir for about 4 minutes. Add Yemeni spice mix, stir for two minutes. Pour water, season with salt.
- When water comes to boil, add rice. When it starts to boil gain, cover tightly and cook for 15 minutes on low heat.
- Uncover rice and gently stir bottom rice to the top. Cover again tightly and cook for another 15-17 minutes.
- Plate the rice and chicken on top.
So I called Byblos Grill and thank god, they remembered me! They also shared their recipe for the mint tomato ‘sauce’ which is more like a salsa than a tomato sauce. It is realllllllllllllly tasty and suits lamb so well! The directions are a bit choppy as the cook and I had a few… communication problems (his English is heavily accented haha)
Byblos Grill Mint Tomato Sauce
capsicum (green bell peppers)
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
salt to taste
Put in blender, blend all gently, add more aromatics to taste if needed (mint, lemon juice, salt, coriander)
The cook also gave me tips on how to cook the meat and mandi.
- use whole cinnamon and cardamom
- boil the meat first with the Yemeni spices, then bake with rice
Gonna try again and will update recipe as needed!