Sunday, 29 January 2012

Arab food in a malay village

My first taste of an arabic dish was when I was a small boy. For breakfast one day, my mother cooked some mashed green-coloured beans with spices and toasted a few french loaf slices to go with it. The dish was eaten with an egg fried in ghee plus some roughly-chopped onions and green chillies as garnish.

At first try, the thing had a spicy-bitter taste that was hard to describe... but I loved it. Mom said that the dish is called `kacang pol'. Funny name, I thought... but later on in life I noted that there are variants to the name : pol, pool, ful and even phool. All these from translating the original arabic name of foul medames.

In my trip to Cairo in 2004, I had my first taste of authentic foul medames. The buffet breakfast spread at the hotel had two versions of the dish, Egyptian-style and Lebanese-style... of course I tried both. Slightly different tasting compared to mom's version but delicious all the same.

My exposure to middle-eastern cuisine further broadened during my short stint working in the United Arab Emirates. The tough pressure of work was somewhat compensated by food-tasting adventures. That was where I developed an affection for lamb mandey and lovely fresh salad dishes. Nowadays, whenever I hear of an Arabic restaurant opening up in KL, I would make an effort to try it out. To date, Saba Restaurant at Jelatek is still the best in my book.

Of late, Johor Bahru is seeing a few genuine Arabic restaurants opening for business... genuine in this sense, meaning with real Arab cooks. Not those run by locals who cook from recipes they learned when they were students in Egypt or Jordan or wherever. The latest one is called Wadi El-Arab Restaurant located right here in my district of Kg Melayu Majidee. It just opened a few weeks ago and I must say the owner is taking a huge gamble in opening a speciality restaurant out of the city centre.

It was our youngest son's 17th birthday on Friday and so I decided to have the celebration dinner at this new eating place. Wadi El-Arab is located just across the Medan Selera Kg Melayu (where you can get the best ABC in all of JB). The place used to be someone's house and was renovated into a restaurant. Decor-wise, there is nothing to shout about. The front part of the dining area is carpeted and has low tables for that sitting-on-the-floor experience. The inner dining area has simple round tables of the kopitiam type, not quite to my liking.

The menu choices is about average I guess, but sufficient enough for those not familiar with arabian food to try out some variety. They have bokhari rice, makloubeh, kofta, shawarma, shish tawok plus some salads and soups. Most importantly (to me, at least) they have mandey.

The birthday boy and his elder brother had grilled lamb kofta while the missus ordered the same but beef. These are spiced minced meat rolled onto metal skewers, grilled over charcoal fire, served with roasted eggplant and homous, and eaten with arab flat bread. I ordered what else but lamb mandey... at RM19.80 per plate, the most expensive rice dish on the main course menu. Wasn't the best that I had (which would still be at a restaurant somewhere in Muscat, Oman) but still on the okay side. The kofta dishes are the tasty ones. Overall not too bad... but they really need to pull in more crowd to make the long haul.

The cover menu card
Mandey lamb rice
Lamb kofta
And I honestly hope they do because it is now so easy for me to satisfy my craving for a mid-eastern dish with this place at my doorstep. I'm already thinking of the next dish to try.... perhaps their makloubeh, the upside-down rice and lamb/chicken combo.


Sir Pök Déng said...

We have Arab chefs and workers working at SIRIM Berhad kafeteria. They made us mandy rice which I was once asked the chef wether this meal had any "side dish" (I had forgotten how to say "kuah" in English) served together, like our traditional way of serving Malay nasi. He seemed confused with my 'side dish' request. So he said "u want sauce?" and I said yes. He later gave me extra sauce which looks like grinded tomatoes mixed with Arab spices. I said under my breath "menatang mende ni? (what is this beasty thing?)" and walked away. I said "syokron!" however, which the chef was impressed with my amateur Arabspeak. He said "masya Allah! Afwan!"

I then sat at the table and had my first taste of mandey rice. The rice itself without any kuah was so damn good!

Days later I tasted every Arab dish I came across at the kafetaria. Foul medame, daging kambing yg macsm human tahi tu (haha!), potatoes stuffed with rice, etc.

Justiffa said...

Hadoi oldstock, after being 'away' for so long the moment i decide to sneak in a peep and you have all these yummy images!!!!! trus lapar.. toloooong lol

Hope life has been good to u & family :)

Anonymous said...

TQ for sharing.Hope to pack the maklobeh on my way back from kota singa next weekend.The kacang pol is another dish to die for.Yummy yummy!!


Pak Zawi said...

Definitely worth trying the next time I drop by into JB.

Oldstock said...

Pok Deng,

Is that Sirim cafe open to public? I might just try it out if I happen to be in Shah Alam.

Oldstock said...


It just goes to show that this post and your dropping by, has been so perfectly timed. If Pok Deng in the above comment replies that the Sirim cafeteria is open to public, then good chance for you to try it before me :-)

Life's been improving a bit this year. Hope things are good for you too.

Oldstock said...

Salam Wawa,

I've tasted makloubeh (a Jordanian/Palestinian dish) twice before, but they were at Malay restaurants selling Arab-type food. Wasn't that satisfactory. That's why I now want to try a real makloubeh. You going to Spore when?

Oldstock said...

Pak Zawi,

Drop me a line when you plan to come down to JB. I'll take you out for dinner... your choice of arabic, western or local, no problem :-)

Anonymous said...

InsyAllah after attending a wedding at kota singa on 4th Saturday,I'll go to JB.Hopefully to go around medan selera kg Melayu by 3pm.My 0174777606.

Oldstock said...

Alaa... I won't be in JB on that day. Would have loved to show you the place. Tapi saya rasa you can find it. Kalau tak berkenan dgn masakan arab, boleh try mee bandung muar, also nearby medan selera Kg Melayu. It's opposite Esso petrol station... confirm sedap.

Anonymous said...

Suami saya org arab palestin .. Makluba (nasi terbalik) mmg sedap dah pernah cuba mulukhiyi sup daging/ayam dicampur dgn sayuran hijau mcm pucuk paku berlendir ... Sedap !! Ayam masak dgn sumac pun sedap

Oldstock said...

Saya pernah search kat internet untuk resipi makluba sebab teringin nak cuba sendiri. Cuma masalahnya nak mencari satu ingredient dalam 7 spices, iaitu allspice. Tak tahu pulak apa namanya dlm bahasa melayu. Sumac pun sejenis spice yg susah nak dapat kat Malaysia.

Untungnya suami puan pandai memasak :-)

eddy said...

tq for the update bro definitely will give the restaurant a try.

Oldstock said...


Do try it out bro and let me know what you think.

Papa-NtiQ said...

wow..what an interesting blog we have here brother Oldstock. Stumbled across it by chance while googling Wadi El-Arab and ended up reading your posts for hours! I am also staying in JB and i think we are at about the same age with the same sense of humour..hehe. Probably go for teh-tarik one day eh?
Come and visit my 3-month old blog at It is all about makan, makan and makan in JB area (mostly) and don't forget to register as my follower eh Oldstock? ...see ya!

Oldstock said...


Welcome to this blog. The posts on makan places are part of my interest but I'm not doing them exclusively. There are a number of dedicated food blogs and I see that you have one in that category. That's good... now I know more good eating spots to try out. Will explore your blog a bit more as soon as I can... no prob for the teh tarik, when we find a convenient time :-)

Papa-NtiQ said...

ok tapi my posts on makan2 are not as extensive as yours. I bet you dah try semua yang I mentioned. anyway TQ again for your compliments jgn lupa register as a follower ye Oldstock maklum la blog baru nih sunyi je hehe...macam paksa je...sorry!