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Published September 25th 2012
A taste of Yemen
If you're tired of having the usual Asian, Mediterranean, or Italian cuisine, this might be the place to try something more exotic. Located on 124 Union Road in Ascot Vale, this quaint little eatery serves up some pretty tasty Yemeni cuisine.
Simply called Yemeni Restaurant, upon entering one is greeted with a simple layout of tables and chairs on a tiled floor. Nothing too remarkable. However, hidden in the back is a comfortable looking carpeted room in a nice scarlet hue that almost looks like it was part of someone's house. We were told to take our shoes off before entering, and the group of us settled in nicely in preparation for the feast to come.
Their menu isn't terribly complicated, with a small, but carefully picked selection of Yemeni cuisine. People with dietary concerns should take note that it is a Halal eatery, so no pork is served. There are also a few vegetarian dishes that are offered but we didn't choose to have those unfortunately. Also, even though cutlery is provided, some of you might want to use your hands to eat should you wish to partake in the whole authentic experience.
We selected a couple of dishes for starters; the first was the Mugalgal, which consisted of small pieces of cubed beef in a tomato and onion sauce with a Yemeni spice mixture called Baharat. The second starter was the Laham Suqar, also beef but pan fried with onions, capsicums, and carrots. Both starters are served with a side of Khubz, which is described as traditional Yemeni bread. Those who are familiar with South-East Asian cuisine may find that it looks and tastes much like roti prata/canai.
The Mugalgal was nice and tangy thanks to the sauce, and it went very well with the Khubz. The Laham Suqar was tasty and tender despite the lack of sauce. Our Yemeni Chai, which is a black tea, came soon after in a couple of large flasks.
People who love sweet teas will definitely love this. The combination of the spices and sweetness brought out the aromatic fragrance of the tea, which made it difficult to put down.
When we were nearly done with our starters, the main course arrived. What we ordered was a combination of the Lamb Mandi and Chicken Mandi found on the menu, which is slow cooked meat seasoned with Baharat, served on a bed of Basmati rice. It also came with sides of salad, and two different sauces. Shitni, which was a type of green chili sauce, and Khiar Bil Laban which looked like yoghurt, but was actually a cucumber dip. As we had a rather large group of eight, it was served in large 14 to 16 inch silver platters, which made it look even more impressive.
The rice had a light and subtle flavour, and it helped to bring the more intense flavours of the spiced meat out. The lamb was really tender and easy to eat, but the chicken was a little tougher and drier in comparison. Both sauces also worked well as dipping sauces, with the Shitni carrying just the right amount of heat, and added another dimension to the already exotic taste of the food.
Despite some effort in wiping everything clean, there's always room for dessert. We opted for the Ma'soob which was described as pastry bread, topped with honey, cream, and bananas. It reminded me somewhat of bread pudding.
The dessert had a nice creamy texture, and we could just make out the chunks of pastry in between mouthfuls of the toppings. It is really rich and thick, and even though the serving is fairly small, most people would choose to share it.
We left this simple looking place happy and satisfied, and waited for the tram at the conveniently located tram stop right outside the store. On all occasions that I've been here, it was always surprisingly empty despite the quality of food. If you're looking for some delicious but affordable Middle Eastern cuisine, then Yemeni Restaurant will definitely give you a taste of Yemen to remember.