Arabian Night Dreams

My Food Guru Benny Se Teo posted about this Briyani recently declaring it the best briyani he has ever tried.

I was intrigued since he is seriously into food and also I hear (but never verified ahem) that one of his fave dishes to prepare for friends (ahem) is Briyani.

I have been dreaming of Briyani since I read his post. It has been a while since I had a good Briyani .

In my dream, this really hot girl had no clothes on and was holding this gigantic silver tray of Briyani which was the only thing protecting her modesty.

She smiled at me demurely with doe brown eyes and I was transfixed.

Never breaking gaze, she slowly lowered the silver tray on to the table.

I gasped.

There were slivers of moist and gleaming lamb legs, succulent chicken parts, the most beautiful saffron colors of fine grain rice. Yogurt most creamy and delectable and enticing curries……

Wait …. what is happening?

So you see it’s been too long.

I better go get my Briyani fix.

Cafe Mariam

This cafe has been reviewed and here is the excellent article from Makansutra on the Chef and his techniques.


In the article, it is explained that the Chef has serious beginnings in the kitchen:

Mr Hassan Abdul Majeed has worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White. He has worked in cruise ship kitchens and has even moulded sushi and ramen in his 20-year career in the culinary industry.


That’s some serious credentials and piqued my interest.

My visit to Cafe Mariam

Guru Benny Se Teo with Chef Hassan

Chef Hassan is a fit looking bloke and his fluid and no nonsense movements at the counter suggested that he is used to working under the rigours of a busy kitchen.

He was cooking alone at the counter when I visited, serving an unending stream of customers.

I came at about 1130am and the cafe was already half full . There were two small tables inside the cafe but we decided to sit at the tables outside, which were better ventilated.

The cafe is small and seating arrangements is limited so I would suggest coming early or late beyond the peak hours if you wanted to secure a table.

I told Chef Hassan I wanted one of his Duo platter (containing nasi Briyani and nasi Mandi with both mutton and chicken so basically everything on his menu).

Nasi Mandi

What in the world is Nasi Mandi? I must confess my knowledge of the world of Briyani is quite limited.

This is what I found out.

The word ‘Mandi‘ is a derivation of an Arab Word ‘Nada’ which means ‘Dew’ and reflects upon the dewy or moist nature of the cooked meat.

Mandi is a traditional dish originating from Hadhramaut, Yemen consisting mainly of meat and rice with a special blend of spices. It is cooked in a pit underground.

It’s extremely popular and prevalent in most areas of the Arabian Peninsula, and even considered a staple dish in many regions. It’s also found in Egypt, the Levant, and Turkey.

Mandi is usually made from rice, meat (lamb,goat, chicken or camel) and a mixture of spices called Hawaij.

Hmm – Camel.

Yum ……………….

The main technique which differentiates Mandi from other meat dishes is that the meat is cooked in the tandoor which is a special kind of oven which is usually a pit dug up in the ground and covered with all around its sides.

The Rice

When the platter arrived I saw that the color of the two mounds of rice looked different. The familiar orange or saffron looking rice I assume was Briyani rice, while the other brown looking rice I assume was Mandi.

So first port of call – to sample the rice without any meat or sauces whatsoever.

The rice hits the spot – it was fragrant and indeed smoky. The grains of the rice were yielding yet grainy with a clean taste.

I couldn’t see how he had prepared the rice to achieve this smoky fragrance but Guru Benny has posted some pictures in his Facebook which I am producing with his permission:

Enough said – rice was great.

The Meat

I was lucky to see the Chef treating the meat just before serving.

He picked the already cooked meat (looking well braised and tender) and torched them.

Chef pleasantly obliged when I asked permission to take some pictures.

When serving, he had imbedded the mutton into the rice adding to the smokiness of the dish.

The mutton was succulent without the sometimes gaminess of mutton – no doubt because it was well spiced and marinated.

But it was the chicken that blew me away.

It was the most moist and tender chicken I have eaten in recent times.

The flesh tore away beautifully and had a hint of Bbq smokiness but balanced and not overpowering. It was truly exquisite.

The Condiments

If I had one grouse, it was that I found the curry too mild and not pedas enough.

Having said that, I recognise that it was probably meant to be that way – the taste was meant to be delicate and no single ingredient was supposed to overpower the other.

The green chilli chutney that came with it was a pleasant addition though. It had a fiery kick and was delicious.

The yoghurt was pleasantly meant to douse the fire of the chutney and the combination was delicious.

Final thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed the offerings of Cafe Mariam.

It was clean, fragrant, smoky but balanced, and downright enticing.

Forget the strong heady flavours we are used to in our neighbourhood Briyani stalls with strong curries bursting with spices and colours.

The version at Cafe Mariam was delicate and artisanal.

And more importantly – utterly delicious.

Cafe Mariam
116 Changi Road, #01-03

11am to 3pm on weekdays; closes by 2pm on weekends (prayer break noon to 2pm on Fridays)
Tel: 9369-8564

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