The Gulf is one of my favorite places to eat. The more luxurious aspects of cities like Dubai and Doha may get more attention internationally—and many of the region’s various high-end restaurants are, indeed, quite excellent—but it’s the potpourri of holes in the wall that tend to be found in more humble office blocks and shopping centers in the shadow of said cities’ towering skyscrapers that I tend to be most drawn to. In some sense it’s a matter of just having a change of scenery, getting a break from cafes, malls and hotel lobbies. But more than anything it’s about embracing the unknown—walking for a few blocks and popping into the first interesting option without reading a menu or review (something that, owing to the ubiquity of wifi and my own neurotic nature, has grown all the rarer). The results are often unexceptional, but just as often, they’re unexpectedly excellent. The best Thai Red Shrimp Curry I’ve ever had was in Riyadh; I’ve stumbled upon revelatory regional Filipino cuisine in Abu Dhabi. More often than not, I end up opting out of hotel breakfast and hopping to the nearest decent looking South Indian place for idly or a dosa.
During my most recent trip to Abu Dhabi, I had aims of once again going exploring. Unfortunately, it was July and, even after sunset, it rather hot and extremely humid. Two blocks in, as the air grew oppressive and I failed to find any solid leads, I though back to the Yemeni restaurant advertising mandi and madhbi that was across from my hotel. I ran back, quickly browsed the menu and ended up ordering takeout.
I opted for the chicken madhbi, though the menu was quite varied and reasonably priced. It was ready in about 15 minutes, after which I proceeded to haul myself back to my hotel as quickly as possible, plopping myself on the floor and almost jumping in before snapping a quick photo.
Chicken madhbi is generally, at worst average, but at its best, it can be almost transcendent despite its relative simplicity. Quality of ingredients aside, I often wonder how much of it is randomness. Does better chicken madhbi stem from better kitchen staff? Is it about the quality of the grill? Or is it simply a matter of fortuitous turn, one that manages to catch the interior of the chicken at peak juiciness while the exterior and skin are just managing to crisp? I don’t know to be honest—I’m not a food scientist. Either way, texture wise, this place managed one of the best chicken madhbi’s I’ve had outside of Yemen. Taste-wise, it similarly excelled. The sahawag and rise were nearly perfectly spiced, as was the chicken (all too often, the spicing of mahdbi outside of Yemen too closely resembles that of Levantine farouj).
On that end, al-Marhabani gets a nod of approval. I look forward to eating through their meat options next time I’m in AD.
Al-Marhabani is located in central Abu Dhabi roughly across the street from the Abu Dhabi Marriott
Crossposted at my medium site