Want mandi chicken and lamb? This Mississauga restaurant makes it 'something memorable'
Mandi Afandi is located at 5120 Dixie Rd #1 in Mississauga
Mandi Afandi is a Mississauga restaurant that does rice dishes like no other in the GTA.
I was introduced to it during a conversation at Crown Pastries — a Syrian baklava shop across the street. The owner, Rasoul Alsalha, suggested I go to the restaurant for lunch. He added that it was a regular stop for him since it opened in late 2018.
There are many great food strip malls in Mississauga. Mandi Afandi is located in one on Dixie Road that is known for Jamaican, Afghani and Pakistani food.
The owner, Omar Bach Mohamed, recently took over the premises from a former restaurant (which also specialized in mandi) to create a vibrant space that celebrates the cooking of Yemen and southern bordering cities of Saudi Arabia.
"I know it sounds cliché but I want guests to feel some warmth when they are in here, almost like it's an extension of my house," Mohamed said.
Mandi Afandi is one of the most colourful restaurants you'll walk into; a vibrant cartoon theme emanates from its walls to the chairs and the pillows in the private dining areas.
The restaurant specializes in mandi, a Yemeni dish that is made up of rice and roasted meats. Let me tell you, rice is the star player here.
In the kitchen, a Jamaican-Yemeni chef, Ocha Abdul, is about to cook the the day's batch of rice. A large cauldron is set on an open flame before Abdul starts adding his aromatics and spices. There's onion, ginger, green chilies, and several other spices that follow.
Abdul was born and raised in Jamaica.
"My dad's side of the family is from Yemen, so I travelled there to learn more about the cuisine, and to master mandi," he explained.
As the sofrito in the pot starts to reduce, Abdul works quickly to add in a few more ingredients as he prepares the pot for the rice. It's made with maggi seasoning cubes from Nigeria and preserved limes for an added sour flavour to the rice.
Abdul may be the chef, but Mohamed is the spice purveyor. He brings in ingredients from the Middle East — spice mixes from Saudi Arabia, saffron from Afghanistan and preserved limes from Iran.
"It is an obvious thing to say, when you have interesting and good quality ingredients and a great chef, you'll create something memorable," Mohamed explained.
If you're a fiend of sour notes like me, you'll appreciate the preserved lime. I suggest you request it when ordering. The whole lime offers a pleasing sourness mixed with spice and pepper.
Back to the pot, as steam starts to billow, Abdul adds bins full of washed rice and quickly ladles in stock that he has cooked overnight. Bones, garlic, ginger are also cooked in the pot for added flavour.
Abdul places a large lid on top and secures it with a 2.5-kilo dumbbell to keep the pressure in the pot.
While the rice cooks, Abdul prepares the rest of the menu which includes an assortment of meats that have marinated overnight in spices, and are cooked in large custom ovens that mimic the cooking style of mandi.
"Mandi is generally cooked out in the desert, for celebrations. We dig a large hole, fill it with charcoal and use the hot sand as an oven to create this combination of rice and roasted meat," Mohamed explained.
Mohamed imported two meat ovens in the restaurant to cook his meat. Abdul's marinade and the ovens produce some of the most tender pieces of chicken and lamb I've had. The back of your spoon provides enough pressure to pull apart meat from bone, flip the spoon and scoop both rice and meat together each time.
One of my favourite parts of Mandi Afandi is the coffee and dates they serve. From the moment doors opened, Mohamed has encouraged diners to help themselves to cardamom-infused Saudi coffee and imported dates.
"In my opinion, it is a great way to end a feast of rice and meat. I would serve guests at my home some coffee and dates after we eat mandi," Mohamed said.