A rice dish made with meat, mandi differs from biriyani in the way it’s cooked and served — the meat is cooked separately and then piled on top of the rice before it’s served.

How the Arabian Mandi is giving Hyderabadi biryani a run for its moneyImage Credit: Picxy.com/rajavijayasaradhich
news Feature Monday, January 27, 2020 - 10:52
Written by  Wajeed Ullah Khan

The people working in Al Mandi Restaurant in Hyderabad's Bahadurpura area, are too busy to even spare a moment to speak as they go about their business, cooking large quantities of mandi, an Arabic dish that is gaining popularity in the city.

The restaurant, which is located on Kishan Bagh road in the Old City, has a large number of customers each day, who line up for its famous mandi. A rice dish made with meat, mandi differs from biriyani in the way it’s cooked and served. The meat is cooked separately and then piled on top of the rice before it’s served.

"The evening time is significant for us as most of the customers arrive at this time. We call it our very own 'prime time,'" says Mohd Mannan Pervez, the owner of the restaurant.

Over the last few years, mandi, a food associated with Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries, has captured the taste buds of Hyderabadi people as it has found its way onto menus of several famous restaurant chains.

So much so that fans say it could offer stiff competition to the city’s beloved biryani.

"Mandi has the potential to become a customary food. In another 4 to 5 years, it could give a tough challenge to biryani,” a customer at a restaurant told TNM.  Even hotels which were known for their Hyderabadi biryani are now selling mandi as well.

What’s more, mandi is extremely profitable for hoteliers as the price of one plate is around Rs 400, almost twice that of biryani.

The demand is such that one can find mandi outlets setting up in every nook and corner of Hyderabad, especially in the Old City. The nerve centre of this dish is the Barkas area, where people of Arabic lineage have settled. Their forefathers arrived in Hyderabad in search of livelihood in the era of the Nizam of erstwhile Hyderabad state.

A large number of eateries of Hyderabad have opened up a separate section for mandi, where the seating arrangement is different from the traditional one. Instead of chairs and tables, this special Arab dish is served on 'chowkis'  — a short-legged table — so that people must sit on the floor around it and eat. Four people can easily sit around one chowki.

“Mandi is attracting not just Old City residents, but also Telugu people and youngsters working in corporates as well. Many students drool over it. It is the texture of the meat which draws them in. The people of Hyderabad are very meticulous when it comes to food and mandi is meeting their standards," Pervez says.

"Most people in Barkas are making mandi part of their staple diet," he adds. 

How it’s made

While the traditional mandi is made with meat, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and cardamom, the Hyderabadi version is slightly different. 

"As the Arabs didn’t like the chilli powder, they want bland mandi. However, in the mandi we make, we add many ingredients and masalas like pine nuts, peanuts, green chilli etc., to give it a Hyderabadi touch”, Pervez says.

Mandi is cooked in a large, specially-designed oven, for which a hole is dug in the ground and covered with clay. 

"We are serving certain kinds of soups and sweets with the mandi. It is a hit with younger generations and families," Pervez adds.

While fish mandi and prawn mandi are also available in outlets in the city, it is the chicken and mutton mandi that is popular among most patrons, restaurant owners say. 

Growing popularity

“About seven or eight years ago, it was only available at Barkas. But gradually it has become a trend. A cluster of exclusive mandi houses have been established in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad,” Pervez says. 


The popularity is such that the dish has now become an extra item in marriage celebrations and functions of the Muslim community in Hyderabad, along with the traditional biryani. 

Syed Ameer Abrar, the proprietor of Al Saud Bait Al Mandi in Malakpet says, "Nowadays, mandi is easily accessible in several food courts. We are witnessing a big change in the food industry. It is a multi-cuisine era where the general public is giving importance to foreign foods." 

"The people from other states who are residing in Hyderabad for work and other purposes also enjoy this dish," he adds.

Mohd Arshad Mohiuddin Hussain, who owns Mataam Abu Faisal Arabian Food in Hafiz Baba Nagar told TNM, "We can clearly perceive this new trend. As days pass, the culture and the food habits of the people of Hyderabad has been changing drastically."

“If one likes the food instinctively, they recommend it to others and the same thing has happened where mandi is concerned. The craze for the food has been increasing day by day," he added.

Wajeed Ullah Khan is a Hyderabad-based freelance journalist who writes predominantly on the issues surrounding Old City. He can be contacted at wuk040@gmail.com