It’s not often that I still get to try a cuisine that’s new to me. I mostly feasted my way through that excitement years ago. But the country of Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, and is also close to Ethiopia, isn’t exactly competing with Chinese or Italian when it comes to opening restaurants stateside. So when I headed to Marib in Springfield, I was in for a rare treat.
Fortunately, I had studied the online menu, which has pictures representing every dish, so I knew what would be appropriate for Meaty Monday. The dish that I was most certain I needed wasn’t actually novel to me at all. I grew to love murtabak (spelled at Marib as motabak) at Zam Zam, a restaurant that’s been operating in Singapore since 1908. But it’s an Arab food and I was thrilled to give it a go at my very first Yemeni restaurant.
I wasn’t disappointed. Though the layers of pastry dough aren’t as thin and flaky as at Zam Zam, it is still light and far softer than phyllo. A spicy filling of ground beef and vegetables doesn’t really need the accompaniment of jalapeños and limes to sing, but it’s worth a squeeze and a cut of both.
But this is Meaty Monday and the meat in a murtabak is really only incidental to the drool-worthy dough. I had to try haneeth, a spice-rubbed lamb dish. The roasted meat falls off the bone in aromatic chunks. For an extra $4, I got my tender lamb over mathlootha, a layered rice dish.
What you see on top is rice, but beneath lies a wheat-based porridge called jreesh, which gives the dish an unexpectedly creamy feel. Under that is a thin flatbread that’s imbued with sauce. My only complaint: The mathlootha-to-haneeth ratio was off. I needed more meat to truly enjoy all of the rice dish. But that’s a minor quibble. And now, I’m primed to explore more of the fleshy fascinations of Yemeni cuisine. // 6981 Hechinger Drive, Springfield
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