It all started with a craving – as it often does in the world of food – a craving for authentic Middle Eastern food right here in the Maldives. Zaatar Cafe’ is a multi-generational family venture whose name suitably reflects the fresh take on flavour at this establishment. The restaurant is aptly named after a mixture of herbs like oregano and thyme used in Middle Eastern style cooking.
Walls covered in decorative tiles and glass lights made way towards a countertop already teeming with Mezze (appetisers) such as Mutabbal (an eggplant-based tahini dip) and Hummus with Falafel next to a large bowl of aromatic lemons. Upon asking for recommendations, we were promptly recommended the Spicy Muhammara Pastry and some black tea with mint.
We chose not to forgo the Hummus and Falafel Combo. The hummus was perfectly blended and flavourful, served with a side of tahini sauce and a generous amount of pita bread. The mini cucumbers, tomatoes and pickles within the combo made for an interesting experience, all within one dish. The Spicy Muhammara Pastry – served on a round wooden board – lived up to its name and made for a great palate cleanser. Both of these appetisers are quite filling and we assumed we were good to go at that point.
We had been told initially that the main serving of Chicken Shish Tawook would take approximately 30 minutes to prepare, since the meat is grilled fresh. After wolfing down the appetisers, we were treated to the slow sip of one of the best black teas with fresh sprigs of mint we have ever had. Amid conversation and staring out lazily at the setting sun on the adjacent beach in Hulhumale’, we recognised the beauty of taking some time in between courses for just such a thing. Taste
It wasn’t long before the main dish was served. Every single bite of juicy, aromatic Chicken Shish Tawook was definitely worth the wait. It was on a completely different frequency from other grilled meat found within the greater Male’ area. We were joyfully told by the server that the secret ingredient is fresh yoghurt. We have also since found out that the dedication poured on to preparing this delicacy is approximately 2 to 3 days long. After deeply marinating the chicken cubes, they are grilled with care on lemonwood charcoal for a distinctly unique taste. We finished off happily with a rice pudding that was subtle, yet intense enough for anyone with a sweet tooth.
This cafe’ is definitely one that is best enjoyed over joyous chatter and with every member of the family present. As we stared out onto the twilight creeping in, we were happy to have found such a satisfactory cure for the craving of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine, ourselves.
By Jumana Shareef