Let me introduce you to the Palestinian Musakhan I met last week at a Palestinian resto that recently popped up in my beloved foodie hood of town, Hor Al Anz.
Zahrat Al Quds served me a musakhan that spoke to me of a story, a story of a cutesy little featherfluff of a chicken cooing its way to the…other side of the road.
Suddenly, cutesy chicken screeches dramatically, its eyes wide and feathers fluttering all over the place and scrawny feet dangling wildly, as it falls into a ditch that’s booby trapped with crispy, caramelized layers of thin shrak bread.
But it’s all good because the ditch is a yummy ditch. It’s one of those glorious ditches lined with silky sliced onions powder coated in tangy red sumac. One of those ditches with slivered almonds scattered around, free for the picking. One of those ditches drizzled generously with olive oil. You know THOSE ditches, right?
Anyhow, the shrak booby trap closes over the chicken (who is at least well fed on sumacy onions) and the poor little but very juicy thing gets baked, crisped up till scarlet-golden, and put on my dinner table. So there is a happy ending, only it’s mine and not the chicken’s.
I couldn’t stop eating this dish. I ate it for dinner at the restaurant, then had the leftovers for breakfast AND lunch the next day. The chicken and onions had dripped their sweet caramelized juices all over the bread, till the bottom layer of the folded shrak package took on the intense heady taste of hot liquid sugar. The sweet caramelized bits lay in peaceful harmony with the pepper, sumac and toasty almonds (an authentic musakhan actually calls for pine nuts, but at that moment, it could have been walnuts and I'd have inhaled it down.), all of it coming together into a chicken pie that was so well-spiced and picture perfect that I was convinced that this was the best reason EVER for any chicken to cross the road. FYI, this is the kind of dish that sends you into mandatory hibernation or not, so if anyone was wondering why on earth I looked like a space cadet all of Thursday last week, this Palestinian musakhan was the legal substance behind it.
Of course there were other dishes that made it to the table. Think of them as side plots to the main chicken crossing the street story. There was hummus, which was a tad bit more partial to tahini than usual, but the nutty overtone didn’t stop us from scooping up creamy mouthfuls of it with folded rocket leaves. I also interrupted my passionate musakhan encounter to taste minced lamb kababs doused in tahini sauce...
...but promptly returned to unveiling the chicken from beneath the folds of shrak a minute later.
The shakriah might have been runner-up on the table, coming four places after the musakhan that won first, second and third places.
It was a slurry of warm yogurt, melty nubs of lamb, a lone baby onion, and pepper – spoonfuls of which you’re meant to stream over a plate of buttery rice tossed with vermicelli and slivered almonds. If you drink the shakriah plain – and I did – you’ll realize that it coats your tongue with a rich, buttery mouth feel. At that point, you’re supposed to grin smugly to yourself and whisper: Dear Ghee, I’ve caught you redhanded.
There’s so much more I need to try at this restaurant, and you can be sure I will not be ordering the musakhan the next few times, because it’ll probably take centre stage and knock everyone else off again. If you hit the restaurant again before I do, these are the dishes I’d beg you to zoom in on if you can bear to other anything other than that stomach-worshipping musakhan:
- Mondays: Sheesh Barak (meat dumplings)
- Tuesdays: Freekeh Chicken (chicken cooked with green wheat)
- Thursdays: Daoud Basha (meatballs with pine nuts in tomato sauce)
- Saturdays: Stuffed (though I don’t know what ‘Stuffed’ is stuffed with, but it adds to the exotic mystery of it all and makes the dish all the more desirable.)
- Every gluttonous day: Kedra Chicken (Moroccan speciality), Mansaf (Jordan, goat with fermented yoghurt or jameed)
And if that Musakhan does make it to your table, don’t resort to tea, coffee, red bull, or pounding your head on the wall to stay awake. I promise you, none of them will help. Just do yourself a favour and sleep it off.
Zahrat Al Quds
Check out their menu here
Phone: + 971 (4) 2977509
Behind Ramada Continental, Abu Hail, Al Muteena, Dubai