If toothsome mezze’s, tagines, kebabs and saccharine baklavas and om ali are what your dreams are made of, then there is a perfect place for you to direct your route every Tuesday, and every day during the Ramadan season. A place to go and nosh to your heart and tummy’s content – The Palm Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency, The Kilimanjaro.
The taste and quality of the Arabic fare served, at undoubtedly “The Best” Restaurant in the heart of Dar es salaam has reached its apogee with the recent joining of Chef Hani Karabet Elias, who bring with him above 25 years of mastering the flavoursome cuisine. He has been cooking up a storm in the kitchen of the Hotel, especially during the month of Ramdaan, where his aim is to put up the best dishes in his repertoire to entice the taste buds of the guests. A gentle and soft spoken Chef Hani, in all humility confesses that there is no one particular dish that is his favourite, since everything he makes is delicious!! I couldn’t help smiling secretly, since I couldn’t wait to try the food. Hailing from Syria and working for some of the best restaurants in Syria and other Gulf countries, he now looks forward to his tryst with Africa and is equally enjoying experiencing the Kswahili cuisine and learning its nuances.
The Hotel spares no efforts to source the finest ingredients for its Arabic kitchen, mostly from authentic destinations all over the Gulf, if they are not available in Tanzania. Spices mixes are then precisely ground to achieve the most delectable flavours in the dishes. Pickles and Pastes are painstakingly prepared to ensure that every dish is perfect, and these are displayed in an interesting and eye catchy shelves behind the buffet spread.
Very recently I had the privilege to join two very personable gentlemen GM Karl Marshall, and Siddhartha Chowdhry, Executive Chef of the Hotel, on an scrumptious journey of enticing and earthy , really authentic flavours of an Arabic Feast. It was a feast that I will remember for some time to come, and when I forget it, I will be there again.
A traditional Iftaar starts with Dates, which in the case of Hyatt are sourced from the Gulf and are of premier quality. So two huge bowls filled with Dates it was, and a counter laid with colourful spread of juices to gulp down to quench that initial round of thirst. Tamar hindi (the Arabic word for Tamarind which literally is translated to mean Indian dates!!) is a traditional Iftaar drink in Arabic cuisine, and it is made by boiling tamarind and adding sugar to it. Its cooling effect on the body makes it a pertinent part of the feast during the hot Ramdaan months. This tangy drink with just a hint of sweetness was perfect accompaniment to the wonderful meal. Apart from this there are an array of drinks to choose from which includes Koumer al din which is an apricot drink made from Apricot leather, and the Karkadeh a hibiscus drink which is really refreshing. For me it was really new to have hibiscus in the form of a drink, which I discovered only after moving to Africa, and have honestly loved the drink.
The next delightful course is a warm lentil soup which is ideally made with red lentils stewed and simmered to perfection with just a hint of cumin and turmeric to give it a golden hue. This is perfect to give your body a boost of instant energy when you are breaking the fast. Giving company was a wholesome yet tenderly flavoured chicken soup dotted with veggies and served alongside a variety of breads to dip in.
You eyes are going to be mesmerized by the mezze’s on the spread, and what a spread to choose from. Believe me, you will want to try every single dish on the stand because each one looks better than the other. So you are going to be in a dilemma here, but don’t worry take your time. It obviously is no child’s play to choose from 25 dishes on just the mezze counter and just one plate in your hand!!! If wishes were horses, I would have wished for 6 hands and a plate in each one. I wonder how I would have looked!
There is hummus, moutabel, foul madame salad, fattoush, muhamra and an endless list. While muhamra was my personal favourite, since I have always been partial to this heavenly concoction of walnuts, roasted peppers and pomegranate molasses and I went in for a second helping. The moutabel and the broccoli salad with tahina were equally tantalizing, even though am not a broccoli fan.
When you are at the mezze section the warmth of the live shawarma counter is bound to have you gravitating towards the heavenly aroma of chicken getting prepped to go onto your plates. Be careful, don’t loose yourself and go too close, lest you and the chicken start mingling together in the warmth. Just stay at a safe distance and sink your teeth into the lip-smacking shawarma roll. It was one of the best I ever had.
If you think I am anywhere close to this description of spicy aromas and tongue tickling flavors then there is still some way to go, so don’t just get into your car and drive towards Kivukoni Front.
Once you are done with the shawarma, move left towards the ever delicious falafel which is scooped and fried right in front of you to crispy perfection so that when you bite in its super crisp on the outside and amazingly tender on the inside and for the perfect texture I found a whole chickpea in my falafel!! I mean that’s really as authentic. The live grill had some real smoke emanating, dishing out some meaty sheesh tawouk, beef and lamb koftas. I highly recommend the sheesh tawouk which was marinated and grilled to really tender kabobs. The Moroccan Chicken Tagine, Seafood Capsa, Tinisian couscous and vermicelli rice completed the main-course as staples to the meal. My pick was the Tinisian couscous which was as beautiful to the eyes with its colourful bits as it was to the palate.
Besides these dishes there was the sweet potato in coconut milk and Swahili Porridge to add a Swahili flair to the whole gala. The sweet potato in coconut milk was love at first bite. Never thought sweet potato could be so good. It was the perfect soul food. I could imagine myself sitting in my balcony on a rainy evening with a bowl full of this tender subtle goodness. I am out looking for the recipe at this stage, so Chef Hani please be kind enough to share the secret.
When you are done with this opulent feast fit for a Sheikh, I was still not done because there from the far right corner were sweet nothings calling out to me to come and taste the dulcet spread of baklava , mohalbiya ,oreyeibar, Istah with honey, om ali and so much more. How could I say no? I am not at all heartless. Even though I am not a dessert person, it would be such a shame to ignore these beauties. The Istah with honey was so delicate and subtly sweet that a second serving could have really gone unnoticed. The Baklava was contrastingly sweet and crispy….just like a baklava should be. For those unlike me, who chose not to indulge anymore, there was an array of fresh fruits in honey.
It will be very unforgiving if in all this food talk I forget to make mention of how emphatic Karl Marshall was on having an authentic Chef to create an authentic Cuisine.
In his words “you can learn all the cooking you wish to, but you will never be able to create the same taste coming from the hands of a Chef native to the cuisine he’s cooking”!! I so totally agree to that fact.
Amidst all this food I have to make mention of the happy faces of adults and kids swarming the space. The Restaurant with its low lights and warm ambience cast the perfect atmosphere for everyone to enjoy the festivities with friends and family. I even spotted a young couple lovingly put in the first morsel into each other mouths, representing the breaking of fast. So The Palm Restaurant is even a great place to express love and celebrate the bonding that festivals usually bring about.
So whenever your heart craves for top notch Arabic delicacies, don’t think twice, just route your GPS to this great destination and you will be thanking Chef Hani and the Team, and of course me for telling you what you could have missed if it was anywhere else, but The Palm.