x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ask Ali: explaining mandi and visiting Mecca

That is where mandi gets its name: it is derived from the Arabic word nada, which means dew.

Dear Ali: I read your guide to Dubai, and was intrigued by a dish you call mandi. What exactly is mandi? CH, Dubai

Dear CH: Mandi is a rice dish cooked in a special oven with dry wood. A lot of heat is generated, which creates a moist texture.

And that is where mandi gets its name: it is derived from the Arabic word nada, which means dew. The rice is cooked with juicy beef or chicken and a mixture of spices.

The dish is originally from Yemen, but every Gulf country has its own signature version, differentiated by the different spices used. Many cooks sprinkle some nuts and zabeeb, or dry grape, on top. I love to have a rocca salad and a tangy tomato-chilli dip with mine. If you’re in Dubai, make sure to visit Al Marhabani on Jumeirah Road for a memorable mandi.

But I warn you not to schedule a meeting after eating it – this dish will make you sleepy.

Dear Ali: Are non-Saudi Muslims allowed to go to Mecca at any time other than Haj? BB, Muscat, Oman

Dear BB: Did you know that there is a Starbucks across from the Kaaba in Mecca? The only difference is that it does not feature the famous mermaid logo, so as not to offend Muslim pilgrims.

I guess that the company realised that during Haj the city’s population triples to six million. That’s a lot of white mocha, no-whip frappuccinos.

Back to your question: yes, Muslims may visit the holy city at any time and many do to perform a pilgrimage known as Umrah. Umrah, which translates as “to visit a populated place”, is more of a smaller brother to Haj, but one of the advantages of it is that it can be done at any time of the year. That said, most people do the Umrah right before Haj or right after.

Another popular time for Umrah is at the end of Ramadan, as it is considered an especially religious period.

The rituals of the Umrah are meant to pay tribute to Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) and Hagar (Hajar), who was the mother of Ishmael.

The first ritual is called tawaf. Pilgrims walk around the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction. The second ritual is called sai and symbolises the time when Hagar tried desperately to find water for baby Ishmael.

In the story, she walked rapidly back and forth between the Safa and Marwah hills seven times before water came forth from the Well of Zamzam.

Pilgrims make the same journey seven times and some drink from the well, though this is not officially part of an Umrah.

The last ritual involves cutting one’s hair. Halq is the word for completely shaving one’s hair off. Since we don’t want our women to cut their beautiful locks, they can just cut off some. This is called taqsir.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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