A young girl on a long and lonely voyage, a beautiful stone house by the sea, and a book of fiercely guarded recipes. These are just some of the elements which compose the fascinating history of Mayrig.
‘Mayrig’ is Armenian for ‘little mother’, and is used as a form of endearment for a mother or grandmother.
Aline Kamakian founded a restaurant by the same name as a tribute to her beloved grandmother, and her Armenian heritage.
During the Armenian war, Aline’s ‘mayrig’ escaped to Lebanon, and carried with her a prized collection of secret family recipes. The prized recipes had to be shared with the world, Aline established Mayrig restaurant to give us a taste of authentic Armenian cooking.
Mayrig restaurant in Lebanon has been hailed as a food haven by food critics, and the Dubai franchise is located on the very stylish Boulevard, Downtown Dubai opposite Manzil Hotel.
The interiors of Mayrig reflect the colorful heritage of Armenia. You have the option of sitting out on the terrace, or dining indoors.
The restaurant is lit up with blown-glass lanterns in gemstone shades, the walls are painted a striking, deep magenta and the interior décor features tapestry motifs and old family photographs.
Interesting relics of ‘mayrig’s’ authentic kitchen line the walls; there is a line of brass pans, a lit-up sieve and a shelf of painted glass bottles akin to the settings of a rustic cozy cottage that has been given a nomadic makeover.
The restaurant staff tells us the color scheme is influenced by the red, blue and orange of the Armenian flag.
Mayrig’s menu covers perfectly fit the theme, and resemble old photograph albums.
Aline’s ‘mayrig’ features on the first page of the menu, a touching tribute to a beloved grandmother.
The menu can be quite confusing for a first-timer to Armenian cuisine, the names are so exotic. However, Mr. Sako, our host for the evening, took great care of us and was more than helpful when it came to choosing our dining options.
Mr. Sako is Armenian himself, and is very passionate about the cuisine of his country. His enthusiasm made us over-order the first course, we had a total of eight different appetizers on our table!
Below is a photo of the first five.
Here is the ‘Salad Selection’, a platter of five different traditional Armenian salads.
The salad platter includes a bowl of Haigagan, Sempougov, Zeitoun, Vospi and Itch.
Haigagan is a traditional Armenian cucumber salad featuring fresh tomatoes, and the tartness of lemon.
Sempougov is very similar to the popular Arabic Baba Ghanoush. This is a smoked aubergine salad, served cold and the Armenian version includes diced tomatoes and a generous sprinkle of parsley.
Zeitoun is an Armenian green olive salad with a special tomato base, and includes the crunchiness of walnuts.
Itch is an Armenian version of the well-known Arabic tabouleh. A traditional Arabic tabouleh is predominantly parsley with a sprinkle of burghul (cracked wheat), but the Itch is a tabouleh in reverse. Cracked wheat is cooked in a tomato broth, and garnished with parsley. It has a porridge-like consistency with full-on tomato flavor. Mr. Sako instructed us to eat this scooped up with fresh cabbage leaves. It was fresh, flavorful and delicious.
Then there was the Sempougui Keufteh.
The Sempougui Keufteh is an aubergine kebbe served in a salted wheat tart-case. It is cold, pungently citric and has a burst of aubergine dancing through.
Lahme Beajine translates to ‘meat on dough’.
Mayrig’s Lahme Beajine is similar to an Arabic manakish. The tomato base was lovely, and a few squeezes of the accompanying slice of lemon accentuated the overall meaty flavor of the dish.
Pandjarov Sarma is stuffed swiss chard in olive oil.
I was impressed with how neatly each piece was packed. It tastes very similar to the Egyptian counterpart, stuffed vine leaves.
Mouhammara is a decadent mash of hot red peppers and walnut.
You can taste the bitter-sweet union of hot pepper with walnut, and the consistency is rustic and coarse. I really enjoyed this dish, although hubby found it a bit bitter for his liking.
Mr. Sako insisted with try Sou beureg, a layered pastry stuffed with three kinds of Armenian cheese.
The cheese stuffing was literally oozing out of the hot pastry. I could taste haloumi cheese. The Sou beureg is divinely cheesy and filling, and its definitely not diet food!
Here’s another interesting little dish we had at Mayrig: Quail eggs on basturma.
The yolks of these tiny poached eggs was beautifully runny, and each piece was small enough to pop into one mouthful.
Basturma is a traditional smoked beef. It is a refined version of a commercial salami, and the canapé was served on a bread base that was deliciously salty and loaded with rustic herb flavor.
Gdzou patates translates to ‘spicy potatoes’.
I love potato wedges, but this was an exotic twist I had never tasted before. The potato wedges have been deep-fried till crisp, and coated with a delicious Armenian red pepper sauce. The sauce had a hint of spiciness without being overbearing, and a slight tang of tomatoes. For a humble vegetable like the potato, Mayrig has created magic with this dish.
Throughout the appetizer round, I was sipping Fishnah juice.
Fishnah is Armenian sour cherries. This drink has been sweetened to balance the sourness, and has a lovely cherry flavor. I love tart, so for me, I’ll order fishnah juice without sugar next time.
Hubby had the Yoghurt with Mint drink, a bad choice in my opinion given the number of dishes we ended up with on the table! It is a lovely drink with the subtle hint of mint, but can easily fill you up.
Finally it was time for the mains. If appetizers are meant to whet your appetite for more, this was not the case here. Our hunger was completely satiated, and our taste-buds were still in trance from the introduction to exotic Armenian cuisine.
We let Mr. Sako choose our mains. We had Fishnah Kebabs and Mante.
The Fishnah Kebabs are essentially grilled beef kebabs topped with the most delicious sour cherry sauce.
The kebabs were cooked to perfection. They were succulently moist and had the fresh, robust flavor of meat, spices and a blend of secret herbs without being fried. It had none of the oily aftertaste we often associate with kebabs.
However, more than the kebabs, I relished the fishnah sauce! It had the perfect balance of tart and sweet, and the moist, cooked cherries made it a pleasure to eat. I wish they sold jars of this sauce by itself!
Mante is a dish of meat dumplings served with an Armenian tomato gravy and cold yoghurt.
There is a ritual involved in serving mante. I am a sucker for traditional rituals, and had to click each stage of the process.
First, the tomato gravy is poured over the dumplings.
This is then topped with dollops of yoghurt.
The yoghurt layer gets a sprinkling of sumac (dried lemon powder).
And voila, the Mante is ready to serve.
The sour, cold yoghurt was a delightful contrast to the hot, meaty pastry. Mante also comes with a spinach stuffing for vegetarians.
By the dessert round, we were far too full to move. Mr. Sako insisted we try the Banirov Maamoul and the Moussaler.
The Banirov Maamoul is a serving of three maamouls (semolina-based sweet pastry) stuffed with warm, sweetened cheese.
You have to spoon open a maamoul and pour in the rose-flavored sugar syrup before eating. It can be likened to the Arabic kunafah.
The Moussaler was a refreshing end to this gluttonous Armenian feast. Named after an Armenian mountain, this is a tower of ashtha flavored ice-cream and is topped with a generous helping of cotton candy sprinkled with pistachio.
Mr. Sako said the Moussaler can be likened to a vanilla ice-cream, but apart from the color, we found no similarity. It has a refreshing, almost herbal flavor and brings to mind the scent of old incense, a forgotten perfume. If you can pinpoint the exact taste, let me know!
My daughter was delighted to meet the ice-cream man at Mayrig, and really enjoyed her cone of Loukhoum ice-cream, a pretty pink scoop scented with rose flavoring.
I always insist on a hot cup of tea after a heavy meal, and Mr. Sako served us the Mayrig Special Tea.
This is a pale russet liquor heavily accentuated with cinnamon flavor. It was light and aromatic, the perfect ending to an epic meal.
If you enjoy shisha, Mayrig’s terrace is the perfect setting for it.
Visit Mayrig before the end of February, take a snap on the terrace and upload it to Instagram with the hashtag #mayrigbestterrace and you could win a meal for two!
Here’s my entry, my little poser is more than happy to oblige!
Visit the Mayrig website for details, and get a firsthand introduction to the wonderful world of Armenian cuisine.
Mayrig, a bit of our homeland served on your platter.