Monday, December 05, 2005

Samar Cafe, Kandahar Street

Kofta Kebab

Being a former resident of West LA, I really miss Persian Food. The closest thing to Persian food out here in Singapore is Turkish food, which - in my experience here at least - has not been anything great. But then I learned about Samar (60 Kandahar Street at Baghdad Street, 6398-0530), which serves all sorts of "Arabic cuisine." I had to give it a try. Unfortunately, it got off to a really poor start with the kofta kebab, or "deep fried minced beef kebabs in tahini sauce, served with fresh bread." It was left so long in the deep fryer that the crust was nearly an inedible rock hard shell - almost like a really bad falafel. Once I got inside, the meat tasted OK, but geez - what a bad start to the meal.

Mandhi Lamb Shank

The meal then progressed to their signature Mandhi Lamb Shank, which is a Yemeni dish, apparently. Fortunately, this was the complete opposite of the kofta kebab; the meat was so tender that it practically fell off the bone when I touched it. The basmati rice underneath was also a nice touch. Still, there was really no taste here. The lamb was supposedly marinating for a while, but I really couldn't taste much. Only after I squeezed lemon and shook salt on it did it start to take off for me. Had I not done so, this would have really been a bummer. Strangely, they didn't provide any roasted onions or tomatoes or anything like that either, which would have completely changed the dish. Maybe this naked taste is how it's done in Yemen? To their credit, they did provide a little tray of sauces, but none of them hit home with me; one was like a salsa that almost seemed catered to local tastes (or was it the Yemeni chili sauce?), while another was a yogurty-based thing with the consistency of nasal drip (it may have been the sesame tahini, but it sure didn't seem like sesame).

From right: Sugee pudding and some green ice creamFeeling rather disappointed (and still a bit hungry), I grabbed the menu again, looking for something else. I decided to fall back on something I had in Morocco: harira, a hearty soup. Fortunately, this had a lot more flavor (and in many ways tasted better than the one that I had in Marrakech), but even then, the little bits of meat in here were clearly not of the best quality. The warm sugee pudding (made of semolina) was bearable - but it really depended on the raisins and dates to give it flavor. Sadly enough, I think the things I liked the most were a couple drinks: an iced Arabic tea with some fruit juice in it, as well as a karkadeh tea made from hibiscus leaves, making it taste a bit similar to Tazo's Passion tea.

I tried so hard to like this place, but unfortunately it fell a bit short (and they don't take American Express). Well, this place is open 24 hours though, so I know that I'll be giving it a second chance; I saw quite a few other things on the menu that piqued my curiosity (and no, it was not the chicken rice, fettucine, and mee rebus in the "global food" section of the menu - ugh!). They also had hookah pipes to smoke too if that's your thing.


Medusa aka expiringpoet said...

Hey there,
Just read your review of Samar and I must tell you that Singapore is really not the best place in the world to get that genuine Middle Eastern or Arabic flavour. I've tried Samar myself and like you, felt that it fell abit short on the food.
Great review! :)

Anonymous said...

They dont take Amex for a reason. In fact they dont take in any items from America. They boycott American stuff. Ask the staff, they should know.