Monday, January 10, 2011


Saba or Sheba was an ancient kingdom mentioned in both the Old Testament and the Quran. This was the realm of the famed Queen of Sheba. Its actual location is not precisely known, but is believed to be in southern Arabia somewhere near the present day Yemen.

It is also the name of a Yemeni restaurant that my wife had mentioned many times. On one rainy Saturday evening we drove all 50 km to Cyberjaya, and finally had a taste of what Yemeni food was all about.

The diner is located on the ground floor of Block A1 of CDB Perdana in Jalan Perdana, Cyberjaya - GPS N-2 55.370, E-101 39.070. It was a rather ordinary kind of makan place with plastic chairs and glaring bright lights and was devoid of the dining ambiance that I had earlier imagined an exotic middle-eastern restaurant to be. In spite of its Cyberjaya remoteness, it was surprising well patronized. The place is big with an outdoor dining area and most of the tables were taken up.

We started our meal sharing a mutton soup. I naively thought that the soup would be like the mamak soup kambing. But it was not anything like that. And it was not any inferior. The flavor of the soup was not as strong as the mamak variety. It was rather light and still tasted good. I savored the full flavor of the mutton in the soup. However it was served rather cold. I have always prefer my soup hot.

The kabsah lamb was our first entree. It was a piece of stewed meat marinated in various spices, served with basmati rice. The meat was tender and flavorful, but I actually enjoyed the rice more. The rice looked like briyani but it was not as oily. The fragrant and texture of the rice was excellent.

Next was the hanith chicken. The chicken arrived wrapped in a metal foil. It was prepared with 10 types of herbs and served with the same basmati rice. The chicken was succulent and tasted better than the lamb. Again, I enjoyed the basmati more.

The chicken kebab was marvelous. I liked aromatic meat preparation. It was served with french fries, some salad and pita bread. There was also some pickled tomato that was to be eaten as a sauce. Wrapped in the pita, the kebab with the salad and sauce was simply delicious.

We ordered a cream caramel and a rice pudding for dessert. The cream caramel was excellent. My only complaint was that the portion was too small. We hardly had a spoonful each.

The rice pudding was somewhat wanting. The pudding itself wasn't too bad. The problem was that they had some silly colourful sweetener on the surface - like some out-of-place birthday cakes. That totally spoiled the pudding. They should had used a syrup to sweeten the pudding instead.

The place serves an Arabic non-alcoholic beer. It is a bottled drink branded as Barbican. The drinks come in different flavours - apple, strawberry, pineapple, raspberry, etc. The one I prefer is the original beer (malt) flavor - not unlike our normal beer, only minus the alcohol. As RM3 a shot, it is worthwhile to sample how non-alcoholic beer tastes like.

Some people may find the food in Saba rather bland. But really, Malaysians like tasty and flavorful foods - most times, too flavorful. We have too much spices, sugar, salt and other flavors in what we eat. Often these flavors mask out the true essence of their food. Other cultures may prefer the actual taste the meat, fish, vegetable or grains in their food. I believe this to be true of middle-eastern cuisines. My experiences with the 3 middle-eastern places so far - here, the Iranian and the Lebanese places - seem to be consistent on this point. And by the way... of the 3, I think I prefer Saba most.

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