Walking around major cities, certain smells seem to almost become a part of your DNA. When one is passing by food carts, restaurants, markets, and the like on such a frequent basis, those smells become such a part of the experience within those specific urban concrete confines. And that is why, upon parking and walking up to Madina Halal & Sweets, I was so pleasantly surprised – my senses instantly awakened, smelling the most intoxicating aromas.
Now, the building is not the most welcoming sight in the city. There are signs of obvious wear and tear, and one can tell upon entering that much of their business is of a more takeout nature, however there are several tables and chairs should you choose to dine in, as we did.
Madina Halal & Sweets serves up a limited menu of middle eastern fare, including some Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Indian items. There are curries such as goat, beef, and chicken; chicken tikka and seekh kababs; chicken and fish tandoori; chicken patties; vegetable and beef samosas; naan; versions of biryani and taheri, and finally chicken or fish over rice dishes. Madina was out of beef the day we came in, therefore we stuck to mostly chicken on this particular trip.
First up were chicken patties and beef samosas. Unfortunately the chicken patties were mostly all puff pastry, which was used as the shell, therefore making the ratio of outer to inner contents pretty far off. And to make things more disappointing, the filling was superb, so brightly and intensely flavored – from what I could discern garam masala, tumeric, chili, ginger, garlic, and onion rounded out this flavor profile, however with the sparseness of the it, I could be a touch off. I would, however, give these another try because the flavors were so incredible, that maybe it was just an execution problem in the kitchen with that particular batch.
Next, the beef samosas were on deck. And those too unfortunately suffered from some execution problems of their own. The filling was distributed much more evenly than the patties, however the outer shell seemed to be more akin to a thick egg roll wrapper, than a thin more airy pastry version. And yes there are as many versions of samosas out there, and everybody has their own favorite way to prepare. And there is certainly nothing wrong with cutting corners and using a store bought item, however these would have benefitted greatly by at least cutting the excess off, versus just awkwardly wrapping the excess around the formed triangle. Yet again, the filling was wonderful, so maybe in future visits this problem will be rectified.
The chicken biryani was the highlight of my visit, and a dish I literally can not wait to consume again and again. As soon as I took a bite of the rice, I exclaimed, “This rice is what dreams are made of!” And was it ever. The rice in this dish alone I would come back for on a weekly basis. The fragrant basmati rice was perfectly steamed with an array of spices including ginger, cumin, cardamom, coriander, bay leaves, green chiles, and possibly some cinnamon/nutmeg or garam masala – what a divine combination of flavors, indeed! The chicken was fall off the bone tender, and a wonderful accompaniment, making this dish one of the most flavorful and delicious ethnic dishes I have tasted in recent memory. And again, this magic all lies in its simplicity, this dish being comprised of essentially two elements, which to me is a real culinary feat and something to be totally respected.
Next was the chicken over rice, which is a staple dish offered at any Halal food cart in most major cities, so of course we had to try their version as well. This was my companion’s favorite, one could tell the chopped up chicken, having been marinated in a yogurt based mixture with many spices, all resulting in an extremely tender and flavorful protein. Yes, all of the usual suspect spices were there – turmeric, curry, cumin, coriander, garlic. Then added to that were grilled onions and bell peppers, all swathed in the ubiquitous white sauce that always finishes a dish like this off (think mayonnaise/greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice). Just a suggestion/tip though, I ALWAYS, regardless of establishment, ask kindly for this to be on the side, because the application can be, and usually is, somewhat overzealous. Also served alongside is hot sauce which rounds out this dish nicely. And to note, there was a different version of rice, which differed from the biryani dish. It tasted of tumeric and a touch of cumin, just enough flavor to enhance, versus compete with all of the succulent chicken on top.
Now bear with me as I include this next bit. It’s few and far between, when visiting ethnic places around the city, that I consider trying the American offerings (usually included on the back of the menu), but on this particular day I was compelled to do so. My interest was curiously peaked as to how an immigrant’s rendition would be of something out of their culinary history comfort zone. Therefore I bit the bullet and ordered a Philly cheesesteak. And boy were we glad that I did – my companion remarked it was one of the top cheesesteaks he has had in Buffalo, ever. The ratio of meat to cheese to bun was absolutely perfect, not grossly overfilled just totally appropriate. The steak, steak sauce, peppers, onions, and cheese all blended together, creating a harmony that was perfectly balanced, and executed, creating a welcome grand finale to our meal.
Walking out, once again inhaling those amazing smells from Madina Halal, reaffirmed why we choose to live in a city like Buffalo. Yes there are certainly things it lacks, but there is much more than meets the eye, especially if you venture off the beaten path. I am so happy to know that on any given day, we can pay a visit to this special eatery – I’ve already added it to my list of highlights for the new year.