In Saudi Arabia, Jeddah in particular, Indonesian fare has garnered the sort of following that ramen has here in the Occident. Thanks to the influx of hajj pilgrims from the island archipelago, Saudis have been taken by Indonesia's melting-pot cuisine, marked by the influences of Indian dynasties, Islamic food law and Dutch colonial rule, not to mention its proximity to Japan and China. The cuisine stands in stark contrast to the Arabian peninsula's Bedouin-influenced meat-and-rice dishes, which may seem staid by comparison, but you can judge for yourself at World's Magic Restaurant – the city's first (to my knowledge) Saudi restaurant.
Outside the desert domain, these Saudi joints are hard to come by, even in the world's most diverse cities. New York, London, Toronto – nothing. I suppose we should be thankful for whatever gastronomic hocus pocus brought World's Magic to this tawdry stretch of I-Drive. It sits between Nile Ethiopian and the Cairo Bar & Hookah Lounge, in a space that once housed "A Royal Wedding Chapel" (it's true, look it up). I guess it gave meaning to the very odd and very large painting of playing cards depicting a royal flush inside the restaurant's tastefully wallpapered and chandeliered dining room, though I'm not exactly wedded to that idea. Hee hee. Perhaps the royal flush is a reference to the "kingdom" of Saudi Arabia? Or the "Magic" in the restaurant's name?
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
I honestly don't know, but a spoonful of gareesh ($9.99) is dining, magical or otherwise, at its finest. It's a savory chicken porridge made from crushed wheat and milk, topped with a ghee-slicked dollop of seasoned (and salty) caramelized onions. It sounds deceptively simple, and it's not much to look at, but I'll be heading back to I-Drive for this. I might just try and nick the recipe.
I won't covet the step-by-steps for the mandi lamb ($15.99), a Saudi rice dish, as much. For one, the bone-in chunks of lamb aren't cooked in an underground sand pit but in a tandoor. Of course, I kid; that's hardly their fault. In fact, the lamb had a nice essence of char and the rice, tinged yellow from the spiced stock used to boil the meat prior to its tandoorizing, had a proper fluff. But, to me, the dish seemed more a facsimile of biryani than anything else, its flavors evoking a watered-down familiarity.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
Anyway, the Indonesian menu comprises the majority of dishes served here. Just keep in mind these are Saudi renditions of Indonesian staples, so skewers of chicken satay ($12.99), for example, are pre-brushed in a heavy peanut butter dressing and served on a sizzling plate with diced onions. Chunks of beef in the rendang ($13.99) are sweeter, less spicy and have a lot more shredded coconut caked onto them than their Indonesian counterparts. They're not saucy in the least and the sugary taste may throw some folks off, unlike the den den's ($15.99) sweet heat of jerky meat. These remarkably thin and crispy fried beef wafers are as addictive as nibbles can get.
But for a true representative sampling, the mixed Indonesian plate ($25) gets you everything from heavily coconuted chicken rendang to tender chili sambal beef in soy sauce. It's all set around a square pyramid of rice crowned with a boiled egg nestled in a mild sambal and tahini sauce. It's fetching stuff. Canned green beans in tahini and diced sambal potatoes likely of frozen origin? Not so much. The inclusion of elbow pasta in red sauce was a bit of a mystery, but mystery at a place called World's Magic Restaurant seems entirely apropos.
- Photo by Robb Bartlett
I was hoping they'd serve es teler, the Indonesian dessert of crushed ice and exotic fruits, but no. The hospitable servers did, however, play up the kunafa ($4.99), and apart from the unnaturally red topping, the kunafa – like most of what we had at World's Magic Restaurant – did the trick.
– This story appeared in the Oct. 16, 2019, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly Headlines newsletter.