16 September 2022

Five minutes with Mariam Rehman, Habibi Chicken

| Anna Maskus
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Mariam Rehman

Born and raised in Wagga, Mariam Rehman is taking her first steps into the business world. Photo: Katashi Films.

Who is Mariam Rehman? Oh God, I didn’t expect this question! As an individual, I would say that I’m pretty focused, resilient, and I’m creative. I like to think outside of the box.

Best recent dining experience: I really don’t want to be biased, but our food is amazing. Since opening, we’ve had customers from Sydney, where Middle Eastern food is everywhere, and have them say, ‘Wow, we haven’t had anything like this chicken before’.

Favourite cuisine: I quite like Thai, Lebanese, Turkish, anything really – I have pretty diversified taste.

Most embarrassing pantry item: Oh, it’s gotta be Arnott’s Mint Slice – so many people think mint and chocolate taste awful together. I’m not one of them!

What ingredient can you not live without: Garlic.

Best coffee spot in Wagga: Mr. Lawrence.

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Next big thing in the Wagga food scene: If I think of any more gaps in the market, other than the one that we have managed to fill, I’ll be giving my secrets away! Food is an untapped market in general in Wagga. We don’t have enough diversity of different cuisines – Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, anything blended, or contemporary Australian.

A must-try on our menu: Anything that has the Habibi sauce. It looks like chipotle mayo, but it tastes different. It’ll blow your mind, I can’t explain it.

My biggest culinary influence: Mum. She’s insane. I think growing up in a family where food was prioritised shaped who I am, you automatically become interested, and she’s the reason Habibi is here today.

Favourite cookbook: How to Eat, by Nigella Lawson. It’s very thick and slightly daunting, but you can sit down, open it to any page and read it like a normal book.

Who I admire in the Wagga food and wine scene: Craig from Thirsty Crow is definitely my No. 1 – he works so hard and gives so much back to the community. Richard from Meccanico has also done really well – he opened Pastorale really quickly after establishing Meccanico. Matt from Jardine’s Cafe, the gentleman who owns Fitz Cafe also owns Red Rooster. There’s too many to mention!

Whole charcoal chicken

Habibi’s whole charcoal chicken, served with homemade pickles, slaw, Lebanese bread and garlic aioli. Photo: Habibi Chicken.

What are this week’s specials at Habibi Chicken? We have no specials at the moment, purely because our menu is really simple. The wraps have been a big hit for lunch, both Classic and Habibi versions, they’re an instant classic.

Death-row meal: I don’t drink alcohol, so I feel like this is not going to be a crazy amazing answer, but the mandarin Jarritos soda that Guzman y Gomez sells, with a Massaman curry.

My least-favourite food: Soup. It’s complicated to make, and there’s so many ingredients, but then what you end up with is a bowl of liquid.

My COVID-19 response: The business was conceived during the COVID period, so we always had that in the back of our minds. I think the only reason why we haven’t started doing home deliveries is because we’re so busy right now! Things are almost back to normal now, so we’re figuring it all out as we go along.

My top-three cooking tips: 1. Measure your rice with your fingers – rice to one knuckle deep, pour in water to your second knuckle and you’ll have perfect fluffy rice all the time. 2. Wrap some oil and charcoal in foil and chuck it in your rice for a really nice smokey flavour. 3. If you want to cut onions without crying, make sure you slice it from pole to pole (root to top) and don’t slice off the remaining root from the halves.

Habibi Chicken is at 96 Fitzmaurice St, Wagga. Find out more about the business or apply to join the team here.

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