Pretty much nothing. Zero.
I’d say that was an accurate description of the sum total of my knowledge of Afghan food. My knowledge of the country isn’t much more impressive.
I know we all should have gone in the ‘70’s, we’re bombing it now, and the opium is supposed to be amazing. Does that count?
While not totally uninformed (feel the stretch) I was eager to learn more about the place and the people when Rachel and I found ourselves in Fremont, CA- home to the largest Afghani population this side of the ‘Stan itself. Heck, they even call it Little Kabul.
Given a choice, my favorite introduction to a culture is through its food. While not exactly wearing their shoes, a good meal can really open a window on the lives of the people who prepared it. I know we were thousands of miles from all the actual local produce and spices, but I figured California probably grows a few suitable substitutes.
When we started looking around for the best Afghan place to break us in we noticed two things pretty quickly. First, there are a whole freakin’ lot of them. And second, they’re almost all labeled as kebob houses.
When I hear kebob house, I think of those little falafel and shawarma joints that dot the streets of most major cities. I wasn’t at all confident that a hunk of nameless meat in a pita would really shed much light for me.
Luckily, De Afghanan was there to prove me wrong.
Having assimilated what appeared to be the concession stand of an old theater, the owner of this hole-in-the-wall, four-table-having “restaurant” was turning out a short but very interesting menu.
When we walked in, fatty pieces of lamb and turmeric marinated chicken where grilling slowly over open coals. An earnest looking lady was making a huge batch of fresh yogurt, breaking up the task occasionally to roll out large, flatbread creations that we would soon learn were bolani.
As usual, when faced with new food, girlie and I ordered entirely too much. Like a responsible bartender, the owner actually cut me off. “You haven’t been here before have you?” He smiled. “Sit down. I’ll take care of everything.” Who was I to argue?
Afghan food is like a cross between Greek/Turkish cuisine and the further East, India/Pakistani fare.
The first item to arrive was the dauntingly large bolani. It reminded me strongly of an aloo paratha. The bread was slightly thicker and the tasty potato and leek filling less aggressively flavored than you’d see in its Indian counterpart. Two chutneys and a generous bowl of that housemade yogurt made perfect condiments though.
Our kebobs arrived next. The lamb and the chicken were both quite tasty (but I’d give the edge to the lamb.) Seasoned with cumin, coriander, garlic, and sumac, the meats were fragrant and moist with nice little charred bits.
The chapli kebob was a little more unusual. Dubbed an Afghan hamburger (by some terribly creative person no doubt) it was a tender mix of beef, flour, onions, peppers, and various other seasonings. It was a little milder than I was expecting but the texture was great- kind of like a soft meatball inside, but with a great crispy crust.
All of the meats were served with shor nakhod, a chilled mix of chickpeas and potato dressed with vinegar and rosewater. While it might have been a little too tangy by itself, it worked really well with the savory lamb, beef, and chicken.
Also on the side was a salad of tomatoes, red onion, parsley and jalapeno and several large slices of yummy Afghan bread that would have been right at home if you moved them to Rome and called them focaccia.
Just as we were leaving, we noticed a great flyer for the Mr. and Mrs. Afghanistan Competition. Wow. It’s not until July, so maybe me and the lady can make it back…