Meet Afghani Meat!
By Ravi V. Chhabra
The Afghans are a simple yet tough people and history is testimony to this. Both these qualities certainly reflect in their cuisine and hospitality. The goat-meat on skewers done in a stone-oven with bare marinade in garlic and salt water was once my favorite.
It was prepared in old Delhi by the Punjabi father-son Pakistani migrant duo from the NWFP who had set shop in Delhi soon after the partition of India. Since over two-decades these ‘Peshawari’ meatwalas closed the shop as they had become old. Besides, there were other issues of pollution in the vicinity of the famous electronics hub of Delhi's Lajpat Rai Market.
I had since long been on the lookout for Afghani food that I had known was quite ‘basic’ but had an original flavor to it – be it their tea, the mutton dumplings or mantus with Kabuli dressing (yoghurt and dry lentil), Kabuli pullao (peppered with dry fruit), skewered meats, tandoori chicken and gravies.
We were passing through the congested neighborhood of Lajpat Nagar and in one such by-lane (E-block), I noticed a neon hoarding that read ‘Afghan Durbar’. Thrilled, I looked around for space to park the car – and finally managed to stuff mine between two big SUVs and there I was with my family seated inside a decent, typically Afghani restaurant that I presumed was done like an eatery in Kabul.
The 15 tables were mostly full and occupied by men and a few by young Afghani couples. I learnt the basement housed the family area, even though we as a family preferred to dine on the ground-floor for evading the stairs. Only one out of the all 4 male waiters called Khalid could speak and understand English and he brought us the menu and the soft drinks that we asked for with a broad smile.
Almost simultaneously, we all perused the menu. Qabuli Uzbeki, a dish with seasoned pieces of lamb under a mound of delicately seasoned browned basmati rice topped with carrot and raisons is priced at Rs. 200. Qorma / Kofta Chalao, tender chunks of chicken / meatballs cooked with green pepper, onions, tomatoes and spices, served with seasoned white basmati rice for Rs. 180 per plate. Mantu (Rs. 150) are special steamed dumplings filled with chopped mutton and onions topped with yogurt and daal sauce, sprinkled with mint, Ashak (Rs. 140) are the vegetarian version of the dumplings. Yakhni Murgh, the traditional Afghani chicken shorba (Rs. 170). Everything was so impressive by description and in price terms.
The curries included – Qorma Kofta (deep-fried meatballs of lamb) prepared in thick gravy.
There was also Mutton Do Pyaza, Mutton/ Chicken Qorma, Mutton/ Chicken Kadhai, price range of Rs. 150 -250 per plate with at least three pieces of meat or chicken in each plate.
For vegetarians options varied from Rs. 40-80 comprising Saalan Baamia, okra in tomato sauce and onions, Borani Banjan, fried slices of eggplant topped with a garlic sour cream and dried mint, Sabzi Palak, sauted spinach in garlic, onions and spices, Bolani Gandana / Kachalu.
The order is made fresh and takes around 20 minutes to be served; a meal for four would cost around Rs. 800 and that is surely very reasonable by any standard. What’s more, the staple Afghani naans come free and presumably, a single naan for a person should be enough. There is the small Majlis arrangement or traditional seating area, under the huge television that is streaming Afghani television infotainment channels, above the Majlis area. The soft drinks are served chilled per bottle/can and Afghani tea comes piping hot and fast.
Afghan Durbar is a highly recommended place especially for those who prefer non-vegetarian dishes with no spices and little marinade. A green chilly, however, can be had upon request. The bottomline is: Be prepared for spice-free food without too many condiments. The food is distinctly different from Mughlai cuisine and some may find it too bland. The restaurant is air-conditioned and does not accept credit cards or food coupons. No alcohol is allowed and home deliveries are not taken. Its best to reach by 8:30pm as the best of dishes usually gets over soon.