Beyond the Hindu Kush
Drifting from my everyday monotony, I am a reader, I read all sorts, starting from western philosophy, history, sickeningly breath-taking romance, tragedies, post-modern literature, literati’s biggest wonder- Shakespeare and sexually provocative stuff, I read it all. One such author who manages to transport me into the most enchanting realms this world has to offer is, Khaled Hosseini. I have always been drawn to middle eastern culture, history and food and he has a beautiful way of presenting tragic yet alluring stories.
Having shut his latest book, And the mountains echoed, I randomly announced to my mother and brother that we should go out and try Afghan cuisine. The detailed description of food found in the country torn by crusaders and tyrants was riveting, and I could not help but wonder how it tasted. Thanks to Zomato, I quickly found few places offering Afghan cuisine in Delhi. The Afghan Darbar was one of them. I chose their Saket outlet since I also wanted to go over to Select Citywalk and shop a little. I walked the length of Press Enclave Road but could not find their outlet and funny because I lived there for almost a year and never saw the place, so, I asked a few people only to be informed that the place had been shut down. Thank you Zomato for such precise information.
I decided to try someplace else, since the entire area is dominated by Afghan refugees. However, I wasn’t very confident in just randomly walking in any of the restaurants, till I finally noticed a sign that said, Watandar Restaurant. Climbing a flight of stairs, on the first floor, I walked into a room, where a pleasant gentleman hurried around the moment we entered. It was a cozy room with two dining tables, one already occupied by a family and the other we took. Truth be told, I was a little worried if I made the right choice dragging my family there. But that later turned out to be one of my many stupid thoughts.
I already knew the names of a lot of dishes, thanks to Mr. Hosseini, so selecting from the menu was a no brainer. Their menus have an intriguing way of placing the items, the one that takes less time to cook are placed above and as you go down below, the items take more time to be made and they prefer if you call in advance and inform them. Well, barring the beverages.
The moment you sit down, the owner, who serves you food, chats and talks to you about his country, immediately placed our cups and poured us their special green tea- sulaimani tea. While sipping into it, we got to know about the owner, who is of Pashtun origin and settled here in Delhi 10 years ago. He also owns another restaurant in Qabul, where he travels often. We quickly decided to go with Qabuli Uzbeki- a rice based dish with carrots, raisins and browned rice along with curried potatoes and okra; Yakhni Murg- very light chicken stew and Chicken do piaza- the original way not the Indian varieties where the dish is spice and gravy loaded. The Afghani naan accompanies every item you order.
Minutes later, our food was placed on our table and I was shocked! Their food was so light and just not the kinds that will make you hold your stomach, load you up and then be a pain the next day. Turns out Afghani cuisine is very simple suited to desert type where people live on plain food. The food is largely of Persian, Uzbeki and Mongolian influence.
While we were feasting on such incredible food, our neighbours, from the adjoining table started telling us about Kashmiri food and how both the cuisines are more or less similar only Kashmiris love their astounding spice levels. We spoke about Afghanistan, their present scenario, history and the people. The meal was not just any meal, it was a meal filled with laughter, love and even though we all met minutes before, it was no less than sitting and eating a family lunch together.
I really wanted to taste their Borani Banjan and Mantu, but I needed to order them in advance, so I have been invited, warmly, again to visit the restaurant and eat with them. After finishing our food, not all the naans though, it was time to bid our goodbye. Dramatic it might sound, but I was really sad to say farewell, it was like returning after a vacation from your cousins’ place. A series of, “no please don’t pay, you were our guest” (yes that happened!) later, we paid off a very small amount to a real hearty meal and came back with happiness in our heart and new comrades we made in just an hour. They sure knew how to treat their guests.
Soon, I shall go back. Not just to eat, but to listen. To know. To share.
P.S it is National Blog Posting Month – fill November with all your lovely posts! Happy blogging!
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