Grant McWilliams

Food In the path of the Moghuls

In the path of the Moghuls

One of the most fascinating migrations in history for food buffs happened in about 1400 (besides the seasonal migration of water buffalo on the Masai Mara, if you could just sneak a tranquilizer gun and a barrel smoker out there when nobody was looking) when the Muhgals went from modern day Turkey, through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and settled in northern India. You can actually see the path they took in restaurant menus. In Persian restaurants you have Korescht-e, Afghan you have Qorma-i and Indian you have Korma. All three are meat braised in a sauce served over rice. In Indian cuisine you often eat naan which happens to be the farsi (Persian) word for bread. There are many many other similarities. Last night we decided to explore further and went to Kabul to get a closer look. Not Kabul Afghanistan, foodtard - Kabul restaurant in the Wallingford district of Seattle. Located at 2301 N. 45th Street it's centrally located and if you're a local you've probably walked past it a million times and only noticed the mural on the wall. Like most places in Seattle it's difficult finding a place to park but once you do there's plenty more to do in this area including two movie theaters and lots of shopping.

On with Kabul which happens to be pronounced closer to "cobble" than "kabool" like you might hear a lot. Kabul is a small somewhat intimate restaurant with very pleasant ethnic staff. I mention this because it's really irritating to eat at an ethnic restaurant and the server is some white kid that can't even pronounce the dishes let alone know what's good. I didn't ask our server where he was from but he looked the part and was very knowledgable about Afghan cuisine. For the record Afghans are more white (like Persians) than brown (like Pakistani/Indian). The lady in the mural on the wall outside has green/grey eyes which may surprise some who don't know about this region.

 

Here's the Kabul Menu if you like to look up the items below.


Anyway on with the food. We ordered Bolani for an appetizer. Think of Bolani as thin sheets of pastry dough layed over scallions and potatoes dipped in a sort of tzatziki sauce and you'd be close. They were a hit as both Piper and I liked them.

For our Entrees Piper really wanted Badenjan Borani which is an eggplant topped with tomato sauce, meat and a yogurt sauce. The Kebabs came with a side of this for an extra $2 so we passed on ordering it separately. I was curious about the Kabuli Palow because of it's mention of carrots and dried berries on it. Probably my favorite rice dish anywhere is Javaher Polow (Persian Jeweled Rice) and the similarities peaked my interest. Our server though pointed out that all the Entrees came with this and indeed they did, we took home an entire to-go box of it. So in the end we ordered Qorma-i Sabzi and Bara Kebab which came with Badenjan Borani and Kabuli Palow. The former is a dish with Spinach and chunks of lamb with flavorful sauce served with Badenjan Borani. The lamb was good, the rice was good but I'm not a huge fan of spinach. I did eat some of it though but once the lamb sauce was gone and I only had spinach left I was done. No Popeye forearms for me. The Bara Kebab (the top photo in this article) is a shish kabob like you'd expect of Lamb pieces marinated in garlic, onions, coriander and lemon juice. It was tender enough to mostly eat without a knife and the flavor was really good. Piper filled up on lamb and barely had enough room for dessert. The Bara Kebab also came with Kabuli Palow and Badenjan Borani. Both meals also came with "Afghan bread" which would be similar to cooking pita until it inflates then seperating the top from the bottom into thin strips and serving them. Not a lot of substance but good for wiping up the Badenjan Borani sauce left on the plate.

So my thoughts on all three, I think the Badenjan Borani is the star of the show and let me say that I'm really not a fan of Eggplant. I eat moussaka but there's plenty of other substance in that and I'm not a fan of eggplant parmesan. However, having said that this is a very nice dish. The eggplant is sliced really thin, covered with tomato sauce, meat and the yogurt sauce. I was pleasently surprised. Piper didn't eat her half as she'd filled up on Kebab and planned on taking her Badenjan Borani home. I couldn't however, see any reason in the Badenjan Borani sitting in the fridge wasting away so I convinced her to hand it over which she did. The Kebab was very good but not "OMG I think I just had an orgasm" good. It's meat on a stick with flavoring on it. It wasn't dried out though which is common with these types of things. Also the lamb didn't taste all Wheel of Fortune like some. You know, gamey.  The Kabuli Palow was a nice filler but doesn't hold a candle to Javaher Palow. It's a flavored Basmati dish and the carrots and raisins seem like an afterthought.

Dessert posed some interesting choices - have Afghan desserts and learn something new or have Gelato because you like it. I did the former and Piper had chocolate gelato. What do Afghans eat for dessert? That depends but you can bet it will have pistachio nuts, rose water and cardamom in it. I had a choice of Firni a custard, baklava or ice cream - all three with at least two of the holy trinity in them. Since I've had Persian baklava with rose water and cardamom which I like very much and is in fact my favorite baklava I chose Firni because that's just how I am, I like living in the edge and looking death in the eye without flinching. Firni is a custard with all three of the Rose Water, Cardamom and Pistachio combination and is very good I must say. I will have to duplicate it at home.

Closing thoughts. Afghan food is as good as I expected it to be and since it's a bit of a novelty in Seattle (only 1.5 Afghan restaurants) it's also quite pricey. Dinner for two without drinks - $71. We probably would have paid half that at an Indian restaurant and 2/3 that at a Persian restaurant. Is it worth it? I think so as a once in a while sort of thing. If it were cheaper I'd eat Afghan food more often I think.

Food In the path of the Moghuls