By Abhishikta Mallick

Are you bored of visiting the same routine cafés and munching on the same pseudo-European food? Would you like to try something different – a new side to Delhi that might take you by surprise? And are you adventurous enough to sample food that’s not strictly vegetarian? If your answer to all three aforementioned questions is yes, read on Dilliwalas, I think you might find something of interest here.

Delhi is home to a sizeable Afghan population – students, businessmen, tourists, and most of all, patients coming to seek medical treatment that is not available in their country. Since India introduced a ‘medical visa’ in 2005, the influx of Afghans has consistently increased as quality of healthcare in Afghanistan continues to remain poor. Hospitals such as Max Healthcare and Fortis Escorts have even set up diagnostic centres in Kabul to market Indian hospitals. To cater to the needs of this growing community, many restaurants and budget hotels have sprouted up in parts of Bhogal, Nizamuddin and Lajpat Nagar, and a journey through these areas ensures a truly Afghani experience {within Delhi!}.

Right opposite one of the oldest bakeries in Jangpura, is a whole line of Afghani establishments – hotels, travel agency and currency changer,  a bread-maker, and of course, this delightfully foreign ‘Kabul Restaurant’. The layout is simple and neat, and the restaurant is manned by two men – one at the billing desk, and another serving the customers. The tattered menu runs into a couple of pages with one tiny column for vegetarian offerings. My friends and I were the only locals at that hour, everyone else spoke a foreign language {I’m guessing Pashto or Dari}. Although very much in the heart of the city we call home, we were the outsiders here, and not in a cold, uncongenial way at all. It was intriguingly unfamiliar – I might as well have been in Kabul!

The staff was very helpful and tried to communicate with us and describe each dish as clearly as language barriers would permit. We really wanted to try the chicken tikka kabab, but were told it’d take atleast 45 minutes. So we ordered the mutton korma and Afghani roti, a chicken pulao and the vegetarian dish that the manager recommended – a pulao, which came with  and a spinach sidedish. Aware of popular local sentiments, they informed us once that mutton meant beef, and then came back again to reconfirm our order! Service is fast but not always accurate.

The korma arrived first, delicious tender pieces of meat in a light but flavourful gravy, a gentle smokiness running through the dish, served with thick hot flatbread. Both the pulaos were next to come. Do not go expecting Hyderabadi biryani because this is not that. Lovely long grains of basmati rice cooked in a meat broth, few slivers of saffron and a mild aftertaste of cumin, with a big portion of grilled chicken, the dish is rather bland but enjoyable for its uniqueness. {Remember, the whole point of coming here was to try something different, so please keep an open mind, and do NOT compare it with the usual Nizam’s or Deez!} Sadly, however, they made a mess of my vegetarian friend’s meal. First they brought a non-vegetarian dish, which we realized only after a few bites. On making a complaint, the waiter just took away the plate, removed the chunks of meat and brought it back to us as-is! My friend, god bless him, did not make a fuss and quietly proceeded to eat the rotis with the Rajma and spinach, both tasty dishes in their own right, but nothing that blew him or me away.

There’s no concept of tablecloths or tablemats – they’ll give you a few quarter plates other than the dishes the food is served in. The bread is brought on a piece of newspaper. Vegetarians, be warned, you might not enjoy this experience because there aren’t very many options for you to choose from. It caters to a niche clientele – even as late as 3 p.m., families of women in headscarves and men in long, white tunics over pajamas were leisurely relishing lunch. One of the persons in the restaurant was wearing a US Army uniform!! Nothing wrong with that, of course, I’m only sharing this to convey how alien an experience it was!

If you’re going to an Afghani restaurant, please keep in mind that you are the guest, be mindful of their culture, and for that little while, cherish the feeling of being a foreigner in your own city – a feeling that people travel miles to experience! Because once you step out of the four walls of this establishment, you will be transported back to the Delhi you know, the Modi Pastry shop that sells cream rolls you probably grew up on and the rowdy abusive two-wheeler traffic. This place is not for you if you’re looking for a gourmet meal – beyond a point, its not even about the food anymore…go for quick plunge into a whole new world, and come back refreshed, and in love with Delhi and its endless quirks all over again!

Where | Kabul Restaurant, Shop 4/8, Central Road, Jangpura Bhogal, New Delhi – 110014

Cost for 2 | Rs. 500

For home delivery, contact | +91 (0) 8285840142 / 3

Notes in our Little Black Book |

Other places known to serve the same cuisine|

  1. Mazaar, E-86, Lajpat Nagar-I, +91 11 41579595
  2. Kabul Delhi, E-104, Lajpat Nagar-II, +91 9873223900
  3. Afghan Durbar, E-96, Lajpat Nagar-II, +91 11 49502058

 

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” Pico Iyer