I heart EOiD.
It was just a few weeks ago, on December 21 to be precise, while making a plan for Kabuli food in Ballimaran, that it suddenly struck me — surely there were other Afghan restaurants in Delhi? A little googling indicated the existence of such a place in Lajpat Nagar, but there was no mention of the precise location.
So I posted the question on our EOiD community on Orkut, thinking perhaps eventually someone in the know would come along. The response left me stunned — barely had a few hours passed that Manik (yes, the same one who’d pointed me to Nagpal’s Chhole Bhature) wrote back with the name and exact address of the place, with the owner’s cell number to boot!
I had to leave town for a couple weeks though, and didn’t get the chance to check the place out. But I’m hardly the only “enthu-cutlet” in our group, to use Harneet’s adorably school-girlish phrase. Soumya and Surbhi decided to go there soon enough, and wrote back a promising critique.
Within another couple of days an EOiD plan had formed, and sure enough, last Thursday found ten of us standing in Lajpat Nagar, our collective curiosity piqued at such an unusual location for Kabuli food.
The location shouldn’t have been a surprise, actually — Lajpat Nagar is home to almost a hundred Afghan families, many of whom came to Delhi in the early ’90s to escape the chaos of post-Soviet Afghanistan. The number used to be much larger, but the fall of the Taleban has now given several expatriates the confidence to return. Of course, there is still a transient population, often here for medical treatment.
Giving these families of Afghans companionship and a flavour of home are several eating joints in the area. This Indian Express story mentions a place in Bhogal. Manik had earlier taken me to a little corner dhaba in the E Block of Lajpat Nagar-II (close to the Namdhari’s Fresh store) that exclusively makes Afghani naans. This is traditional in that country — families often cook the rest of the meal at home, and get the bread from a nearby naanwai (baker). The naans themselves are quite different from the mughlai concoction we’re used to. They are largely made of fermented wheat flour (atta), not maida. After patting a large chunk of dough into a squat ball, a man dimples it in a grid-like pattern by stabbing it with his fingers. The ball is now put on one edge of a long cloth-covered tablet, and stretched to about half a metre long, to give the afghani naan its distinctive shape. Then the man slaps the loaf onto the inside of the clay oven, where it bakes like any tandoori bread. Stacks of these naans pile up on the ledge, where a stream of old customers stop by before lunch.
The naans we had at the Afghan Restaurant in the Krishna Market of Lajpat Nagar last week were similar. The place has been nicely done up — the tables are widely spaced, giving it an uncluttered, roomy feel that is uncommon for this size of restaurant. Traditional red carpets on several walls lend a plush look, while a large beautifully woven image of Ahmed Shah Masood on another wall is a reminder of the challenges Afghans have long faced in their country. One side is entirely taken up by a raised carpeted platform, where regulars eat at a customary dastar-khwan, read namaaz, or just sit and swap tales.
Our meal began with big platters of salad, with sliced carrots, radish, tomatoes, and fresh leaves of coriander and mint. Several of us had ordered dogh, a sort of salted yoghurt drink made with cucumbers and garnished with fresh mint leaves, that turned out to be delicious. Next up were plates of manto, the Afghani version of dumplings that seem to be popular in all Asian cuisines. The dumplings themselves were identical to the Tibetan momos you get at every other street corner these days, but the difference was that the sauce was made of tomatoes and yoghurt, and wasn’t at all hot.
Understated spices and the absence of oiliness was common to all the dishes we had that night, which made them both easier on the palate and lighter on the stomach than the typical mughlai meal you get in Delhi. We enjoyed the chicken qorma, as well as the two vegetarian dishes we ordered (of a possible three) — baingan (eggplant) and paalak (spinach). Again, the baingan was served in a rich yoghurt and tomato sauce, reflecting the importance of those two ingredients in Afghani cuisine.
A large platter of very nicely done burra kababs was wolfed down in no time, the kababs having been cooked to a perfect tenderness. The tandoori chicken was delightfully flavorsome, though we were hard put to pin-point exactly what made it so tasty. The best I could say was that the chicken must have been marinaded for a long time, which allowed the spices to seep well into the meat. But there was something different about the exact combination of spices too, which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Another popular dish were the dashi kabaabs, a sort of mutton-do-pyaaza served in an onion gravy.
But what I liked most that night was the Qabuli Pulao. Made from exceptionally long-grained rice, in a mutton stock that lent its brown colour to the grains, the pulao had been cooked to perfection, with the soft grains nicely separated out. A generous addition of slivers of carrot along with a sprinkling of raisins gave the qabuli pulao its signature sweetness, and a bowl of kofta curry made for an excellent accompaniment.
It’s a pity that in the confusion of placing such a large order, we missed out on asking for another rice dish, the kofta chelow, which Soumya had recommended from his previous trip.
Several EOiD members who missed out on the outing have been clamouring for another chance to go there, and I myself hardly need another reason to go. Only this time, I’m planning to sit at the dastar-khwan and make some kabuliwallah friends of my own!
Location: The restaurant is a small affair located at H-7, Krishna Market, Lajpat Nagar-I, about 50 odd metres away on the opposite side of the road from the large Gurdwara that is a landmark there. Not far from the railway crossing between Lajpat Nagar and Jangpura. Few people in the neighbourhood know of its existence, but you should look out for a signboard with Persian script, with the shop a few steps up from street level. I’ve also marked the location on our google map. Their phone numbers are 9810905799 and 9873428432; ask to speak to Samir or Nabi.
Prices: Expect to spend about Rs. 200 to 250 per head.
Timings: From around noon to about 10:30-11:00 at night, every day of the week.