Please forgive me for being a bit dramatic. But, for somebody aged like me, the first visual tryst with Afganistan was this film Khuda Gawah and off course the timeless book by Syed Muztaba Ali- “Deshe Bideshe” and the afgan food cooked by its immortal character Abdur Rahman.
Afgan food is supposed to be less spicy, but heavy in nature. Dry fruits is used there in adundance and also meat. Beef is rarely used and Mutton is consumed regularly along with chicken.
Over the centuries, numerous countries have used Afganistan as a doorway to enter India and we can see all those food cultures mixed up in the afagn cuisine. There is influence of Mughul, a bit of Mongol and various sub-cultures like turq, pushtun, Kazakh and what not … So, once I found out a restaurant serving typical afgan food, it had to be a must- Kabul Kolkata.
My two cents on Afgan community in Kolkata
Somehow, Kolkata has always been a favorite place for Afgans. They have been coming here since long(maybe from last couple of centuries)- for the trade of spices, dry fruits and are mostly (in)famous for their money-lending business. The community is made famous even in Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Kabuliwala”. And, even today, though they prefer to live in shadows, but just on the next day of Id-Ul-Fitr, they gather in Maidan and celebrate. One funny game is also played there called Anda-Kushti . Two persons sit with crates of boiled eggs. And they both try to hit each other’s eggs. whoever’s egg gets cracked first, loses and payes for the whole crate. The boiled eggs are surprisingly colored in yellow. And, for this one day, Afganistan comes alive in their adoptive city, Kolkata.
However, someday, one good gentleman from the community thought of opening up a restaurant in Park Circus Kolkata. God bless him, due to this decision, Kolkata now can have a taste of afgan food, or rather Pushtun Food. The location is 2-3 buildings away from the famed Park Circus crossing (on Jhowtalla Road) and opposite to Akash Deep Hotel. the place is kinda shabby and luckily has one AC-ed first floor (for family) as well.
I always follow one simple principle while venturing out. Wherever I don’t know something, rather than acting like an-idiot-know-all, I tend to ask and normally get proper guidance. It was the same thing here. The waiter (later doubling up as the helper to cook) and owner/manager were talking in some strange language, but when I asked for their help, they actually helped me with a good spread.
“Bhaiya, pehle toh aap Murgh Siji try kijiyee” was the first suggestion, “and what is that ?” being the ignorant that I am. Maybe the waiter was obsessed with the dish, but what he said is worth remembering. It’s chicken with no oil, no masala and roasted in its own juice by the heat from hot sand. And, inside, silently I was jumping with excitement. And, the dish came just like that. A whole chicken (of around 800 grms), cut into four neat pieces- juicy inside and with crispy skin outside. The meat is seasoned lightly with lemon and salt and probably nothing else. Taste of the meat was bang on and I understood I am at the right place. “Get me my rum you thundering typhoon” I almost shouted out with the first bite, while my partner just smiled sheepishly seeing my excitement. Even she was using both her perfectly manicured fingers and teeth on the chicken mercilessly while I was just sitting there getting jealous of the chicken breast … Zalim duniya !!!
For the next dish, again I called up the poor boy and up he came running. “Aap Mutton Roash lijiye aabhi aur Mutton kaabuli pulao combo” was the answer even before asking. “Leke aa bhai”.
Now, at this point, let me confess something. I’ve had meat of different kind – but rarely saw something like this. One big roasted mutton chunk (around 300 grms) in one corner of the plate and some chana dal in another. the mutton was roasted for a long long time (maybe overnight). It had its shape intact, but came off the bone with just a hint from the spoon. The chana dal was not sure, why it was there. Some lousy, uninteresting staff it was and we didn’t bother to disturb it after tasting one spoon each. But, mutton piece was superb and without or with very very less spices, the meaty flavor was intact– same as the chicken.
the place was becoming interesting and so was out tryst with Afgan food. The Kabuli Pulao combo had kabuli pulao (with one mutton piece of around 150 grms), 1 tandoori roti, some salad (we didn’t even bother to touch that) and a bowl of mutton keema. Mutton keema was nothing special- though it had a different set of masala (dominated by Jeera, probably) and a good portion size.
But, The Kabuli pulao was nothing like I’ve ever tasted. I am used to see a lot of dry fruits while ordering a Kabuli Pulao and had the same expectation here as well. But, what came was pulao cooked in a heavy dose of mutton stock and very less spices. It was mind-blowing and we ended up eating it all by itself- just the pulao. The meat piece inside was the same as that of mutton Roash, hence lovely. This combo is something which is a must order there.
And the final order was Afgani Murgh Malai Kebab. Aur “Loot gayi gorment” . It was as if we were kicked out of heaven and came down here. It was pathetic, maybe a bad day at work. The marination was okay-ish, but finishing was not done properly. Basically, a disaster.
We were full and after a long long time, really impressed with food. In fact, my partner, was taking a few rounds of the small space herself for digesting the food. The place, luckily, opens from breakfast time and till dinner on all days and already, I am planning to go for my next visit. The bill ? For all above and ample amounts of soft drinks and bottled water, 1490/-. Long live Afgan food.
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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