It was a tragic day in the city of Chicago when I whirled past my local Afghan restaurant recently and noticed that it was full-on shut down. What a disaster. The super low-key Afghan Restaurant was such a shining jewel in the midst of the Indian bazaar that is Devon Avenue, that for it to just disappear was brutal for my psyche. All I could really do was let the hunt for a new Afghani addiction begin.
First up was a massive google search. Page one had nothing but the Afghan Restaurant. Yikes. It was a few clicks later when I noticed a small tidbit on Afghan Kabob. I wasn't too keen on the name, but what's a name really? Though it was located far west on scrappy Montrose Avenue, I was up for the haul this past week. In fact, I was obsessing about it for days beforehand. Fluffy rice; pureed spinach; tender lamb. Bring it.
I drove straight past it twice before realizing that the tiny, nondescript storefront was actually an establishment, but once I parked and rolled in, I was immediately transported. Now, I've never been to Afghanistan, but I can imagine that a home in the motherland is similar in feel to Afghan Kabob. A worn kite adorning the wall; loads of vibrant rugs hanging everywhere the eye can see; bright splashes of color penetrating the room. I was immediately entranced. And, I went gangbusters on the menu.
After I'd ordered enough food for a small army at the front counter, the jovial woman scratching out my desires was stunned when I told her I was eating in-house. Big eyes glowing, she told me to grab any table (they were all open save for one) and slowly but surely, the best Afghan food I have ever eaten made its way into my world.
I started with bulanee gadana, a pancake-flat turnover filled with chopped leeks, tomato, cilantro and herbs. I had ordered so much food that I had absolutely no intention of eating all three crispy triangles. Ummm yeah, that plate was cleared in about three minutes, along with the tasty yogurt sauce on the side. Moving on to the aushak, I quietly navigated my way through that bowl of homemade dumplings in almost less time than it took to polish off the turnovers. Little billowy fluffs of wonton-like material encased crazy green leeks and the whole pretty mess was topped with silky garlic sauce and sprinkles of fresh mint. Oh, I forgot to mention the chicken soup that came out first. I downed that delight in about six spoonfuls.
Now I know the guy sitting next to me thought it would be impossible for me to make a dent in my sabzi (intensely pureed spinach simmered down with onions, garlic and herbs), but I did. In fact, I killed it. He and I were chatting about Mexico, banditos, the travel bug and the best ethnic restaurants in Chicago when my kabuli palaw presented itself. This "chef's most recommended" entree was nothing if not superb. Imagine a healthy-looking (read: mouthwatering) lamb shank buried under a steaming heap of long-grain basmati rice (qabeli palau). I first obliterated the garnish of sweetly sauteed carrots and raisins before literally shoveling the rice into my mouth. My chatty neighbor must have been horrified. But, good conversation never once stopped me from satiating my needs, I'll tell ya that.
That big old lamb leg kept me busy for a few minutes until I could stomach it no longer. I was about to burst. So, I did all I could do. I put down my fork, convinced the lad to head on down to Mexico and had my leftovers wrapped up. I first offered them to my new pal, and once I saw the delight on his face, I ripped my bag back. Poor thing. I had just flashed forward to a vision of the late-night munchies and I knew that shortly, I'd be jonesing for some Afghani again. And, I was right. That complete meal for an entire batallion was slaughtered by one lone girl in less than five hours. Those are some scary statistics. At least I got a new friend out of it. That, and five extra pounds.
THE FINAL RAVE: I hate that my Devon fave is no longer with us, but I kid you not; Afghan Kabob blows it out of the water.
DO IT: Afghan Cooking
If you've not tried food from this side of the world, you are sorely lacking in global experiences. And if you can't make it down Montrose, you can go nuts in the kitchen with these helpful recipes.
EAT IT: Noon O Kabab
Though it's Persian, the food here is very similar to Afghani fare. And, since there's a conveniently located outpost just off the Kedzie Brown Line, you can have this type of food much more often.
READ IT: The Kite Runner
Not read this book? Get it ASAP and you will learn all about why the kite is strapped to the wall of Afghan Kabob.
GET CRAZY WITH IT: Lonely Planet
Though they say things aren't the same in Afghanistan, that should never stop you from going there. Or at least trying the food.