While it might be true that Afghani food is characterised by rice and meat, there’s actually a lot more to it – as we recently discovered at Kishmish. So much more…
The name of the new Afghan restaurant, Kishmish, might sound like a late night drunk slurring their words, but it means ‘raisin’. And there are certainly many good ‘raisins’ to head to the new Dar Al Wasl mall outlet, where you’ll be warmly welcomed by the three co-owners, who took the time out to explain the philosophy and the menu behind the brand.
Kishmish occupies a corner of the new mall, and offers a contemporary urban setting, with washed concrete walls, scaffold covered with plants and books, and flashes of unique Afghani-inspired line drawings.
The cool, contemporary feel is tempered by flowers and plants liberally dotted around the space, while thoughtful lighting – including dramatic chandeliers – creates bright patches on the tables, perfect for ‘gramming the colourful dishes.
We arrived late for a light lunch, slightly flustered by the usual driving and parking issues, but were immediately put at ease by the warm smiles of the owners and staff.
The menu doubles as a placemat, and at first glance seems brief. The place is busy, just five or six days into opening, and there’s a palpable sense of people enjoying good food. There are whole families tucking into huge platters, with couples, business people and ladies who lunch filling the rest of the 48-seater space.
In such a foodie town, word of a new opening spreads fast, and the Afghani food on offer here seems to be causing a stir.
When we think of eating food from this region, we normally think of heading to the back streets of the souqs, forgotten parts of Deira, or even around the labour camps.
But the partners in the new outlet – Iman, Fatima and Homaira – are on a mission. Part of the Afghani diaspora, the trio of passionate food lovers learnt a strong sense of identity through eating food from the motherland.
As friends, they agreed they wanted to share their passion for food with everyone, taking the time to create a menu that relied on authentic ingredients and cooking styles, personally teaching the kitchen brigade the techniques they picked up from their own homes.
They share a deep love for Afghan cuisine, and a mission to “revive the identity of Afghanistan by taking people on a journey through the homes and streets of our country through the flavours, comforts and aromas of our food.”
And it works. Fatima sits with us and casually begins describing a menu which starts with light vegetable dishes, popping with bursts of fresh herbs and spices, but never too hot, as is Afghani tradition. We taste dishes reminiscent of neighbouring cuisines, a flash of Indian spice here, more than a nod to Iranian cooking there, and the occasional wink to Mongolian food, creating a dizzying array of wonderful plates, which, were you Afghani, would whisk you straight back to Kabul.
Iman stops serving customers to bring us dish after dish; there’s a real sense of proprietorial pride here. While the décor is bang on current interior design trends, we are indulging our palettes in a cuisine steeped in tradition. Food that ancient kings would eat after successful battles; alongside food that is served on the city streets today.
Breakfast dishes on the menu remain untried for us, but sound familiar. Shakshuka, paratha, frittata…familiar names but all served with Afghan twists, we are told – and given names for the local market to better understand what they are eating. Those twists might be subtle, too, but they are what gives the cuisine its unique Afghan claim – coriander, leek and saffron.
We focused on starters, and ended up with a heaving table of goodness. Leek-stuffed bolani throw us head first into traditional Afghani street food. These deliriously moreish folded parcels of fried flatbread are perfect comfort food, and so right for a winter’s day.
Shoor nakhud, Fatima assures us, is widely loved, with people slurping down the tangy, vinegary sauce after the dish is finished. And we want to, although here, spoons seem (sadly) more appropriate. Kishmish’s recipe involves chickpeas, kidney beans, tomato and onion, topped with thinly sliced potato, and a coriander chili chutney, a variation of India’s delicious and ubiquitous dania chutney, by another name.
I normally find okra quite unpalatable, but here it’s served soft, fried with onion, tomato, coriander and a hint of chili. Delicious.
Barta is another ubiquitous dish in Afghani cuisine – akin to moutabal, but blended with quroot (or kourout), a traditional, salty dried yoghurt ball, coriander, spring onion and garlic.
With a large serving of fresh, crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle bread, straight from the tandoor, and cucumber yogurt dip, we are feeling sated already, and have no room for hero menu items like mantu – Afghani lamb-stuffed dumplings, or kitchree kourout (rice, topped with minced lamb, crispy fried onions and dried yoghurt balls), but the persuasive proprietors manage to serve us emerald pilau – a giant dish of green rice mixed with fresh herbs, and a side of yogurt-topped aubergine sautéed in tomato.
Both are delicious, tasty, and filling. This is unpretentious food, served well. We are keen to return to try all the dishes we had no room for, including the halwa, ice cream and Afghani ‘churros’ desserts.
In a city filled with new concepts, monster shakes, giant burgers and faddy food trends, it’s gratifying to find a place that serves wholesome, hearty, traditional food with passion and verve.
Kishmish hits a nostalgic note with us all, bringing memories of home-cooked food, warm hospitality and comfort.
Dar Wasl Mall, Al Wasl Road (near the canal bridge)
Sat – Wed 2 PM to 10 PM
Thu – Fri 2 PM to 12 Midnight
Call 04 3496665