By Lori Bosworth
I have never tried Afghan cuisine before so I was intrigued when I was invited to visit Naan and Kabob’s new restaurant at Yonge and Bloor Street in Toronto for a tasting. This Afghanistan restaurant, located in the former Spring Rolls premises just south of Yonge Street, already has four locations in Mississauga, Scarborough and Markham. My dining partner and I visited on Saturday at lunch and the restaurant was full – always a good sign.
I introduced myself to the owner and chef, Fahim Ahmedi, who came over to our table to explain the menu and a bit about Afghan cooking. Afghanistan is situated between Iran and Pakistan so the influences of both countries are noticeable in Afghan cuisine. There are several distinct differences, which Ahmedi pointed out. Whereas Pakistan and Northern Indian curries are hot, the Afghan palate prefers medium-spiced curries. Iranian food, on the other hand, is very mildly spiced. On the spectrum of spiciness, Afghan fits right in the middle between Iranian and Pakistani cuisine. Another noticeable difference is the moderate use of garlic. While Indian food is heavy on garlic, Afghan cuisine uses garlic in moderation, since too much garlic causes one to become thirsty, Ahmedi advised. Ahmedi also told us that Afghan cuisine uses only the best basmati rice, which is a fine grain that does not stick together. Spices that feature predominantly in Afghan cuisine are cilantro, coriander seed, ginger, cinnamon, garlic and chili flakes.
With that introduction under our belt, we were ready to peruse the menu. We really wanted to try the Chicken Curry Plate and Channa Masala Plates; however, Ahmedi suggested we try the Bolanee and Mantu appetizers, chicken curry and channa masala, along with a Grilled Kabob Plate, which is served with a side order of Naan. I also really wanted to try the Mango Smoothie (I saw a lot of people ordering them at the counter.) While we thought this might be too much food for two people, Ahmedi thought we would get a better idea of what their menu had to offer.
Usually at Naan and Kabob you place your order at the counter and they give you a beeper that lets you know when your order is ready. On this occasion, staff brought the dishes to our table. All of our food was brought at the same time, which was great, since we wanted to place a bit of each dish on our plates.
We started with the Bolanee ($6.99). This appetizer is a lightly grilled naan stuffed with potatoes, green onions and herbs and served with a side of yogourt. We both loved the Bolanee – the naan was thin and the delicious potato filling was pleasantly spiced.
We tried another appetizer, Mantu ($6.99), which is dumplings with a filling of ground beef, sauteed onions and accompanied with seasoned yogourt and split peas. I enjoyed this dish, especially the filling and seasoned chick peas, but I have to admit the dumplings were a bit filling.
One of my favourite dishes was the channa masala. This was definitely the spiciest dish we tried. I really enjoyed the contrasting cilantro and cinnamon flavours that dominated the channa masala. The chicken curry was also very good – not as spicy as you would get in an Indian restaurant.
The Mango Smoothie ($3.99) was delicious. Despite the fact that the curries at Naan and Kabob are not super hot, I still find the need for something sweet to offset the spices and this smoothie did the trick. Made with mango and milk, this smoothie is not too thick that you won’t have room to enjoy the kabobs.
The Grilled Kabob Plate ($16.99) features Tandori Chicken, Shisk Kabob and Classic Chicken, scented basmati rice, house salad and naan. While the Shish Kabob and Tandori Chicken was good, the Classic Chicken was excellent – juicy and delicately spiced. The basmati rice was some of the best I have ever had – its fragrant flavour was further enhanced by raisins. We also both loved the house salad, which featured carrots.
The accompanying naan was tasty enough to dip in the delicious curry, but not as crispy and light as I like my naan. I much preferred the naan in the Bolanee.
Overall, we loved the food at Naan and Kabob at 693 Yonge Street! We thought the menu offered great value and the ambiance was airy and comfortable. Our introduction to the flavour profiles of Afghan cuisine was an exciting experience! I definitely recommend visiting Naan and Kabob Restaurant the next time you are in the Yonge and Bloor area.