I used to think that a square of white butcher’s paper atop a restaurant table cloth was a sign of sheer tackiness, but after dining at Bamiyan Afghan restaurant i understand it can also be a necessity.
Our white square of paper was dribbled with so much curry and splatters of rice that it looked like a work of modernist art — a three-year-old’s, that is. But those food smatters were testament to the extent to which we relished our first foray into Afghan cuisine.Bamyan, or Bamiyan, is one of 34 provinces in Afghanistan. It is located in the centre of the country, a region that strategically tapped the trade caravans that trundled the Silk Road with worldly goods, including spices.
And Bamiyan restaurant — located a little more conveniently in the heart of Five Dock in suburban Sydney — delivers a spice hit that is unique to this ancestral legacy. You will find a hint of your local Indian restaurant at Bamiyan. There is butter chicken and vindaloo, samosa, pappadums and naan. But this restaurant — with its cheery bright yellow exterior and internal earthy tones — largely charts its own course.
There is something distinct but difficult to pinpoint about Afghani spice mixes. Cardamon and coriander dominate, alongside ingredients such as garlic, mint, onions and tomatoes. But the exact quantities and combination differentiate Afghani dishes from those in neighbouring Pakistan, and India.
There is plenty to tempt diners away from more bog-standard menu items. Traditional Afghani specialities such as mantu and ashaak — dumplings originating from Uzbek and Kabul respectively — are a good place to start.
Mantu are filled with raw beef or chicken, spices and onions, steamed until almost translucent, then topped with yoghurt and a traditional tomato sauce that includes chick peas and mint. Ashaak are filled with chives (or sometimes leeks or scallions). The dumpling skins ooze apart in the mouth and the spiced, saucey accompaniments are delightfully different to others on the dumpling scene.
The staff, who are fast, friendly and efficient, encourage us to try the house speciality kabuli pallow — a rice dish equivalent to Indian pilau, which is studded with chicken tikka and served with chicken korma. The korma is spicier and more tomatoey than expected, and the pallow — parboiled then baked with oil or butter and flecked with slivers of almonds and sultanas, is good enough to eat alone.
We also shared a pumpkin flat bread, served with a firey green chilli sauce, and a garlic naan that was piping hot and blistered from the oven and looked like it was sprinkled with gold dust, rather than garlic. The meal’s spice heat left our mouths comfortably a-buzz, but not on fire.
A roaring fire — that intermittently chuffed smoke to the ceiling — added to the sense of authenticity diners experience at Bamiyan.
The bill for our table of two was delivered with an abundance of business cards, so confident are staff that diners will help spread the word of Bamiyan’s culinary prowess.
Such reciprocation is a foregone conclusion. As is the need for butcher papered table tops at this Sydney spice route destination.
175 First Avenue
Tel: 9712 7801