"Lots of different plates piled high with rice, curries, roasted meats and bread. Some are cooked with warming spices, others braised in homemade sauces and wrapped in hand-pulled dough. But it's when all of these dishes come together - that's an Afghan meal," explains Durkhanai Ayubi of Adelaide's much-loved Parwana Afghan Kitchen.
Escaping Cold War Afghanistan and communist persecution, Zelmai and Farida Ayubi, along with their children, all immigrated to Melbourne in 1987. But it wasn't until they moved to Adelaide that their next chapter really began. Coming from a very close-knit family, opening Parwana in 2009 was a space that celebrated their Afghan traditions as well as their most-prized family recipes with the local community. "Parwana wasn't really premeditated," Ayubi tells SBS. "My parents were just like many other migrants - highly skilled back in their own country but were unrecognised here [in Australia] and Parwana was more of an extension of our family feasts and what our family was all about - cooking and eating."
For years before the restaurant seed had even been planted, it was their mother, Farida that was already winning hearts with her spiced secrets and home-cooked meals. As a young child, Farida learnt how to fold traditional Afghan dumplings, make sauces and braises as well as homemade bread, pastry and heaped platters of spiced rice decorated with jewel-like toppings. "Whether it was weddings, special celebrations within the community, for charitable causes or simply bringing a plate or three, Mum was always being asked to cater for all types of events - and it was always Afghan food," says Ayubi. Not even the family would have known that Farida's talents were inadvertently setting up their future restaurant menu and that to this day she would still be at the helm of their kitchen.
Each morning, the Parwana kitchen starts their day by preparing each night's menu. From marinating, pounding and rolling to tandoor-roasting and braising, everything is handmade on premises daily.
There are starters of dips and chutneys served with naan and spiced vegetable pekowrah (fritters) to mantu, steamed dumplings stuffed with carrot and onion topped with garlic yoghurt, paprika and a mince sauce. From there, the table real estate decreases as platters of palaw, Afghan rice dotted with caramelised carrots, almonds, pistachio and candied orange peel make the rounds.
You then move through to their salaan and korma section, or “friends of rice” with sabzi, sautéed spinach, morgh qormah, chicken in Afghan spices or their most popular dish on the menu and one that has earned cult-like status, their banjaan borani: sliced eggplant cooked in a sweet tomato-onion based sauce and finished with garlic yoghurt and fresh mint. What this dish lacks in beauty it certainly makes up for in richness and flavour. “Even though we've got Parwana, my family and I eat Afghan food every day and this eggplant dish is a household staple," says Ayubi. “To see everyone come in, order it and get excited about it was so unexpected."
Being first generation migrants, it quickly became apparent for Ayubi how living across two different cultures was a story worth sharing and just how important it was to keep their cultural food traditions alive. The menu takes its inspiration from the spice and history of Afghan cuisine, the menu reflects the amalgamation of flavours, people and foods that became abundant thanks to the network of trade routes of the Silk Road. Often Afghan food is aligned with that of Indian and Pakistani, but it's the textures and technique behind the dishes that set it apart. It's a cuisine that celebrates a little heat, uses plenty of nuts for crunch and packs a lot of spice with cardamom, turmeric and cumin all on heavy rotation.
Ayubi is extremely grateful that her family has been able to keep the dishes authentic and that they have built such long-lasting relationships with the community, and we have no doubt the feeling of gratitude is mutual.
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While Afghan food bears some Indian influence, as seen, for example in the use of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and cumin, it doesn’t share chilli-heat with the subcontinent. So this is a mild dish, made rich by the liberal use of yoghurt. If you’d rather not butcher your own chook, just buy the equivalent weight of on-the-bone pieces.
We make korme kofta for Nowruz – New Year – along with many other dishes, including colourful rice, lamb curry and haft mewa (seven fruits). Nowruz, meaning "new day", is the first day of spring (the vernal equinox), but in Afghanistan, the festival can last for two weeks. It’s a time of good luck, fortune and new starts.
It may not look all that flash – a mangle of red, with the eggs setting in the hot tomato and capsicum sauce – but the flavours are robust, wonderful and worth getting out of bed for... or getting out of bed to make, if you’re the cook of the house.
Rosewater is popular in Middle Eastern cooking, and the star of Turkish delight. This recipe for Afghan sweets also includes walnuts and pistachios.