• Chapli karayee is the hero of Afghani restaurant Zac's Great Food in Sydney. (Extra Moments)Source: Extra Moments
Afghan refugee, Zac Zikria, has created a home away from home for Sydney's Afghan community, serving up street-food favourites like chapli karayee.
By
Melissa Woodley

27 Jun 2022 - 5:34 AM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2022 - 5:58 AM

When Zac Zikria came to Australia as an Afghan refugee in 1982, the cuisine of his homeland was almost non-existent. 

Zikria was born in Kabul where his family lived until the 1979 Soviet Union invasion forced them to flee to Pakistan. His years in Afghan were both happy and sad, but the happy times were in the company of family and food.  

When asked about the dish that most reminds him of home, Zikria is quick to exclaim: "karayee!"

This Afghan street-food platter consists of grilled kebabs that are baked in a flat pan, called a karayee. It has eggs, ginger, chilli and spices, and is served with bread. The dish can be made in a matter of minutes so it's the perfect roadside snack.

Zikria first recalls eating karayee on a family road trip to visit his uncle in Kandahar.

"It is the first street food I remember because it was so delicious compared to anything I'd ever had," he says.

Karayee pitstops became a family tradition on every long drive or holiday around Afghanistan and were one of the foods he missed most after migrating to Australia.

When Zikria arrived in Sydney in 1982, it was almost impossible to find Afghan food, so he set a goal to one day open a restaurant where he could share the food of his homeland. It took 15 years working in a factory, and then as a kitchen hand, to save enough money and make this dream a reality.

At Zac's Great Food's original location in Thornleigh, Sydney, customers would find two menus: one serving Aussie classics of steak, seafood and schnitzel, and the other serving traditional Afghani cuisine. 

"At the time, there were not many Afghans in Sydney and Afghani cuisine wasn't very popular, so we mixed and matched the Aussie food and the Afghan food," he explains. 

The Western food was far more popular than the Afghan dishes (which included mantu, kebabs and biryani). Zikria attributes this to the fear of the unknown. 

Zac Zikria can be found on his restaurant's floor most days, serving his guests.

After 20 years of serving the Thornleigh community, Zikria and his wife, Malalai, relocated Zac's Great Food to Bella Vista in northwest Sydney. The menu at the new location still includes a balance of western and Afghan food, but now the Afghan dishes are more popular.

In fact, customers travel across Sydney for a taste of Zikria's authentic Afghan karayee; a dish he's not found on a menu anywhere else in Sydney.

While the recipe is based on the traditional street-food version, Zikria has embraced the abundance of spices and fresh ingredients available in Australia and has made karayee a little more elaborate.

"It's just a very different dish compared to anything you have tried before," he says. "The egg is a bit runny, and it mixes with the chicken perfectly. Then you get a kick of chilli garlic and a variety of spices for aroma."

"It is the first street food I remember because it was so delicious compared to anything I'd ever had."

Karayee is traditionally served with lamb but Australians prefer it with chicken thigh fillets. Zikria's favourite is the chapli karayee with two fried patties of lamb mince. 

"I'm very proud to bring something new to the area and to people and the most amazing thing is that people appreciate it," he says. 

Zac's Great Food has developed a strong community of Afghan customers who appreciate their extensive and growing menu of traditional dishes, including qabli pilaf, goat nihari qorma and biryani.

"We also get a lot of customers from the subcontinent and the Middle East as their food is similar but a little bit different," he adds.

In the future, Zikria hopes to continue sharing the cuisine of his homeland and encourages more Australians to give Afghan food a go.

"Life is all about sharing," he says. "Australia shared everything with me so it's the least we can do to share something back."

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.


Chapli karayee

Serves 4

Ingredients

Spice mix

  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dry onion
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cardamon
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp bell pepper
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp peppercorn
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • Fresh chilli paste (optional)

Karayee

  • 1 kg lamb mince
  • Olive oil
  • 1 red chilli, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 1 medium-size capsicum, sliced
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 3 eggs
  • Afghan flatbread, to serve

Method

  1. Combine the spice-mix ingredients and add fresh chilli paste according to your taste.
  2. Mix the lamb mince with the spices.
  3. Divide the spiced lamb mince into 10 patties. Flatten the patties and pan-fry them in oil until medium cooked.
  4. Take a paella pan and lightly fry the chilli, garlic, onion and ginger. 
  5. Add the capsicum, tomato and lamb patties, and crack in three eggs. Cover with a lid and cook until the eggs are medium baked.
  6. Serve the karayee with Afghan flatbread or your favourite flatbread.

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