Afghan chef Zermaty is an equally good conversationalist as he is a chef
We know much of Afghanistan from films and books. But Afghan cuisine is perhaps the best way to understand the country in its entirety. And what better way to savour this exotic cuisine than the traditional way. Dastarkhan-e-Kabul, a food festival, being held at the Lalit Ashok Hotel brings to you a dining experience unique to Afghanistan.
A Dastarkhan is the place where food is eaten by a family. A long table cloth is spread out on which is served tea, kebabs, shorva, breads, salads and sweet meats. The dining experience is elaborate and fulfilling. Chef Zermaty, a Pashtun from Afghanistan, affable, warm and courteous, tells us what to expect before we begin our meal. Even though their meals comprise of meats, Zermaty tells us that nowadays vegetarian food is preferred in Afghanistan due to health considerations.
As we speak, we are served a welcome drink Doogh, a yogurt drink with mint, cucumber and onions added to it. Naans and other wheat preparations form a major part of the meal. “There is the Uzbaki, a fat naan. Pastaiand tandoori naan, which is long.”
Gosht Yakhni shorva, a soup made of lamb broth, is served next, and is wonderful for its minimal Afghan spices. As the meal progresses, Zermaty tells us of his life. “I have a Master’s degree in International Relations. And just completed my law from Mysore,” he says. As we gorge on succulent murgh kebabs and mantou (non-vegetarian dumplings), Zermaty speaks of what led to him becoming a chef. “I always had a love for cooking, I came to Mysore in 2008. In 2009, we had an International food festival, students from each country had to cook delicacies from their respective countries. We got second place because quite a number of Iranian girls liked the food,” he says and laughs. Every month, International food festivals would be held, and that is how Zermaty’s name spread far and wide.
When you savour the scrumptious spread, you would perfectly agree that Zermaty can make even deceptively simple naans, absolutely divine. The Pastai naan is crunchy and the Qandhari naan is crisp on the sides and soft inside, which makes it completely different from any roti or naan I have had.
Zermaty then describes how life is in Afghanistan. “It is a rugged terrain and we are strong people. Dinner is the most important meal there, a time when the whole family gathers to eat. We like to eat dry meats during winters and we drink ghee to keep ourselves warm. We drink green tea. Football is popular among Afghanis and yes, we do have kite festivals.”
Both the meal and the conversation keep getting better. We are served Morgh Kabob Salata salad that is a play of sweet, salty and tangy with fresh lettuce leaves, nuts, jalapenos and nuts. It is a perfect introduction to the main course that includes Kabuli pulao-e-maans and gosht kofta, made of lamb pieces, fresh herbs and fried tomato with green chillies.
The pulao comprises of traditional Afghan rice with mutton and flavoured with cumin and cardamom powder, garnished with thinly sliced caramelized carrot and blueberry. There are quite a few vegetarian dishes on offer too.
The dishes are made with local produce, but some ingredients are brought from Afghanistan as there is no Indian equivalent of it.
Zermaty lists them out: “white onion, pure jeera and zafran.”
We are full by now, but still have room for dessert, which are sheer berinj, Afghan rice pudding, and baklava, thin layers of syrup-soaked pastry of walnut and pistachio.
If you want to indulge in some authentic and delectable Afghani food, then head to the Lalit Ashok Hotel for the Dastarkhan-e-Kabul food festival, being held at Baluchi-North West Frontier restaurant till July 10. The Lalit Ashok is located at Kumara Krupa High Grounds. For reservations, call 30527777.