By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Let’s cut to the chase. If you want to sample the full variety of Kabul Kitchen’s tandoori ovens, order the banquet.
Most would know the bakery which dishes up hot naan breads through a hole-in-the-wall on Dandenong Market’s Cleeland Street wing.
These breads have cult popularity, which owner Ali Haidari boasts as the best in Dandenong. Quality flour and technique make the difference, he says.
But what Dine Local has come to sample are offerings from his restaurant next door, recently opened with co-owner Mohammad Sarwari.
It’s a product of a punishing work ethic from these former asylum seekers, who toil from dusk to midnight seven days a week.
Unsurprisingly, they offer a long varied menu of Afghan foods that delight palates Afghan and non-Afghan alike.
There’s great chunks of meat cooked on kebabs, subtly spiced and wood-fire smoked. Tender and generous choices – such as chicken breasts or on the bone, lamb cubes or on the bone.
A popular option is the kabuli palaw – a lamb shank peeling with soft flesh on a mountain of spicy rice, sultanas and shredded carrots.
Highly recommended are the mantu dumplings filled with lamb mince and topped with a warming lentil curry.
Vegetarian options include eggplant curry, okra curry and ashak dumplings filled with gana – a sharp tasting spinach similar to chives.
Mr Haidari had a dream of opening an eatery for many years. More than a decade ago, he escaped Afghanistan’s capital Kabul from the threat of the Taliban.
As a 17-year-old, he travelled alone via Pakistan where he spent three years working and learning as a chef. Then to Malaysia and a boat across dangerous straits to Australia.
He was locked up in Australian migrant detention centres in Darwin and Christmas Island, not knowing when he’d be released.
Dandenong has been his home since being accepted for a permanent resident visa in 2011.
“When I reached Melbourne I was thinking one day I would open a restaurant. When I was here I didn’t give my (cooking) knowledge to any other person until I opened it.”
Mr Haidari sends money to support his wife and son living in Iran. For five years, they’ve awaited approval from immigration authorities to join him in Australia.
“The problem is the Immigration Minister says I broke the law and came by boat.”