By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
RESTAURANT owner Baryalai Rahimi has two rules for cooking: simplicity and freshness.
For this reason, he forgoes the temptation of drowning his signature Afghan-style mantu dumplings in spices or fat.
He likes using fresh ginger, tomato, celery, parsley or onions, but not too many dried herbs and spices that are “too heavy” for the body.
“It gives a good tastier flavour to cooking which is fresher and healthier for you,” he said.
Rahimi is often asked for the recipe to these light dumplings – steam-cooked orbs of mince, simply dressed with gravy, lentils, yoghurt and mint.
It is one that won over food critic and Masterchef judge Matt Preston at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, as well as wowing diners at the Afghan Rahimi Restaurant in Walker Street, Dandenong.
Rahimi started cooking for crowds when volunteering as a chef for weddings and funerals within Melbourne’s Afghan community.
But the truth was that cooking “was in my blood”, he says.
When Rahimi first started up in Thomas Street 14 years ago, he was told he was making a mistake. His restaurant was one of about eight shops in the street, a dead part of town at the time.
At the same time, he worked two other jobs, as a migrant resource worker during days and a cabbie on Friday nights to support his family.
High standards meant his business had to succeed, he says.
“That’s why after nine months, the restaurant stood on its own two feet.”
The business is in its fourth incarnation: its first two sites have been demolished as part of Revitalising Central Dandenong works, and the third site was acquired by one of his staff.
Rahimi moved his eatery into a former wedding reception venue last year. It is spacious, opulently decorated and strategically placed within sight of the recently-opened government services building and civic centre.
This month’s influx of council workers at the nearby civic centre has revitalised his restaurant’s lunch time trade, he says.
It coincides with his $20, five-course lunch special of skewered chicken, Afghan rice, meatballs, eggplant and mantu dumplings with salad and traditional bread.
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