Justine de Jonge is a Melbourne freelance travel writer and blogger who loves travelling the vegan road. She also loves blogging about her vegan travels at www.fireandtea.com .
Published April 14th 2013
Authentic, delicious Afghan cuisine in the CBD
One floor above street level is the least likely spot where you'd expect to find an Afghan restaurant in Melbourne. Visitors to the CBD can walk past, unaware of delicious food being served above.
Once you walk into Afghan Valley Restaurant, you may think that a restaurant with minimal ambience and a lack of inviting décor such as this can't produce quality food to persuade you to return. Aside from the 80s-style bar near the entrance, and an eating area that resembles an out-dated hotel dining room, there are glimpses of Afghan presence here. There are some camels, carved out of wood, wandering along a window sill, plus the occasional picture of Afghan life. But, we're not here for visual appeal. We're here for a quick, casual lunch and we're here to fill our hungry bellies.
Our waiter and waitress are all too kind to help us with the menu, offering warm smiles and suggestions while they take our orders. Lunch time specials are available yet the menu is enticing enough, so we opt for Kabuli pallow (Afghani rice) meals. These meals are accompanied with salad and Afghan bread. We each order, unaware of what was to come.
Within about 15 minutes, our table is loaded with plates of appetising dishes. We completely forgot the fact that meals in Afghan culture are shared. Our meals are placed enthusiastically in the middle of the table while we juggle space for our glasses of water and condiments. Burani borjun, tender fried eggplant, is blanketed in a tomatoey gravy, dressed with a thin layer of yoghurt and aromatic herbs. Subzi (spinach) comes with more of this rich, tomato based sauce. Manto, dumplings filled with mince, capsicum and onions, are steaming and coated in a yoghurt paste and channa daal. To accompany these dishes, there are plates overflowing with rice, jewelled with sweet carrot and plump sultanas, spongy Afghani bread, crispy salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomato and red onion, and a bowl of chilli chutney.
The bread is toasty and fresh, similar in appearance to a Turkish pide, except a little thinner and easier to manipulate when scooping up rich sauces. The salad gives a refreshing balance to the fragrant flavours discovered in the burani borjun and subzi. What starts out as a quick casual lunch idea, becomes a generous Afghan feast fit for esteemed guests. It's obvious we're not being treated as a commodity. We're regarded as genuine visitors, even friends, and treated as such.
After an hour of mopping up sauces, munching on salad and ingesting soft eggplant and spinach, we're near bursting. A hot pot of green tea helps us to digest this massive meal, making us feel warm and cosy on this grey Sunday afternoon. I'm relieved we decided to bypass entrées.
If you prefer places where quality food takes precedence over atmosphere and decor, then Afghan Valley Restaurant delivers authentic, delicious Afghan cuisine at an affordable price. Just make sure you allow enough time and space in your tummies to finish your meal!
Please be aware that the term 'Afghani' is only the name of Afghanistan's currency. A person (or people) from Afghanistan, and anything related to that country, is termed 'Afghan'. It's a common mistake and the Afghan people are generally too polite to point this out. I think it's important to correct this on their behalf.