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Published March 26th 2013
Butterflies in my tummy
Last Saturday, I was invited to a celebratory dinner at Parwana Afghan Restaurant in Torrensville. I was rather apprehensive to accept the invitation knowing how the Afghan spread could be feast like and also bearing in mind that this is the period of Lent and hence I should not over indulge. Needless to say yours truly went along, if not for the food, then for the sight! Alas I was not prepared, for upon entry into Parwana I knew that I would be tempted to eat after being confronted by the palette of colours and luscious dishes of food on the adjoining tables.
My first hurdle was to locate Parwana along busy Henley Beach Road. Had it been more conspicuous I would not have to miss it as I drove past, not once, but twice. I would advise new customers to use their GPS to avoid the frustration which I endured. If I had driven past on any ordinary day, this restaurant would never have caught my eye. There was no big signage and its name, 'Parwana' was just imprinted on the glass windows. The plain white frontage did not help either.
By contrast its interior was warm and inviting. Bathed in rich intense hues of cinnamon red, with pendant lighting which reminded me of kerosene lamps, images of Morocco seemed to play on my mind. The decorative plates and family photographs displayed on the walls provided visual interest.
Had the restaurant not been brimming with patrons, I might have learnt more about the stories behind the photos as well as why the restaurant was named Parwana, which in the Afghan language means butterfly. It was obvious that they were understaffed and the fact that we managed to get our order in quickly by attracting attention to our table left no room for conversation with them.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and luckily with six of us, we were able to sample more than half of the items on the menu specified for the weekend. Kebabs always seem to make an appearance at Middle Eastern restaurants and at Parwana, this was no exception. Steamed and fried dumplings also graced the menu together with three different rice dishes. For vegetarians there were options of lentils flavoured with curry leaves, light spices and fried onion as well as potato pieces simmered in a tomato sauce flavoured with chilli, garlic and onion. There was also an eggplant dish we ordered that was exceptional.
The side dish of Banjan Borani, comprising tender eggplant slices, was simply delicious. Simmered in a fresh tomato sauce and topped with a garlic spiked yoghurt dressing the flavours blended harmoniously. It was easily the best dish we had at Parwarna.
The unsung hero of Middle Eastern cuisine is rice. Kabuli Palaw $18
With rice being the unsung hero of Middle Eastern cuisine, we were looking forward to the Kabuli Palaw, also known as the national dish of Afghanistan. Topped with caramelised carrots, sultanas, slivered almonds and pistachios, this largely savoury basmati rice dish was flavoursome and could easily be eaten on its own without accompaniments. From afar the extremely long grain basmati rice looked like rice vermicelli!
Both the lamb and chicken kebabs were well marinated. These tiny morsels of meat were served with a side of Afghan flat bread, chutney and a simple green salad of cucumber and tomatoes. Although tasty enough, there were no smell of char-grilled meat nor coal fires which one normally associates with kebabs. The lack of them wafting up my nasal passages was disappointing. The chutney was a lovely accompaniment to both the chicken and lamb, imparting a garlicky, spicy tang to the meats.
Dumplings come in many forms and the Afghans certainly have their own version. At Parwana, there is a steamed version and a fried version. The steamed dumplings, known as Mantu, were stuffed with carrot and sautéed onion. On the other hand, the fried dumplings, known as Ashak, were stuffed with chives. Both were served on a garlic yoghurt base, topped with a tomato lamb sauce and garnished with paprika and mint. The tomato lamb sauce reminded me of bolognese, without which the dumplings would have been quite plain. I found the dumplings rather ordinary and would not be the reason for me to revisit Parwana.
Desserts were mainly ice cream with exotic flavours, like rose and pistachio. I had the former and was quite happy with my choice. It was a delight to have something different; in this case a refreshing cardamom-flavoured, rosewater and pistachio creamy ice cream. Another interesting option for dessert could be the ice cream layered with jelly, basil seeds, milk and rose syrup.
The dishes at Parwana were simple and the taste was more than pleasing. A variety of teas like cardamom, jasmine and chai were readily available. Traditional Afghan drinks like those made with rose syrup or yoghurt might appeal to the more adventurous. For a $10 corkage you can bring your own alcoholic beverage.
All in all, we had an extremely enjoyable meal at Parwana. Service was polite but nothing outstanding although it was difficult to comment as the restaurant was close to full house from our arrival to departure. We would not hesitate to return again on some week days to try their different menu but only if they increased the portion sizes of their meals (whilst keeping their prices down). Credit cards are not accepted and only cash is welcomed.
My eyes are easily drawn to the vibrant floor tiles