Everyone thinks their mom is the best cook in the world. But my mummy is seriously yummy! And this is the proof! My mother Gulnar, came from Basra, Iraq to Karachi in 1965 and brought recipes the likes of which Karachi had never seen (well, maybe). Here's some of her signature recipes that should try. Some of them are my experiments and food experiences from around the world. You can check out the menu and order details on facebook.com/yummymummyandme

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Kabul Eats: Sufi

You can not go to Kabul and come back without eating at/from Sufi. Sufi will find you. Any gracious host in Kabul will make sure that Sufi is one of your first food destinations in Kabul. Sufi also offers catering services around the city so you're bound to run into a Sufi meal at some point in Kabul.

Sufi is located in the Karte Parwan area - which is about 30 minutes away from the central districts of Shar Nau and Wazir Akbar Khan. As with L'Atmosphere, the road to Sufi is long and broken. You will have skip  across a ditch to step into the premises.

The perilous road to great food

Sufi serves authentic Afghan food and culture. There is an art gallery and crafts store on the premises.  There is also live music on some nights. Call them in advance to find out when the shows are. It might also be a good idea to order the food in advance if you are familiar with the menu. We were a group of about 20 odd people and our host had pre-ordered the food knowing that the food takes a while to get to the table.

Hot, clear,chewy soup
The Afghans are very creative with their soups. This soup had a base of chicken stock with diced carrots and potatoes, lots of herbs and whole wheat kernels. The wheat kernels were cooked to perfection - giving them just enough time to dance around on your palate. However, it was the smoky, dried lemon flavor in the soup that excited my taste buds the most. So perfect for a cool Kabul evening!

Hot mess mantu

Dumplings - soft and chewy - stuffed with mutton, chicken and vegetables and stopped off with a lentil sauce and yogurt. The Afghan 'Mantu' deserves as much attention as it's Chinese, Central Asian and Nepalese cousins - it is absolutely delicious! The mantu at Sufi is perfectly crafted but the yogurt sauce was a little too sharp for my taste.

Kabuli pulao (again) with dried fruits this time

You can't go wrong with meat and potatoes

I have admit, I have  been really spoilt when it comes to Afghan food -so I'm going to say that Sufi is worth visiting but may not be the best Afghan food you will eat. The chicken and lamb kebabs you can just keep on eating without any remorse. There is no need for any naan to go with it. However, the fresh juices here are superstars! No sugar, no ice - just pure fruits blended and chilled to perfection. Try the peach and/or anar.

Peach burst!

Sufi is fantastic caterer too as we learnt. They came to the office and set up in 10 minutes flat!

Kabuli pulao (again)

Burani - roasted eggplant with tomatoes and yogurt


Chicken Korma

Mutton Korma

Sufi is a safe bet. You should visit it for the art gallery and the live music. A meal with drinks and dessert will cost you no more than USD 15. However, you MUST drink the fruit juices! There is better, cheaper Afghan food out there in Kabul. Keep watching this space for more  of Kabul Eats!

This blog was written as part of the FES Af-Pak Journalism Exchange Fellowship 2012

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Kabul Eats: L'Atmosphere

Kabul, like Karachi, has only one kind of nightlife – a foodie kind of nightlife. But it can be a little bit more risqué/fun that Karachi. While Karachi asks you to bring your own, Kabul serves its own.  Kabul has a decent variety of cuisines being served across the city. Thai, Chinese, Indian, Croatian, Middle Eastern and many more. The next few blog entries will showcase some of Kabul’s best eateries. Here’s the first in my ‘Kabul Eats’ series.

 If you look up any travel guide to Kabul, you are bound to come across the name L’Atmosphere - a French restaurant/bar catering mainly to the expat community but locals are served too (there are places where locals are denied entry. Colonial much?). L’Atmosphere has three dining areas – an outdoor area, the bar/pub area with sofas and bar stools and a more formal dining area with tables and chairs.

It is located in the Qalla-e-Fatullah area, about 10 minutes away from the central district of Shar Nau. Don’t let the road to L’Atmo intimidate you – it is under construction and basically a mess right now (think Shireen Jinnah colony or Sohrab Goth 10 years ago). However, no road is too hard for a taxi to get to. Security is a bit more relaxed here – the guards will check your bags and ask a couple of ‘friendly’ questions but cameras are allowed and you will not be asked for identification.

We opted to sit in the bar area which was by far the most popular part of the restaurant – occupied mostly by American and European expats. The menu is surprisingly extensive – with crepes, pizzas, pastas, salads, soups, steaks and desserts. Alcohol is not ‘on the menu’ but it is available – beer, whiskey, rum, vodka and wine.

When dining in Kabul, place your order quickly. The food takes a while to arrive, about 20-25 minutes for the soups and salads and even. We ordered a bunch of starters – fried camembert with cherry jam, chicken salad and French onion soup.

The chicken salad was loaded with a spicy chicken chunks on a bed of ice-berg lettuce, cucumbers and onion and no dressing. Luckily, the chicken was not over-cooked and the vegetables were fresh and crunchy so you don’t really miss out on flavor.

The French onion soup was perfect for the cold Kabul evening. I would have liked a more bodied soup though.

The fried Camembert was a quick reminder that we were in fact still in Kabul. No complaints about the cheese but the sweet, bottled cherry jam gave it all away. The hot cheese on bread still works though.

The Nordic  crepes were STUFFED with lots and lots of salmon – a real treat in a landlocked Afghanistan. The crepe itself was light and soft. My company could not wait until I took a picture, hence, half a crepe only in the picture

Pizza has got to be the world’s favorite comfort food. No matter where you come from and where you are eating, pizza is bound to make you feel at home. L’Atmosphere has a range of pizzas – easily categorized by the toppings/meat on them – chicken, beef, cheese and so on. We ordered the chicken. The pizza was fairly large – to be easily shared between two as a main.

After a really ambitious ‘Western meal’ we ended our indulgence with a chocolate crepe and ice-cream.

The entire meal along with drinks  (including alcoholic ones) cost about  $150 for the four of us. Remember, expat dining in Kabul is expensive as it is limited and exclusive. L'Atmosphere is where the well-heeled expats come to play so you know what to expect.

And a very big thank you to Kabul's finest violin teacher - my friend William Harvey for taking me to L'Atmo (because real expats call it L'Atmo)

AND the biggest thank you of all to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Pakistan and Afghanistan for letting me bring Kabul that much closer to Karachi - as part of the Af-Pak Journalism Fellowship Exchange Program - Understanding the Neighbour. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Kuala Lumpur Eats: Kembali Kitchen

I think very few countries in the world can boast the kind of culinary variety that Malaysia enjoys - not just in it's home grown cuisine but also the influences it enjoys from China, India, Middle East and  South-East Asian neighbours. Authentic Malay cuisine might be a little bit jarring to Pakistani tastebuds - with extensive use of shrimps and anchovies both as ingredients and condiments. One needs at least 2 weeks in Malaysia    (3 meals or more per day) to begin to understand Malaysian food. However, hotel food is usually considered a no-go area for me, for anything other than breakfast. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the traditional Malay dinner served at a hotel restaurant ....

This time round in Kuala Lumpur, I stayed at a very new hotel (just 2 months since it opened) - the Best Western Premier at Dua Sentral.  Located about 10 minutes from Sentral station - the transport hub of the city - it's close enough to the central district but still quiet enough to get some down time. They have big spacious rooms with big windows and great views - my standard double room was actually good for four people! 

The view from Best Western Premier 

The Kembali Kitchen is the hotel's signature restaurant and do they know how to give your a crash course in Malay cuisine! Great place to begin your 'jalan jalan cari makan' (let's go look for food) trail in Malaysia. We had a special 4 course traditional Malay dinner served - starters, soup, mains and dessert.

Starters included kerabu (coconut chilli picked fish salad), fried tofu with chilli sauce and rojak (vegetable and egg salad with peanut sauce). The tangy kerabu meets the spicy tofu meets the sweet rojak for a circus of flavors in your mouth.

Fewer things feel better than a big, steaming bowl of 'sup ekor' on a cold rainy day. Ox tail soup is a staple and a delicacy. The ingredients are oxtail (obviously) cumin seeds, anise seeds, corriander seeds, onions and potatoes - simple, hearty flavors. The soup is usually served with thick pieces of bread and garnished with spring onions.

That's me getting up close and personal with some rich 'nasi tomato' or tomato rice. That's rice cooked in a tomato broth and garnished with cashew nuts. This is not a daily dish, mostly reserved for Eid or wedding celebrations at home. 

And that is the main event - the full rainbow of Malaysian curries! From the top that's ayam masak merah (red chicken).  Mutton korma on the right (not be confused with Pakistani korma) is a stew of meat and vegetables including potatoes and green beans. The dark, deep brown curry is beef rendang - one of my all time favorite Malaysian food - a rich, heavily spiced, coconut based curry. Between the beef rendang is the ever popular shrimp curry. To offset the rich, spicy curries there's some steamed vegetables in the center - cauliflower, broccoli and carrots. So rich and colorful, such a pleasure to just look at even!

Red beans and black glutinous rice come together to make one of the most comforting desserts you could indulge in. A sticky, sweet warm soup that you are sure to finish, no matter how much you are served. And with a healthy yet filling dessert like this who needs a main course?

The Kembali Kitchen at Best Western Premier Dua Sentral is not your average hotel-breakfast-serving-room. It is a restaurant and destination in its own right. Do check it out if you happen to be in KL.

For more on my KL experience - go here