My best friend in high school was an Afghani girl called Khalida. We had a lot of adventures and misadventures together, enough to fill a whole book and some embarrassing and incriminating enough for us to vow to never tell another soul. We lost touch when we graduated from high school. She moved to America and was married quite young through an arranged marriage, and I got caught up in university, work and eventually, moving to Sydney.
As other members of our high school friendship group started hitting life’s milestones (marriage, babies, new jobs, advanced degrees), we always wondered what became of Khalida. We couldn’t find her on Facebook and with no other method of contacting her, it seemed as though that connection was destined to be lost forever.
The one day when I was in Dandenong with K, my father and my brother, looking for somewhere for dinner that night, I suddenly thought of how Khalida’s father used to run an Aghan restaurant in the area. I couldn’t remember which one, so I drove around a little aimlessly until I found one that featured their family name – Afghan Rahimi Restaurant. Once we went in it became pretty clear that I wasn’t in the right place, as I couldn’t recognise any of the service staff, nor anyone from Khalida’s family in the photos on the walls. Still, we were there so why not stay for a good meal right?
Keeping it simple, we chose to order from the simple Banquet Menu – at $35 per head, it was really reasonable and I was confident that it meant we would get a variety of dishes to try. This was particularly important for my father, who I’m trying to introduce to new cuisines and new styles of cooking. We started off with some delicious soft naan bread, which the waitress replenished for us throughout the night as my dad couldn’t get enough of it.
Some Chatni (dips) and salad were also brought to the table as starters. Dad particularly liked this tzatziki-like mint and yoghurt dip which he found really refreshing.
But I preferred this creamier carrot yoghurt spread which was just delectable on the soft naan bread. The hot pickles were something else though – most of us struggled to eat it without also having a bit of the yoghurt dip to cool the palate afterwards.
The steam-cooked dumplings (mantu) came out as the official entree, and they were just heavenly. An interesting mix between steamed wonton, tomato-based gnocchi, and pierogi, these mantu took the best elements of different cuisine’s dumplings and combined them into a great mix here. Fragrant steamed meaty dumplings topped with spicy tomato chutney lentils and drizzled with yoghurt and spices…pure perfection.
The Meatball Kofta was a surprise as it was somewhat Italian in style with its tomato-based sauce. The meatballs were super juicy and soft, and partnered particularly well with the peas. It’s the kind of dish that you would want to eat on a cold winter’s night – warm, comfort food.
The Borani Banjan (eggplant) was a big hit – the grilled marinated eggplant was deliciously spiced and matched really well with the meatballs. Dad thought there was a bit too much yoghurt on the dish, but I thought the sourness of the yoghurt actually really complemented the richer flavours of the marinated eggplant. Mixed in with some fragrant Afghan traditional rice, it’s pretty much my idea of a perfect dinner.
There was a bit of lag between when the earlier dishes came out and these final Chicken Tikka and Lamb Backstrap Skewers finally came out to the table, enough so that we were wondering if our banquet was over already. Never fear though – if you weren’t already full from the appetisers, entrees, and vegetables, these skewers will definitely satiate your hunger. The beautifully charcoaled chicken was juicy and tender inside, and the lamb was just inexplicably succulent. Dipped in some of the mint and yoghurt sauce, this was just simply incredible.
We finished off the meal by ordering some spiced green tea with some gulab jamun to share as well. In case I haven’t said it before, gulab jamun is one of my favourite treats from that part of the world, and I never turn down the opportunity to order it when I see it on the menu. I loved this way of serving the gulab jamun – while it was still sticky and sweet, the green tea helped to cleanse the palate.
The waitress also kindly brought out some kulfi for us to share – pistachio flavoured. This was much more up Dad’s alley as it wasn’t quite as sweet as the gulab jamun.
I really enjoyed our meal at Afghan Rahimi Restaurant in Dandenong. Dad’s now a big fan of Afghani food, so no doubt when we move back to Melbourne next year, he’ll insist on going regularly…perhaps trying one of the many other Afghan restaurants in that area. Afghan Rahimi Restaurant is remarkably opulent inside with marble tables, hardwood chairs, and even a stage as I think they host a lot of local Afghan wedding celebrations. It would be great to try something a little more casual!
And as for my friend Khalida? I finally managed to connect with her younger sister on Facebook, who then got Khalida and I connected through Whatsapp. We’ve been chatting for the past few weeks, catching up on the past ten years. She’s now a mother of two, still living in America, and loving her life. Hopefully we will be able to catch up in person soon as well – a friend then, a friend now, a friend for life.