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Tried and Tasted: Here’s where to have some delicious Kabuli pulao & momos in Delhi

You get some of the most delicious dishes at Afghan Chowk in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi. Here’s what to try.

more lifestyle Updated: Dec 31, 2017 09:00 IST
Rahul Verma
Mantu is a  dumpling filled with meat, onions and coriander leaves.
Mantu is a dumpling filled with meat, onions and coriander leaves.(HT Photo)

In the middle of Delhi, there is a little Afghan colony. One moment you are in the heart of a bustling market, and before you can say Kabul Express, you find yourself in what looks like a different land.

The lane in Lajpat Nagar 2 is truly like a mini Afghanistan. You will spot tall Afghan men and women, in their traditional attire, walking down the galli. Somewhere you will find a baker producing huge rotis that are typical of Afghan cuisine. Chemists have signboards in the local language. And half a dozen or so restaurants sell Afghan food.

The first time I went there, several years ago, I was mesmerised by this small Afghan settlement. Most of the people there are refugees, who fled their war-torn land to find shelter in India. Now the Afghan restaurants are quite a part of the Delhi food map.

You get some of the most delicious dishes in this place that they now call Afghan Chowk. But I wanted to try out two of their specialities in a new restaurant called Chopaan Kebab. First on the list was mantu – a dumpling filled with meat, onions and coriander leaves. And then I wanted to have their Kabuli pulao – a light but delightful dish of rice and meat.

The pulao looks like a normal rice dish, because the meat is the first layer and the rice is on top, hiding the juicy pieces lying beneath. The rice is cooked with raisins, dry fruits and carrots. You dig into it – and reach the scrumptious meat pieces. It’s not biryani, and it’s not a pulao. It’s lightly cooked, with just whole spices and some onion and garlic, and has a mildly sweet touch and tastes really, really good.

The mantu is like the Tibetan momo or the Chinese dimsum. The outer casing is prepared with white flour, and the filling is of ground meat. This is steamed and then served hot. I had the chicken mantu, and it was soft and juicy -- and drove home the point that common threads tie cuisines from across the world.

Afghan food is a rich mix of cuisines, influenced by Central Asia, Iran, China, and even India. (HT Photo)

The mantu, again, is familiar, yet different. In Afghanistan, the meat used for it is mostly beef, but here in the Delhi lane, they use chicken and lamb for the curries, kebabs and pulao. The mantu is different because it does not come with the usual sauce, but is served with a channa daal cooked with tomatoes. The daal is poured over the mantu and then served.

Afghan food is a rich mix of cuisines. Food traditions have crossed borders and added to the Afghan cauldron. The cuisine has been influenced by Central Asia, Iran, China, and even India. Peppers, for instance, went from India to Afghanistan. Many of the dishes also have garam masala in them. The meat, of course, is mostly fatty, for the cold terrain of Afghanistan demands heat-producing food. And I love their rotis and naans, which are humongous.

I remember the time when Afghanistan was known for its vibrant culture and progressive and educated society. War may have changed the face of the country, but there is always hope. And for the refugees, meanwhile, the Lajpat Nagar lane is a slice of home.

Recipe: Mantu

Ingredients: 500g ground meat, Wonton wrappers, 1sp chopped garlic, 250g finely chopped onions, 2tbsp fresh coriander leaves, ½tsp turmeric, 1tsp coriander powder, 1tsp black pepper, 1tbsp oil, salt according to taste

Method: Heat the oil. Add the meat, the powdered spices, garlic and salt. Cook till done. Now remove the meat from the heat and add the onion and coriander leaves. Mix well. Take a wonton sheet. Put the stuffing in the centre, and seal the ends, shaping it like a dimsum. Repeat with other wonton sheets. Now steam them in a momo steamer. Serve hot.

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