Not really a palace, but Helmand's dining room is welcoming

I like to think I’m open-minded when it comes to trying new cuisine. I mean, how else can I say I’m not a fan of a certain food if I can’t say that I’ve tried it, at least once?

So when my friend Kim asked if I wanted to try Afghan food – a cuisine I’ve never experienced before – at Helmand Palace in San Francisco, I said yes. I joined her for dinner one Saturday night, along with her friend Phil.

I didn’t know what to expect from Afghani food, considering that the only impressions I have of Afghanistan is of a desert country with very little resources. I imagined lots of goats and sheep, just like how I would see the herds of them surrounding military tanks on broadcast TV reports.

So I did some research on Yelp and found that a lot of people raved about the appetizer dish known as “kaddo,” a pan-fried and baked pumpkin dish seasoned with sugar and served with yogurt, then topped with a ground beef sauce. (I’m sure it’s the sugar that gets people.)

Dwopiaza ($15.95) made with grilled lamb and yellow split-peas, tossed with onions and mushrooms.

Kim is a vegetarian and we found it curious that the Afghans would make a mostly vegetarian dish of pumpkin and then top it off with beef. Lucky for us Helmand has a vegetarian section and it made a vegetarian kaddo by using a yogurt garlic sauce instead.

The kaddo represented a general approach to dishes that I concluded about Afghani food, which was that much of the food is stewed or cooked until the ingredients are tender and in my mind, a bit mushy. (Mushy food is often how I think of Indian cuisine, and Afghani food does remind me of that.)

Mushy textures didn’t seem to bother Kim and Phil, who enjoyed their entrees. Kim got the special vegetarian entrée ($14.95), which included more pumpkin, eggplant, sautéed spinach and okra in fresh tomatoes. Kim wasn’t a fan of okra, but I enjoyed it in the tomato base. Phil’s plate of dwopiaza ($15.95) was more mushy food of grilled lamb cooked with yellow split-peas and tossed with onions and mushrooms.

The vegetarian special ($14.95) included pumpkin, eggplant, spinach and okra in tomatoes.

I ordered the deygee kabab ($14.95) – chunks of lamb with sautéed yellow spit peas, onion, red bell pepper and vinegar. There was a side of sweet pumpkin and spinach rice. I really enjoyed the perfectly cooked lamb, which had a nice grilled flavor. But the mushy sweet pumpkin just didn’t do anything for me.

Helmand Palace offers friendly service and decent food that could satisfy you if you’re a fan on Indian cuisine (I’ve decided they’re quite similar). So now I can say I’ve tried Afghani food. I can’t say I’m a fan, but at least I’m not against trying it again.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps

 

 

Helmand Palace, 2424 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. PH: 415.345.0072. Open for dinner daily (delivery available). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.helmandpalacesf.com

Helmand Palace on Urbanspoon

Some flat bread came with a trio of dipping sauce in red, green and white.

My plate of deygee kabab ($14.95), perfectly cooked lamb with sautéed yellow spit peas, onion, red bell pepper and vinegar.

Helmand Palace is out there on Van Ness Avenue

5 Responses to Experimenting with Afghani Food in the City

  1. Debbie says:

    You are an adventurous eater! I’m not sure I would have tried it. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    Oh, this place is a classic. It’s been around for so long. And it’s truly a great pick to have your first experience with Afghani food.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Carolyn, it’s probably a lot of people’s first taste of Afghan food in the city because there isn’t really any other well-known Afghani restaurant, unless you head over across the bay to the Fremont area.

  3. foodhoe says:

    I ate there before I started taking photos of food, and may have been for the lunch buffet more recently. I’m surprised you didn’t get the Quabili Pallow (lamb shank). I love all of those flavors…

    • Ben Ben says:

      I don’t remember seeing that on the menu. I totally would have gone for lamb shank! This place has been around huh?

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