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.)
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.
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
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