Afghani delights at Al Asif Square Sohrab Goth

This is not for the faint of heart.

 

Women would not dare venture into this . Hell, even men would think twice about setting foot on this seemingly foreign land that doesn’t have any semblance to Karachi.

 

But if you can just find the guts to go there, you are in for some real treat. Here you’ll find the genuine Afghani pulao in all its glory.

 

The place is famously known by the name Al-Asif Square. It’s a small locality near Sohrab Goth, just where the Super Highway starts on the left hand side.  The area is the stronghold of pathans, particularly Afghanis. The moment you enter this strange land, you’re transported centuries back to the streets of Baghdad devoid of the modern amenities of life. The whole place is a maze of narrow lanes, an ancient bazaar protected from the onslaught of modernization.

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The food street is in the centre of the marketplace, where each café is selling pretty much the same Afghani cuisine with very little difference in the taste or price.

 

The place looks more like the set from the movie Prince of Persia rather than a piece of Pakistan, let alone Karachi.

 

So what’s on offer here? The forte of these Afghani cafes is the legendary Afghani pulao- the national dish of Afghanistan. Sure you can have it at a number of places around town, be it Boat Basin or Bar bq tonight, but nothing compares to what you get to have here.

 

Afghani pulao brimming with plum raisins (kishmish) and slivered carrot. The raisins seem to be roasted or fried as they’re maroonish instead of their usual color.  In the centre of it all, there’s a plum slab of beef or lamb.And of course, the rice are oozing with oil/ghee, enough to give you a heart attack.

 

Skewered beef boti simply marinated in garlic and onion water and barbequed with solely charbi (fats) to get a unique taste. And no masala of any kind.

 

The Afghani pulao large plate costs Rs.140 and the small one Rs.130. The seekhs (skewers) cost Rs. 180 a dozen, and they’re so small that one person can easily devour half a dozen.

 

You’ve the appetizer in the form of either a qeema masala or a chana daal and aalo bhujia.

 

The Afghani nans suck big time. You need jaws of steel to chew them.

 

Beef kabab marinated with a special Afghani condiment, laced with charbi and skewered just about right.

And everything is either beef or lamb. You won’t find chicken or anything else. It’s the typical Afghani cuisine.

In short,  this place serves the best combination of artery-clogging concoctions you can get.  So not only have you to be careful about any Pathan- Mohajir fight breaking out whilst you’re there devouring these delicacies, you’ve to ensure that your cholesterol level doesn’t skyrocket which it is guaranteed to do.

 

Like I said in the beginning, it’s not for the faint of heart both literally and figuratively.

Not recommended for a family outing.  It’s a completely male-dominated setting. It’s better that women steer clear of it.

Qasr-Al-Nakheel – The great Arabic Hype

Qasr-Al-Nakheel is a very shrewd restaurant simply for advertising regularly in Jang. And the ad it has positioned in Jang gives an impression of a large restaurant. In reality it’s just one of the small café-esque joints on the Boating Basin food strip, the one with no point of differentiation between them, let alone innovation. Except the advertising aspect which Qasr-Al-Nakheel is utilizing to the maximum, which is evident from the number of people frequenting the place as opposed to its neighbors.

This just goes on to show the power of advertising, pure and simple, even though it’s ad is not that good. All it has done is place an average ad in the right place, that’s it.

So Qasr-Al-Nakheel has succeeded in communicating its offering to its target market. However, the quality of its offering is a different matter altogether, as we found out ourselves.

It has a diverse menu and we tried a number of things across different cuisines. We tested the Aghani platter, Aghani pulao and Prawn Tikka, and paratha to go along with it.

These days the platter/thali phenomenon is catching on fast and Qasr-Al-Nakheel has a number of such dishes. However, it would do well to not only increase the quantity of items in the platter but also the quality, in other words the sumptuousness factor.

In the Afghani platter we tried, it offered afghani boti and afghani kabab, salad, a couple of chatnis and some rice. For one, we were hard pressed to find the difference between the boti and the kabab. Not only did they both look the same, they tasted the same as well. The rice were below par. The salad and chutni/raita were good. Overall it didn’t make for a very appetizing delicacy, especially since it cost Rs.280.

The Aghani pulao fared better. You could literally feel the difference between the rice served in this pulao and the one in the platter. The Prawn tikka was alright, but it’s quantity was not. At more than Rs.200 you would expect the tikka to be fulfilling enough. It was also a bit on the spicier side, but that’s not a shortcoming since most consumers prefer the hot stuff.

The problem with Qasr-e-Nakheel is the problem which most restaurants in this part of the world have, that is, confused positioning.  They want to offer everything to everyone but end up offering average offering. The same problem persists with Qasr-Al-Nakheel. The name implies that it’s a Arabic café and although it does offer items like the Shawarma and Hummus to augment that brand essence, there are just not enough items to justify the Arabic orientation. What has Afghani cuisine got to do with Arabic cuisine? What has Shashlik go to do with Arabic cuisine? Absolutely nothing.

And therein lies Qasr-Al-Nakheel’s problem. In trying to be everything, it is unable to offer scrumptious dishes because there are just too many items on offer to allow the chef to focus on that critical factor. It may continue to do good business for some time on the strength of its ad in Jang and its location on the Boating Basin. But if it really wants to stand out from the crowd and build a brand that lasts like Jan’s Broast or Student Biryani, it will have to cut down on the number of cuisines and focus solely on Arabic dishes.  Experiment but all within the confines of that one cuisine that is your brand essence.