Experience #1: Khyber Pass Afghan Restaurant

by Natasha Henderson, Montreal

In recent months, I have been working on becoming 95% vegetarian. When I tell people that I have a Once-A-Week-Meat-Eat, they usually laugh and say “then you’re not a vegetarian!”. That is true. I am not a full vegetarian. However, I am aware that there are many, many positive things about being mindful of what one eats. I think it is necessary to understand that if you buy a typical “steak”, this piece of a cow will have been born, raised, slaughtered, and chopped up in the factory-farming system. I would prefer to not support that system. So, I am trying to be more vegetarian both at home and in restaurants.

Fried Eggplant with Yogurt

I recently enjoyed a trip to an Afghan restaurant in Montreal. The Khyber Pass is a medium-sized restaurant, decorated to feel cozy with richly embroidered and decorated tapestries and textiles on the walls and ceilings. For a textile-loving-girl such as myself, this was a wonderful distraction. However, once the food was served, attention shifted from the surroundings to the table.

The meal began with little flat squares of Afghan bread, served warm in a basket. Dipping sauces accompanied them. The sauces were delicious, and varied greatly in flavour, colour, texture, and spice. This all went well with our wine… my group of six people all brought our own wines. The corking service is a delightful advantage of many restaurants in Montreal.

I had walked by the Khyber Pass several times before, usually stopping to read the menu posted outside. Cauliflower, yogurt, eggplant… all looked delicious to me. Of course I also saw lots and lots of lamb. When my friends and I were settled inside, I mentioned what I’d seen on the menu, and my own assumptions about Afghan cooking (lots of lamb). Fortunately, our waiter overheard me, and corrected me. “In Afghanistan, lamb is only cooked for celebrations. Here, Canada, every DAY is a celebration.” His explanation clarified why most every dish on the menu featured lamb. All my friends ordered various lamb dishes (I heard that it was “divine”.) I went Veggie.

My order: Red Lentil and Fresh Coriander soup, Fried Eggplant with Yogurt appetizer, Veggie Combo main dish (eggplant, cauliflower, spinach, okra, and three types of Basmati rice), dessert was a delightful Rosewater with Pistachio pudding.

Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Coriander

The soup was a tangy and pleasantly warm beginning, what one would expect from a spiced lentil soup. Not “remarkable”, but for the warm-up dish, who’d want that? It was similar to soups I make at home. Perfectly fine.

I had the fortune of dining with friends who were so kind as to share their appetizers. Once I’d bitten into it, I realised that my pal’s dumpling actually was filled with (a very tasty) meat. Well, I recommend it for someone who likes their meat, and is looking for something filling and satisfying. They reminded me of my Mom’s “won-tons” that she’d make at Christmas. Deep-fried triangle pockets, filled with hashed meats and diced onions… delicious indeed. I wouldn’t order them, personally, because on a Once-A-Week-Meat-Eat diet it would, perhaps, be a little disappointing.

Meaty Dumplings Ooops!

Another wonderful appetizer that was fortunately shared was the spicy Pumpkin Borani. This was a stewed pumpkin, softly mashed, baked in a small casserole. Served with yogurt and tomatoes, it felt warm and stick-to-your-ribs, full of both vitamins and comfort. The subtle taste of pumpkin was allowed to glow forth in this wonderful dish, I would eat it every day if I could.

My Main Plate

As for the main plate, my friends didn’t offer forth any of their lamb. Granted, I didn’t ask to try any of it, but I think they knew it would be good. There certainly were no complaints! I found my gently flavoured Basmati rice to be divine, the spinach and yogurt and eggplant were all very rich yet homey-tasting. I could feel the vitamins and nutrients concurrently providing energy and flavourful pleasures. Pure and healthy comfort-food.

Everything that I ordered this day, I would order again. Next time, though, I must have some of the Pumpkin Borani, perhaps two or three of them!

Natasha will continue her voyage into Vegetarian Cuisine in Non-Vegetarian Restaurants next week, with a visit to the Bistro Sur la Riviere…

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