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Qabeli Polo. Photo by Annie Wang

Food of the Poets, Courtesy of Kamal

Qabeli Polo. Photo by Annie Wang
Qabeli Polo. Photo by Annie Wang

It’s no surprise that Persia and Afghanistan nurtured some of the greatest poets the world has ever read (Think Rumi, Zoroaster, Jami of Herat, and many, many others).

If, like these fortunate fellows, you were exposed to ingredients like rose water, angelica powder and barberries on a regular basis, you might also be moved to pen some verse.

Last Saturday, after feasting on kababs, mantoo, sambosas, and rose water ice cream at Kabul Kabab House with six hungry New Yorkers, I know I was.

I was the first to arrive at the Afghan-Persian restaurant that cabbie Kamal Aftab had recommended on our journey through Queens in December.

While I waited for my co-adventurers to roll in, I ordered some cardamom-laced black tea, filling my nose with the floral muskiness in my cup, eyeing paintings of Central Asia and watching the grill masters through the glass wall by the entrance.

Photo by Annie Wang
Photo by Annie Wang

Annie, Caroline, Eric, Ira, Katie, and Peter barely had time to look at the menu before I suggested we order a combination of appetizers: badenjan buranee (roasted eggplant with yogurt and tomato sauce), mantoo (steamed beef dumplings with peas and yogurt sauce), and sambosas.

Sambosas – light, crispy turnovers stuffed with beef and onions and seasoned with cumin – impressed us most, especially with some zing from the green chili sauce on the table. Our mantoo, as Caroline observed, could have used more beef, and the roasted eggplant tasted more solid than stellar.

Per the cabbie’s suggestion, we moved on to Qabeli Polo (lamb kabab with basmati rice topped with carrots and raisins), along with kabab barg (marinated beef), khoresht gheimhe (yellow pea stew with beef) and zereshk polo (saffron-rubbed cornish hen over basmati rice with barberries).

After a flurry of passing, spooning, and sampling, all of us agreed that the trek to the far reaches of Queens had been worth it – even though the beef and lamb kababs had been left on the grill a minute too long, and even though the boiled beef was no match for the full flavor of the yellow peas in our khoresht gheime.

Photo by Annie Wang
Photo by Annie Wang

We appreciated that our piles of brown and white basmati were gloriously seasoned (especially on Kamal’s Qabeli Polo, where it was amped up with enormous raisins and julienned carrots).

And we were pretty much stupefied by Zereshk Polo, where saffron worked its magic with tender, bone-in pieces of cornish hen while barberries (the Persian equivalent of currants) added a sweet-tart back beat.

Photo by Annie Wang

The romance that tinged everything we were eating came into sharp focus at dessert.

Everyone approved of the baklava the cabbie had recommended (though it didn’t quite compare to the stuff at Güllüoglu Baklava & Cafe), but it was the house-made rose water and pistachio ice cream that seduced us.

In the Persian tradition, rose water is thought to have cleansing powers. At weddings, it’s used to perfume the air. In many Persian poems, a beloved’s tears are rose water and she’s often found wandering in a rose garden.

I doubt that we were aware of the connotations of what we were eating while we had our way with our flowery ice cream, but we could taste the unusual combination of sensuality and restraint that made it – and much of our meal – so bewitching.

Kabul Kabab House
42-51 Main St. (between Cherry and Franklin Aves), Flushing, Queens
Tel. 718-461-1919
Open: 7 days, 11am-11pm
Cash only
Appetizers: $3.95-9.95; Mains: $10.50-34.95

Click here to see more of Annie Wang’s photos


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