For those not familiar with Afghan cuisine, Afghan Rahimi is a great introduction into a cuisine that’s not quite Indian, not quite Persian, but a hybrid that fuses India’s rich selection of spices with Iran’s chargrilled kebabs and stews. The venue is in the hustle and bustle of Dandenong, and the space is so large that a long table of 30 diners can share iftar and only take up one-sixth of the room.
The interior is elaborately decorated, with large wooden chairs, grand amber marble tables and thick red curtains with tassels. Against one wall two thrones, used for wedding receptions, sit atop a raised stage and against a painted moonlit backdrop. The space feels luxe enough to be a room in Afghanistan’s presidential palace, the Arg.
We’re advised to opt for banquet two – a five-course frenzy, with every single dish hitting the mark, beginning with the mantu (Afghan dumplings). Two mantu are draped in a rich, tomato and al dente chana dal sauce, finished off with a drizzle of yoghurt. The pillowy dumplings are stuffed with spiced minced lamb and work up our appetite for the remaining courses.
Yoghurt plays an integral role in Afghan cuisine by balancing out spices and rich, slow-cooked dishes and plays the main character in two of three dips.
Dressed with shreds of carrot in one dip; and in a version similar to tzatziki with garlic, mint and lemon juice. A chilli dip is spiked with celery, vinegar and tomato and is best mopped up with thick sheets of Afghan bread (nan), hot and fresh from the tandoor. The nan is also perfect for mopping up the remaining mantu gravy, a delicious plate-cleaning device.
Next up is the borani banjan, a classic Afghan dish of eggplant fried almost to the point of it almost being stewed. At Afghan Rahimi, the chef peels and marinades the eggplant in its garlic-loaded tomato base for 24 to 48 hours so that it soaks up the flavours completely. The result is flavourful eggplant that’s almost unrecognisable as it falls apart at the touch, married with yoghurt sauce that works to subdue its acidity.
Two fillets of fish are bathed in an umami-laden pakora-like batter, so shatteringly crisp that their crunch momentarily masks the sounds of nearby children running around. The flesh is succulent and its juices run down the fork. Lather it up with some of the yoghurt dip if you’re feeling frisky, or eat it along with some Afghan rice studded with raisins and infused with saffron.
But there’s one dish that’s going to leave you utterly speechless – the almighty Afghan kebabs. They arrive brandished on sword-like skewers, ready to be used in a duel in case you need to fight over who gets the last one.
There’s a lamb number and a chicken number, both showing off the exceptional quality of the meat. They’re lightly spiced and cooked low over coals for 15 minutes to retain the flavour of the meat, and they’re the best thing on the menu.
This multi-course menu takes just 45 minutes from start to finish, but staff don’t make you feel rushed. Arrive hungry or expect to bring several doggy bags home with you. Efficiency and exceptional food is the name of the game here at Afghan Rahimi, and it’s one of the best venues to enter the world of Afghan cuisine in the heart of the ‘Nong.