We found the two-month old Afgan Restorant (yes, that’s how they spell it) by surprise. We can’t say it was a wonderful surprise, nor can we say it was disappointing. Let’s just say the Afgan Restorant is a place that will underwhelm you if you are looking for an amazing Afgan experience, but won’t disappoint if you want a reasonably priced ethnic meal, in a spacious setting, with a view of the Zeytinburnu Çarşı.
We weren’t searching for Afghan food. Sean had insisted that a Chechen place exists in Zeytinburnu for a long time. “It’s there, man. I swear it exists,” he would often mumble to himself. Considering the amount of psychedelics the man has consumed and the fact that he has an infant son at home causing sleepless nights, I was reluctant to believe him.
We got off the Marmaray and walked toward central Zeytinburnu on nothing but a vague recollection of an article read some years back. We peeked into various esnaf lokantaları, büfeler and other places that looked like purveyors of prepared foods.
We walked into a furrier (Zeytinburnu has many). A man shook our hands then enthusiastically pointed out that there isn’t much in Zeytinburnu but cheap food and boredom. I walked into another esnaf lokatası, where a cook who looked possibly of European heritage told us there is some Uygur food nearby. Our prospects were looking grim.
We were walking down a side street, hope draining at a slow, steady drip, stomachs growling. A middle-aged tout in front of a dürüm shop was giving some foreigners directions in very broken English. “Hey, he speaks English, let’s ask him where we can find Chechen food!” Sean said.
we approached him. Chechen food? No idea, he said. But he pointed us back toward the çarşı and told us to look up. So we did. And, hello, it was the Afgan Restorant, two floors up.
Huffing and puffing up the stairs, we arrived to find a friendly young waitstaff, presumably Afghans, who showed us to a cushy booth by the window, where we could watch the stream of humanity below. The interior looked like a 1980’s Hilton buffet room somewhere in the Middle East, with images on the wall — one an Arch de Triumph type arch monument (it’s actually the Victory Arch at Paghman), the other prints depicting marauding Afghans on horseback.
First some soup arrived. It was on the house. It was thin and spicy mercimek çorbası. Moving on.
Next came a typical çoban salatası alongside our main dishes. We ordered the mahiça pilavı, which was long grain basmati rice covering a delicious and tender surprise: a succulent lamb shank! The people rejoiced! I was impressed with the tenderness of the meat and the sweetness of the rice. Sean said he thought the meat was tender, but given his proclivity for making meaty stews, I think he wasn’t as jazzed as I was.
The Afghan mantı (mantu) was a bit disappointing given its patriotic appearance of red, white and green. The pieces of chickpeas on top, which we first mistook for lentils, were a nice touch. The dough was a too chewy and the meaty filling not quite flavorful enough to warrant this a must-order dish.
Another thing lacking was some kind of traditional beverage. Even an Afghan take on ayran would have been nice, but it was the usual soft drinks, sodas and ayrans in a cooler.
The young waiter gave us a ball of köfte covered in tomato sauce as an ikram, as well as a fairly bland, cream flavored “pudding” in a shallow bowl.
After our reasonably priced meal, which came to around 45 TL for the two of us, we chatted with the owner’s son-in-law. He told us how he left his homeland because of deterioratıng securıty ın Kabul. Then, after I asked about the Arc de Triomphe-like picture on the wall, he told us an incomprehensible story of someone sacrificing a sheep in a pit, or maybe he said on a ship. At any rate, he arrived just a few months earlier to help his father-in-law, who used to be in the wood business. He politely offered the food on the house but it seemed to be formal etiquette as we quickly insisted on paying and he immediately acquiesced. We were charmed by the gesture.
We were pleasantly stuffed in the end. But we hope there is another chapter of this story that includes a Chechen restaurant.