ucked away from the congested and claustrophobic confines of the Central Market in Lajpat Nagar, where hundreds of middle class families flock to shop every day, is an alley that will draw you in with a host of heady and fragrant aromas. The alley is lined with a set of eateries that serve local Afghan food. This part of Lajpat Nagar, along with sections of Bhogal, forms a considerable Afghan ghetto in New Delhi. Most of the Afghans come to Delhi to avail medical treatments, which is why you'll find most of these settlements near hospitals.
When I first visited Kabul Delhi Restaurant, the most popular of the lot, my first impression was not one of any joie-de-vivre. It was a strange sense of wonderment that involved a certain amount of touristy inquisitiveness. One of the first things you notice is the collection of photographs that look like they've been sourced from a tourist department, all centred around Buzkashi, a horseback sport played in Central Asia. I was instantly reminded of the image of an alluring Feroze Khan in a helicopter in Dharmatma, cut by superb aerial shots of the game.
The seating is simple with neatly arranged tables and chairs and a dastarkhan, a traditional floor spread meant for communal dining. Once you have settled down, one look at the menu is all it takes to start salivating like Pavlov's dog. The pulao or palao is a staple Aghani rice pilaf with meat. Kabul plays a defining role in Afghan cuisine, which incorporates a lot of elements from its neighbouring regions, mainly Iran. Qabuli pulao is their national dish and comprises rice cooked in stock served with meat, and topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots and pistachios. The meat is exceedingly tender and falling off bone, while the pilaf is subtly spiced and tantalisingly fragrant. Any order at Kabul Delhi comes with a complementary relish, a tangy tomato-based okra dish and some pickles or torshi. Also on the menu is a great yakhni pulao, a brown and more humble version of the qabuli, and chalao or fragrant white rice that comes with different qormas.
The wonderfully spiced and aromatic chopan kebabs that they serve are melt-in-the mouth and hugely gratifying. Shomle or shlombeh is a cold drink made by mixing water with yogurt and then adding fresh or dried mint, which can be ordered by the glass or the bottle. This distant cousin of the lassi not only aids in digestion but also takes the edge of the spiced meats. It's slim pickings for vegetarians, but the borani banjan, fried eggplants topped with a sour cream won't let you down.