As Ben from Chowtimes was headed off to Beijing for an extended work stint, a bunch of us got together for a send-off. The original plan was for a spicy feast at Aree Thai. Turns out they were closed that night so I put out a call for some different options. The ever-intrepid Fmed came up with a very unique suggestion…Khyber Pass.
Khyber Pass is right near Kingsway & Victoria in East Van in what was formerly the Red Fort. They offer Afghan and Pakistani fare in a cozy, kitschy, old-school dining room.
Not the most modern or elegant of settings but a nice sense of comfort sets in immediately. We had originally planned for a dozen or so diners. Fmed had wangled us a set rate of $14 a head. Come mealtime, we were down to seven folks. Not sure if the kitchen got word of the down-size because we got hit with a massive amount of food.
We had a rough idea of tonight’s menu…some kebabs, some curry, some rice. The appies, however, were to be a mystery. The first plate was a simple form of spring roll.
About as simple as you can make it. There’s cabbage, carrot, pepper and a bit of seasoning. A mildly spicy tamarind dip alongside.
The Mantoo are Afghanistan’s (and neighbouring regions’) dumpling. They are full of spiced beef or lamb and covered in a minty yogurt sauce. They’re then topped with a ratatouille of beans, corn, peas and peppers. Not sure why the addition of the stewed veg…seems to obscure the mildly flavored dumpling and delicate sauce.
The Naan was hot, fresh and tasty…just a bit flat. That’s flat as in not quite leavened enough. A bit too chewy, not very flaky. It is, however, a great vehicle for this:
Bouranee Baunjan (Afghan Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce). A nice, rudimentary sauté of eggplant, tomato, onion and garlic. The minty yogurt sauce makes another well-placed appearance.
After the appetizers I took a walk around to check out the room. Right next to the lobby/entrance is the front counter. This doubles as the tandoor station which was being manned by our helpful server, Abdul. With little prodding he happily posed with his handiwork.
The Chicken Kebobs were just right. Tender, succulent and shot through with flavorful herbs and spices. Big, juicy chunks perfectly tandoorified.
Maybe even better, depending on your taste, were the Lamb Kebobs. Great char, still tender, superb flavor.
The Beef Kebobs didn’t quite hold up to the heat of the tandoor. Although tasty, they came out dry and a bit chewy. A dunk in the yogurt sauce fixed that right up.
Qabili Palow. Nicely oiled basmati topped with fried carrot and raisin. A well prepared, solid accompaniment.
The Curried Lamb Shank was a perfect example of slow food being hurried. This was sooo very close to being great. The curry itself was bang on, the real deal…deep, dense and bursting with myriad flavors. The shank, on the other hand, was about thirty minutes of braise time short. Still tough, still clinging to bone.
Seven diners stuffed. Two major sacks of leftovers. One really good deal. Although I probably won’t revisit anytime soon, I really did enjoy this meal. Perhaps it was more about the ambiance…being amongst a group of interested, adventurous eaters. Happy travels, Ben! Can’t wait for the stories…