I recently met someone who walks through the city like I do. Where most people would have cursed me for dragging them into Naif Square for Afghani kababs without decent directions (mostly because I didn’t have a clue where the restaurant was either.), he was thrilled at having stumbled across the Naif Police Museum and the Naif Souq. Where most people would have scurried off after lunch to the cool comforts of a part of town not as jumbled up as Naif, he stuck around to wander about the maze in peak afternoon heat. Where most people would have sailed past dark and obscure alleys in oblivion, he strolled right in to gaze at the colorful homes and faded signs and dirty old brooms stuck into the wires of old-school air-conditioning exhausts.
Said someone is Alex. Alex, the graphic designer dude. Alex, the photographer pro. Alex, the awesome yet totally unassuming artist, who skips the clichéd towering photos of the Burj Khalifa to capture the beauty of the traditional doors of homes in Al Ain.
Alex, the patient soul who got dragged into one of my poorly navigated kabab expeditions and had nothing but a few of my characteristic, cryptic text messages to find the target restaurant.
As we strolled about Naif road after lunch, I was fascinated at how someone actually pre-empted my steps for a change…turning into bleak winding alleyways with a sense of curiosity and fascination as to what could be living…or as is usually my case, cooking…within. That’s when his words, uttered earlier as we settled down for lunch, crossed legged in the Afghani majlis, really sunk in: “I feel like we have a real affinity when it comes to old parts of town.”
I agree, we do.
The downside of walking about old parts of town like Naif is that it places a foreign pedestrian (by foreign, I mean tourists and anyone who's never stepped into Deira before), squarely in the shoes of the abused ball in the pinball machine, slammed around aimlessly, right turn, argh no restaurant!, left turn, ah I'm getting close...kababs are near!, right turn, ping! ping! weeeee!...erm...yeah...crap. back to where I started...I give up, game over.
I’d still fumble about a bit if you were to ask me to lead you back there for kababs. But that’s shockingly better than having to wait at the Naif Police Station until Afghan Khorasan can spare one of their delivery guys to cycle out and find you. Yes, that does happen in my world.
The delivery white knight who had rescued me from the police station laid our plastic dining sheet out on the majlis. Similar to the pre-meal nibbles treatment you get with Yemeni Mandi, our dining sheet was plied with veggies, yogurt, and a clear, lukewarm soup stocked up with a yarn of noodles and fragrant dill. The mutton shami (called kabab kofta in the menu) and chicken tikka at Afghan Khorasan were decent. I wouldn’t necessarily mount them up on my Kabab Wall of Fame, and they’re by no means memorable enough for me to give you a slow-mo mouthful by mouthful replay of them...but yeah, they were decent.
I must interject my own foodie train of thought at this point to say I was dead nervous, wielding my camera in front of a pro photographer. Luckily I didn’t trip over my camera bag or send the lens cap springing across the room or sit over my lens or do anything else that’s quite routine for me in most cases, but would have been unthinkably mortifying at lunch with a photographer who's respected enough to have been featured on TED. Though it still crushes me to think that Alex is potentially looking at my kabab photos right now with a sense of extreme pity, and hoping to dear God that his Adobe workshops would never seat a student with the kind of chronic camera clumsiness I possess.
The bread accompanying our kababs was not this intriguing boat-shaped bread faintly resembling the Iraqi barberi pictured on the menu, but just a plain Jane naan. Rumour has it that their star baker has left the kitchen.
If there’s something I’d go back to Afghan Khorasan for, it would be the daal gosht, fiery-colored chana (split chickpea) lentils that had been slow-cooked to a mush with hefty chunks of mutton and spices sizzled in ghee.
The mutton itself was not the star of the dish. What I reminisce about, over two weeks after my visit, is using the bread to scoop up those slightly chunky lentils, plump with butter and meaty juices. If there’s a dish I’d ask…beg…DEMAND you to order at Afghan Khorasan, the dal gosht would be it.
But if you do decide to pay Afghan Khorasan a visit, Naif may not be the best option (unless you plan to make a little Old Dubai sightseeing trip out of it, in which case it’s totally worth it.) They don’t stock some of my most loved dishes, the flattened beef chapli kabab or maas daal or chicken kadai. That said, the Barsha branch didn't have most of these...harder to prepare?...dishes either when I called them. At least Bur Dubai stocked the chapli kabab. Your best bet is to not bet at all, and just give them a ring to check if they have any or all of: dal gosht, chapli kabab, maas dal, chicken or mutton kadai. These are the more unique, harder-to-ace items on the menu that are just begging for a taste-test, especially since mediocre kababs are a dime a dozen in the city.
But I get the feeling that kababs or no kababs, Alex and I will each find our way back into Naif soon, exploring, wandering, get lost, getting found again...and hopefully testing out the other two Afghani restaurants I glimpsed on my long-winded pinball route around the streets.
Afghan Khorasan Kabab
Naif Square, Deira
Near the Naif Police Station. [As you walk outside the Police Station, with the station on your left and the mosque on your right, take the first left and walk down the lane. At that stage...call for exact directions or ask someone where the restaurant is!]
Phone: +971 (4) 234-0999
Across from the Dubai Bowling Centre, 2nd Interchange, Sheikh Zayed Road
Phone: +971 (4) 338-9838
Right across from the Dubai Customs, Al Mina Road
Phone: +971 (4) 234-0999