Buttery Afghani Dal in Deira’s Naif Square

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 restaurant. Hallelujah.

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.

Clockwise, from top left: Dill and noodle soup, chicken tikka, Afghani naan, mutton shami (aka kofta kabab)

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.

Anyone know if the Al Quoz or Bur Dubai branches of Afghan Khorasan bake up the glorious boats of carb pictured in the menu above??

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.

Amber gems of buttery Dal Gosht

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
Al Quoz
Across from the Dubai Bowling Centre, 2nd Interchange, Sheikh Zayed Road
Phone: +971 (4) 338-9838
Bur Dubai
Right across from the Dubai Customs, Al Mina Road
Phone: +971 (4) 234-0999

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

14 thoughts on “Buttery Afghani Dal in Deira’s Naif Square

  1. Saleem says:

    In the past few months have been able to learn from you some good places to eat and also try different cuisines and enjoy them the way you do. Pity is our timings don’t match to go out and explore some of the authentic food with you. May be some day we will – tell then ejoy and keep sharing your experiences.

    1. inafryingpan says:

      Awww daddy! I doubt any food blogger has such a supportive father…I will make sure you get a taste of the dal, even if I have to go back to the Naif jungle to get it for you!
      (or we can be infinitely less dramatic and call for a home delivery.)

  2. Didi says:

    This is dead creepy. The Husband and I have been eyeing this Afghan place for months!!! Never had the courage to get in though. Now I know what to order when we do head out there soon :) Thanks Arva! It’s so freaky how we manage to gravitate towards the same places ;p

    1. inafryingpan says:

      Didi – Not freaky my foodie darling, this is teeeelepathy! Foodie brain waves sizzling across the city :D Can you see if they have anything from my Most Wanted dishes list when you go?

  3. Sheryn says:

    There is so much I don’t know about this town, that looks delicious. I haven’t been to Deira (on purpose anyway) in many years.

    1. inafryingpan says:

      Sheryn – They say it’s never too late to explore! What’s being keeping you from Deira…the traffic? 

  4. IshitaUnblogged says:

    You put me to shame. I always thought that there was no one else who loved old alleys of Dubai more than me. But my horizon has been this part of the Creek and the Gold and Spice Souk and the Fruit and Vegetable market and never beyond that. Whatever Alex thinks about your photography I won’t be able to comment on that but your photograph of the Daal Gosht and the dark alleys has pretty much captured my fancy!

    Would you be able to tell why I don’t get to know that you had replied back. Last time I was digging through your posts while I chanced upon your reply to my comment!!!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      IshitaUnblogged – You know, maybe I need some recos from you on Gold and Spice Souk…just feel like I haven’t done much sleuthing about in that area. I will trade you recommendations on Hor Al Anz and Muteena for Gold/Spice Souk ;)
      Just switched over to Disqus cause my comment system was being a P.i.A…fingers crossed that this notifies you!

  5. Shafeena (@shafeename) says:

    That looks amazing! i have never been to an afghan restaurent! Woes of being in abu dhabi! but looks amazing :)… and as always, the pictures are impecable !

  6. Alex says:

    Already sooooo much looking forward to our next excursion! :-) Great post!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      me too! Hor Al Anz this week…see you there ;)

    1. inafryingpan says:

      …and after my longwinded email to you, you know now! I’m working on the planning & website…license app to happen in July, and then hoping to launch in Sept/Oct after the worst of the heat is over. Fingers crossed that all goes according to plan!

  7. Zerinb says:

    Arwa have you tried the afghani pulao? the one that is pictured in the menu. I have tried the pulao from afghan kabul restaurant here in Sharjah and it is my favorite pulao, with a big chunk of mutton on a bed of long grain basmati rice cooked in the mutton fat with loads of raisins and carrot shavings… yummmm….


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