Afghani Kabob Express
Address: 249 Bank St, Ottawa
Hours: 11:30am – 10:30pm (Mon-Sat); 12pm – 10pm (Sun)
I haven’t eaten Afghani food very frequently – or ever – up until recently that is, when I stopped by Afghani Kabob Express on the way home from work.
It’s never looked busy inside when I’ve walked by in the past, so it was impossible for me to not think about a classic Simpsons scene where the kids and their babysitter order takeout from an Afghani restaurant.
Luckily for my awkwardness levels, not to mention their business, I was one of a few groups that were coming and going, as well as a steady stream of Uber Eats-style pickups.
Like many restaurants in downtown Ottawa, their space is long and narrow, and it has an open kitchen running much of the length of it. I took a table alongside the kitchen, perusing the menu at my table.
What is Afghani cuisine like? Well, judging from Afghani Kabob Express’ menu, it’s what you might expect from their geography. Obviously, there’s their namesake kabobs, which are a staple across the Middle East and South Asia, as well as some Indian influence with tikka kabobs, tandoori chicken and naan bread.
It seemed like the more uniquely Afghani dishes were in the sides, with the likes of sabzi (seasoned, stewed spinach), kabelli rice (brown basmati with raisins and carrots), and potato qorma. I ended up going with the beef shami kabob plate ($12.99) to see how their kabobs were, since that is in their name, as well as an order of the potato and green onion boolani ($5.99), a stuffed flatbread.
My boolani came out first. The sizeable, Afghani equivalent of a quesadilla, took up nearly a whole plate! The exterior was lightly browned and crisp, while the potato on the inside was creamy, with a mild, lingering heat that added a welcome depth of flavour. A yogurt dipping sauce with mint and/or cucumber added a refreshing counterpoint.
Next up was my beef shami kabob plate. Loaded up with brown basmati, salad, and two generous strips of beef, the plate didn’t even have room for the Afghani naan bread that came on the side. Wear your stretchy pants for these meals, folks!
The rice was cooked perfectly – not too firm, but not mushy either – with a mild, earthy flavour. The deep-red seasoning on it was also available in a shaker at the table, and although I didn’t know what it was, I knew it tasted great, and sprinkled some more on.
Kabobs can be very hit or miss, and too often they’re overcooked and chewy. Afghani Kabob Express’ were neither, with a tender texture, decent char from the grill, and rich flavour. Dipping it in the yogurt sauce made them even better.
The salad wasn’t ground breaking, with iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato and yellow bell pepper, but all the ingredients were fresh and crisp, and brought a welcome balance to the heartier elements of the plate.
My Afghani naan bread was different than what I had been expecting. The Indian version that most people are familiar with is soft, pale, has a slightly pliable chew, and is great for scooping up braised meats or veggies. In contrast, my Afghani naan bread was thoroughly browned, with a crispy exterior, and dense crumb. It wasn’t bad, per se, just not quite as functional as a softer flatbread would have been for this dish.
I really enjoyed my first Afghani meal – Afghani Kabob Express is putting out satisfying food, at great prices. It’s always good to know a dependable spot downtown for a quick lunch or dinner, and as long as they stay busier than Two Guys From Kabul, I look forward to trying more Afghani food in the future.