Ariana Kabab House
Address: 2677 Alta Vista Dr, Ottawa
Hours: 12 – 9pm (daily; hours may vary during/after pandemic)
One of the biggest untold food stories in Ottawa (in mainstream publications anyway) is the explosion of Middle Eastern and Central Asian businesses in areas like Bayshore and Ottawa South. Restaurants, cafes, and groceries of all types have sprung up in neighbourhoods with large populations of new Canadians, and the flavour that they’ve brought to Ottawa – both literal and figurative – continues to go underappreciated.
With that in mind, I wanted to expand my own culinary borders, and Afghan restaurant Ariana Kabab House at Alta Vista and Bank seemed like a great place to start. I’m not a total newcomer to Afghan food, but hardly a seasoned pro, so I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about Afghan food and culture.
Ariana is a little bit hidden – tucked away as it is around the corner from the Independent. The interior is nice, with a chandelier and general décor that belies its strip mall location. In normal times it would seat around 30, but on my first visit capacity was reduced by half due to that little ol’ pandemic we’re going through.
Table service was also nixed at this time, so I ordered at the counter at the back. In my previous menu research at home, I had discovered that Ariana sells mantu – Afghani dumplings. I’m a lover of basically any kind of dumpling, so trying a new-to-me version was a given. You can get a side order of 6 or go for a full order of 15 ($15.99). One guess which one I went with.
After a short wait, I soon had my plate o’ dumplings. The protein pouches came criss-crossed with yogurt and tomato sauces, which made for a messier situation than I’m used to with dumplings, but I appreciated the brightness that their acidity brought to the dish. The ground beef filling was fairly loose, and mixed with sauteed onions and rich, earthy spices, although the meat was dryer than that of your typical potsticker or siu mai.
My next time at Ariana Kabab House was in the second wave (or was it the third at this point? Ugh), so indoor dining was shutdown, and my car-less ass decided it was a good idea to get some takeout in the middle of winter. Don’t say I don’t suffer for my art!
This time around, I wanted to sample as much as one person reasonably could, so I ordered the shami combo ($15.99) which comes with *deep breath* one skewer each of beef and chicken shami, beef qorma, rice, salad, and naan bread. *exhale*
Afghan shami seems to be similar in style to Middle Eastern kofta, which I’m more familiar with – ground and seasoned meat which is pressed onto a broad metal skewer and grilled. The flavour profile of the beef shami was pretty mild, although that let the meat stand out on its own. I enjoyed the tender texture and moistness of the beef, as I’ve had many a kofta that was either overworked or overcooked, or in the worst case, both.
The chicken shami was my favourite of the two proteins. It was a bright red, similar to Indian tandoori chicken, although the flavour was different. I don’t know Afghani cuisine well enough to place the exact flavours, but it did have nice little charred bits and a prominent grilled flavour. Cooked with an equally deft hand as the beef, there was no dry, chewy meat here.
While the beef qorma was relegated to a two-ounce cup, it punched above its weight flavour-wise, with a lightly spicy, tomato-based sauce dotted with yellow split peas, and tender hunks of beef.
The rice was very plentiful, filling up both sides of the takeout container which held it and the shamis. The long-grained rice was buttery, and spot-on for doneness, so I’d say that’s a win.
My salad was your garden-variety garden salad. I’m not sure if basic salads like this are ubiquitous worldwide, but I can’t imagine that iceberg lettuce is all that common in Central Asia. Nonetheless, it provided me some vegetables for my meal, and gave my conscience a slight reprieve from the onslaught of carbs and meat. One of the dressings that came with it packed a surprising amount of spice, so watch out.
Last up was the naan bread. It was quite different from the more well-known Indian version – less pliable, more evenly browned, lightly crisp on the exterior and with a denser crumb. Really, it only shares the name with its Indian relative. While not as good for scooping up rice and saucy food, I appreciated the doubling down on carbs.
Service during both visits, while limited in scope given the Covid circumstances, was friendly and helpful.
Ariana Kabab House is offering some delicious, well-executed food at great prices, and they not only deserve more attention, but also your patronage.