Named in honor of the ancient statues carved into the high cliffs overlooking the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan, recently destroyed by the Taliban, Bamiyan features the culinary delights of the region. Boasting a complete traditional menu of chicken, lamb, beef, vegetable and rice dishes. More than 40 herbs and spices are used to create unforgettably tasty dishes. In accordance with traditional preparations, all dishes are made by hand with fresh ingredients only each and every day.
Toronto Star – Food and Drink rates 3 ½ of 4 stars
Simple pleasure awaits at Bamiyan Kabob
Bamiyan Kabob bills itself as the "Best Afghan Halal Cuisine in the City"
This is not a difficult assertion to make — the owner concedes his is the only Afghan halal kebab restaurant in the city — but the claim to quality stands. Bamiyan Kabob makes some of the most delicious grilled meats going, served atop pillows of fragrant rice alongside hearth bread baked to order.
But first, the backstory. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Abdul Rahim was just a small boy. His family — doctors, engineers, journalists — fled shortly afterwards to New York City, where Rahim grew up to run a restaurant. Then he moved to Toronto and opened Bamiyan in 2002 in Thorncliffe Park, the city's most populous Muslim area.
He chose the name as a message. Bamiyan is the city where the former Taliban regime destroyed two historic Buddhas, claiming they were an offence against Allah.
"Whatever political is going on there, we're not part of it," says Rahim of the endless factional violence in his homeland.
"We're all Afghan. We shouldn't fight amongst ourselves."
Such togetherness flourishes at Bamiyan. People of all stripes flock here; Muslims, yes, but others, too. Women in head-to-toe veils sit near youngsters sporting FCUK sweatsuits. Even the 241 Pizza deliveryman eats here, tucking into his kebabs with gusto. It's as clean as a hospital, and as busy as a Silk Road caravanserai. (A second Bamiyan is planned for Markham this spring.)
Here is how it works. Bamiyan has no table service. Place your order at the front counter, where an endlessly patient young woman describes the handful of lamb and beef offerings, all slaughtered according to Muslim practice and marinated for 24 hours in garlic, minced onion, freshly ground black pepper, salt and oil. When the food is ready, the cashier calls out your number and you go up to fetch your still sizzling meal.
Meanwhile, you can wait at one of the fast food-style tables, or watch the non-stop action in the open kitchen, where someone always seems to be stirring a vast pot of slowly evaporating milk that eventually — after the addition of cornstarch — becomes firnee, a rich wobbly pudding ($1.99) tasting of caramel and cardamom.
The Afghan kitchen is influenced by neighbouring Iran and India, but you don't need a degree in anthropology to understand this food. It's pretty straightforward: meat, flame, bread, salad. The horseshoe-shaped bread, or naan, is particularly nice at Bamiyan, rivalling that of the late Chopan Kebab House. Bamiyan's naan ($1) is crisp and puffed, baked to order in a roaring pizza oven then scattered with black nigella seeds. Boulagnee ($3.99) might recall an Indian paratha, but the creation is strictly Afghan. The softest dough is folded over mashed potatoes flecked with angry red pepper flakes, a pleasing study in contrasts.
It's these simple pleasures that make Bamiyan worth returning to. Tender lamb tikka ($8.49) is licked by flames and soothed by lemony sumac. There's seemingly no more to sausage-like kofta kebab ($7.49) than minced lamb and salt. Nor is there much mystery to the mounds of lightly oiled basmati rice that accompany most main courses, or the cooling tomato-onion salads sparked with fresh coriander, but that's how it should be. Ditto wondrously juicy steak sliced up for barg kebab ($7.99).
The same exceptional tenderness defines chunks of smoky boneless chicken breast embraced by stretchy, slightly blistered roti ($4.99). But the sweetest meat at Bamiyan is the quartet of lamb chops in the chopan kebab ($7.99). These milk-fed chops, from animals raised in Port Perry, Ont., are so young and delicate that each rib bone could fit neatly on a fork with room to spare.
The kebabs, like most everything else here, are mildly spiced: heat seekers dip their forks into the blistering sauce doled out with each order. Only the chapli kebab ($5.99) comes with a warning. "It's spicy," the cashier cautions.
The foolhardy ignore this at their peril. Even the Oxford Companion to Food, the food world's answer to Encyclopedia Britannica and about as prone to exaggeration, describes chapli as "the fiery hot specialty of Jalalabad." All in all, though, a tasty way to melt one's tonsils.
This being a halal restaurant, there is no alcohol on offer. That's where the mugs of green tea ($1) come in. Each draught is strongly flavoured by cardamom: indeed, a thick green film of pulverized pods lies on the bottom of each drained mug.
With its remarkable food and pleasant service, Bamiyan Kabob loses points only for its decor, which is not unlike a McDonald's. Rahim and his staff, who take pride in welcoming guests from all walks of life, lack only a suitably classy room in which to do so.