An Afghani, family-run business using recipes passed down through generations. Prepare to share.
Keep your eyes peeled, unless you're familiar with the Pt Chev area, Auckland's newest Afghan restaurant might be a bit tricky to find. Once you do find it though, prepare your senses for an adventure very different to what you will have experienced before (unless you've been to Afghanistan, which I haven't). Samadi is a restaurant with a history as beautiful as its sleek dark interior; it's a family-run business that has been years in the making, with a menu taken from family recipes passed down through generations. As is tradition in Afghanistan, food made is food to be shared, and Samadi is built on this principle. Their Facebook profile says it all: "Sharing a meal is at the heart of Afghan culture and we invite you to our family table."
Our advice: book with a group if you can. Not only will you get to sit on the plump floor cushions at one of the two sunken communal tables, it'll also mean you get to try a number of different dishes on the menu, as everything is designed to share. We were warmly welcomed by one of the Samadi brothers, Wali, and given a brief rundown of the menu. What was obvious right from the start was the overwhelming passion that the Samadi family has for sharing the food they grew up eating. As numerous pastel pink drinks passed by our table, I ordered the traditional rose milk — a tepid, sweet drink that was like a cross between Turkish Delight and strawberry milk. The pomegranate soda is one to try too, it's also on the sweet side but is refreshing at the same time.
While we were trying to decide what to order we were presented with complimentary bolani — fried Afghan flat bread filled with chives and drizzled with yoghurt. It was was the perfect pre-dinner snack, and was testament to the Samadi's passion for simply sharing the food they love. Following that was a collection of dishes, all served at the same time to pick and choose from. Our favourites were the mantu — Afghan dumplings, aesthetically similar to the Chinese variety, stuffed with tasty beef mince and topped with yellow split peas, garlic yoghurt and dried mint ($16) and the banjan sia - silky eggplant and roasted capsicums topped with more garlic yoghurt and dried mint, served with Afghan bread ($12). Of the larger plates, the qorma ($24) was essentially a perfectly cooked tender beef stew, with all the right hearty flavours, served with qabuli palau — fragrant rice topped with carrots, raisins, pistachios and slivered almonds.
Although already verging on uncomfortably full I took it a step further with the baklava — although not wildly different from a Greek baklava, the Afghan version was sweet and crunchy and came with a recommendation to pick it up and eat it with your hands, which is exactly what we did. Washed down with a pot of complementary green tea with a hint of cardamom, it was the perfect end to a very unique meal.