The Silk Road

Persian and Indian Flavors Influence Afghanistan Cuisine

by Cathy Adams

     The Silk Road, an ancient trading route winding from Venice to China, brought a wealth of goods and information back to Europe. The Silk Road restaurant on Charles Street brings an intriguing wealth of Afghanistan food to Baltimore. Afghanistan is in the heart of the middle East, and its cuisine shows the influence of its neighbors, Iran and India, especially in its use of spices and herbs.

     Azir and Bahram Etesamy, a sister and brother team who emigrated from Iran only a year and a half ago, are the newest owners and managers of The Silk Road. The menu offers a selection of appetizers, entrees and salads that is especially accommodating to vegetarians.

     Pumpkin is a more versatile vegetable in other cuisines than Americans give it credit for. Think winter squash, not Thanksgiving pie. Here it appears as a soup, Shorewol-e-Kadu (pumpkin pureed with vegetables and spices); as a filling for a turnover, Pumpkin Bulanee; and Buranee Kadu (sauteed pumpkin topped with homemade yogurt and a spicy vegetarian sauce) where the natural sweetness of the pumpkin contrasts nicely with the spicy sauce.

     One of the most popular entrees for lunch and dinner is the grilled Chicken Kabob, marinated in yogurt and spices, similar to a mild Indian curry, and served with rice. Other entrees that show the influence of Indian and Persian seasonings are Norange Palaw (a delicately seasoned chicken, eggplant or lamb stew served under a mound of saffron rice and garnished with almonds, pistachios, orange zest, rose water and cardamom), and Sabsi Chalow (chicken or lamb served in an onion and garlic flavored spinach sauce). Rice comes with each entree, either with saffron or spicy with cumin. The saffron is specially imported from Iran, since Bahram says that it is far superior to other saffrons available in this country.

     Yogurt, used as a marinade and finishing garnish which adds a pleasing tartness for many dishes, is made in house almost every day. "It's not difficult to make, it just needs time to finish," said Mr. Bahram. Bread is made every day, and by 5 o'clock has just come out of the oven. It is thick, with a fluffy center and a slightly chewy crust and topped with black or white sesame seeds.

     The Silk Road offers a daily lunch buffet, Monday through Friday, for $6.95. Its variety changes daily, but includes soup, salad, saffron rice, cumin rice, two vegetarian dishes (the choices depend on what is best in the market), a chicken dish, and a beef dish. The Silk Road is also very student friendly; it offers a 15 percent discount to students with an ID. And, of course, all of the menu is available for carry out.

     Although Azir and Bahram had no previous restaurant experience, the tradition of hospitality in their culture stresses making one's guest as comfortable and as well fed as possible, which is a philosophy that carries over well to their business. In addition to running the restaurant, Ms. Azir Etesamy is a post-doctorate student at Johns Hopkins and Bahram plans to attend the University of Maryland in the fall to continue his education. Although Afghanistan is a Muslim country, and Chai (a cardamom scented tea) is the the usual beverage, The Silk Road offers beer, wine and a full bar; they generally suggest German or American beer to compliment the food.

The Silk Road
336 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Md
(410) 385-9013
Appetizers and Salads: $2.95-10.75
Entrees: $9.75-10.95
Hours: Monday-Friday 11:30-2:30 - 4-10
Saturday: 11:30- 2:30 - 5-11
Sunday: 4-9

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