A few weeks ago I spotted a restaurant called Afghan Chopan. I was confused and annoyed at myself. How had I managed to miss an Afghan restaurant in Richmond?
The answer is that it has only been there a month. Less than that, actually, so I’m not as unobservant as I thought. It’s the second Afghan Chopan in the lower mainland; the first is a full-size restaurant in Surrey, and this tiny new shopfront is just getting going. They’re busy, busy, busy. A husband and wife cook the food and run a bakery that distributes bread to stores. Our server was the owner’s cousin, who’s visiting from California and decided to lend a hand. What a good relative!
The shop serves traditional Afghan food, and since I’ve never really had this cuisine before, I was thrilled at the chance to learn about it. Dana, Heather and I ate there last night, squeezing ourselves into one of three tables at the front. My advice: get takeout. They’re really more setup for that.
To drink, we asked to try the milk tea (chai) and “dough,” which, despite the name, has nothing to do with bread. It’s a yogurt-based drink with cucumber, salt, and some dried mint. Dairy, especially yogurt, figures predominantly in Afghan cuisine.
It tasted like a watered down version of raita, which doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, but was refreshing. It’s traditionally consumed in the summertime, and I imagine the salt in it would help replace what the body loses through sweating.
The chai wasn’t spicy, but strong and milky. Our server brought a bowl of sugar in case we’d like to sweeten it, but it was unnecessary. I loved it on its own.
For an appetizer, we ordered the mantu, which is a dish with several volumes-worth of history behind it.
Centuries ago, the region that’s now Afghanistan sat right in the middle of countless trading routes, and as empires traded (and lands were conquered), their goods, spices, and cultures impacted others across the continent.
Of course, that’s a very abbreviated explanation for why there are versions of steamed dumplings in China (mantou), Afghanistan (mantu), and everywhere in between, but it’s believed they date back to the time of Turkic and Mongol horsemen in Central Asia, who carried frozen meat-filled dumplings as they rode, then cooked them over their campfires at night. Today, mantu are one of the most popular dishes in afghan cuisine, and we got to try them last night.
At Afghan Chopan, their mantu are described as “steamed dough filled with fresh ground beef, onions and spices topped with special sauce.” We ordered the appetizer version (3 pieces for $3.49) and really enjoyed them. There were a lot of comments like “these are similar to perogies/wontons/ravioli,” and we soaked up the tomato and yogurt sauces with the naan bread.
It was whole wheat, topped with sesame seeds, and firmer than Indian naan. It was quite plain to eat on its own (there wasn’t much salt in the dough) but was good when eaten with everything else.
For mains, we had the Assorted Kebab ($11.95), and Ashak dinner ($9.95).
Kebabs are a very popular food in Afghanistan, and nearly every combo on this menu included them. The kebabs that came with our meal were chicken, shami, and tekka, and were served with salad, naan, and a yogurt + herb chutney.
The chicken was fiery red with spices, and tasty. The shami kebab was a mixture of ground beef with onions, garlic, chili peppers, herbs, and spices formed onto a skewer and charbroiled. It was good, though my favourite of the three was the tekka (beef), which consisted of chunks of marinated top beef tenderloin. They were incredibly flavourful, tender, and I could have easily eaten a whole one to myself. The salad was mainly just some torn iceberg lettuce, but the yogurt chutney was vibrant with herbs and we dipped every last piece of meat in it.
The plate of Ashal dumplings looked just like the mantu – whoops! A bit of a misorder there, but we obviously couldn’t get enough dumplings. These ones, folded in half-moons, were filled with leek and coriander and topped with yogurt, dried mint, ground beef, and tomato sauce. They had a very different, spicier flavour from the mantu, and were perfectly cooked – the dumplings wrapper still had bite to them.
I didn’t really like that they used frozen carrots and peas in the tomato sauce. I know it’s their first month and they’re wildly busy, but frozen carrots don’t taste like real carrots!
Close to the end of our meal, they sent out a complimentary plate of stewed eggplant. They couldn’t have known I was the 365 blogger, because I didn’t even see the owners and our server was visiting from California; this was just a nice, ‘we’re newly opened and appreciate your business’ act of hospitality. Little gestures like this do so much to make you feel welcome, AND the eggplant was amazing! I don’t know if it’s on the menu, but request it when you go!
If you’re in the mood for something different (unless, of course, this cuisine is already familiar to you), then I’d recommend Afghan Chopan. Get takeout, and go cozy up on the couch with some mantu, bread, and grilled meat. You don’t have to worry so much about the history behind it – just know we’re lucky enough to have had these culinary traditions carried all the way to Richmond!
Currently, cash only. They’re working to get their debit and credit system up and running.
Vegetarian options available.