recent addition to Vancouver’s bustling Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, Afghan Kitchen’s newest restaurant Zarak has quickly become one of the most popular spots in the area. Locals are flocking to dine at this warm and inviting family-owned space, which boasts an expansive cocktail program and authentic Afghan cuisine.
Using recipes from co-owner Hassib Sarwari’s mother, Zarak is a celebration of the immigrant family. The menu is designed to be enjoyed among loved ones, with dishes ordered for the table to encourage equitable sharing versus even portion sizes. Rather than guests worrying if everyone consumed the same amount, this type of dining asks a more important question: is everyone satisfied?
One of the restaurant’s signature menu items is Qabuli Palaw: a rice pilaf known as Afghanistan’s national dish. The base is made of golden sella, which is a specific type of basmati rice; it’s partially boiled while still husked, and then milled, which transforms it into its beautiful golden hue. The rice is then left to soak overnight, and is cooked halfway through first thing in the morning to ensure a smooth dinner service.
During the rest of kitchen preparation, the rice is left in a strainer to dry throughout the day. Prior to its final cook, it’s infused with mom’s special marsala blend and a caramelized oil to develop rich flavour as it continues to slow bake in the oven for two hours. Due to the time-consuming nature of the dish, the team at Zarak keeps reservations in mind when deciding how much rice to prepare; this ensures that every order of Qabuli Palaw is made fresh daily.
To complete the dish, the rice is topped with a generous portion of caramelized carrots, raisins for additional sweetness, and slivers of toasted almonds for a texture oomph. Created to compliment the rest of the menu, Qabuli Palaw makes the perfect vessel for sauces and stews, and seamlessly complements Zarak’s freshly grilled kebabs.
With enticing Afghan flavours and familiar ingredients, this dish manages to embody both an elevated dining experience and mom’s classic comfort food.