Talking about Afghani food with Makial Anwar, co-owner of Kabob-e
1. Tell us about Kabob-e.
Kabob-e is a new fast food restaurant serving authentic Afghani food. We are the only establishment in Jacksonville where you can get Afghani food.
2. When did Kabob-e open?
The doors of Kabob-e were opened for business on August 3, 2012.
3. Where does the name of your restaurant come from?
In Farsi, the word Kabob-e translates to mean the place for kabobs. To a true Afghan, kabob-e brings back warm memories of delicious tastes and smells. Back in Afghanistan, before the wars, Kabob-e was the place to go for kabobs. The aroma and smoke coming out of kabob-es filled the air two streets down. Whether you were hungry or not, you could not pass a kabob-e without going in and biting into the juicy and delicate kabobs. While brainstorming, Kabob-e was mentioned and everyone had a smile on their faces and we all knew what we were all thinking. Kabob-e it was. We gave the e a dash and tilted it a little just to give it a little character.
4. Do you serve lunch and dinner?
Yes, we serve both lunch and dinner. We are open Mon-Thurs 11 am - 9 pm and Fri- Sun 11 am - 10 pm. Our lunch and dinner times are very busy but we also have people coming in throughout the day. We do not close between lunch and dinner and are open 7 days a week. We do take out and dine in. Our business right now is half take out and half dine in.
5. What is Afghani food?
Afghani food is very unique. It is very different in taste. It has an addictive taste that you crave after. It is very tasty. Afghani food consists of rice, stew, kabobs, and unique appetizers. Generally, many of the dishes include rice as the center of the entree. On top of a big platter of rice you put small portions of kormas, which are stews. Stews can be made from just about anything. At Kabob-e we have spinach, chick pea, potato and eggplant. The Afghani rice is very different than any other rice and has a special taste. We use Basmati rice which is skinner and longer than regular rice. The rice is usually rinsed and allowed to soak in water overnight in order for it to tenderize. You have to make sure it is boiled just the right way. If it boils too much it gets ruined. My husband Zabeh knows how to cook it just right. Qahbulli Palow is rice that has carrots and raisins over it. This has to be the best combination of flavors in your mouth. The taste of rice mixed with the sweetness of carrots and the tenderness of warm raisins is an unforgettable blast in your mouth.
There are many different types of kabobs. We have kufta kabobs which are made with ground meat and spices. We prefer lamb over beef. The taste of lamb is very different and more tender than beef. Our tikka kabobs are made of lamb and customers love them.
6. Can you tell us about your marinades?
The marinating process takes about two days. Back in New Jersey, my husband Zabeh was known for his marinating style and how juicy his kabobs were. Two days prior Zabeh takes the meat and marinates it in his special spices and leaves it in the refrigerator to soak up all the tastes. The meats are pure Halal meat and the ingredients are all fresh.
7. Can you tell us about Halal meat? What exactly is it?
Anytime you see Halal, you know that you are getting great quality meat. When meat has a Halal certification it means that the life cycle of the animal from birth to death is observed to make sure it conforms to strict guidelines. The animal must be treated well, fed a healthy diet and not be subjected to cruelty. During the slaughter each animal is individually killed, not in an assembly line. It is slaughtered in a way that is fast and causes the least amount of pain to the animal. The majority of the blood is drained to reduce the amount of bacteria in the blood. Overall it is more expensive, but healthier.
8. Does Halal meat taste differently?
It does. Many of our customers tell us they've never had anything like it before. They are usually referring to both the Halal meat and the fact that we use more lamb than beef in the shish kabobs, giving them a unique taste.
9. Is the Qahbulli Palow rice normally served as a side, or a dish on its own?
It certainly is tasty enough to eat alone and be happy. Traditionally though Qahbulli Palow is eaten with some kind of korma.
10. What is Korma?
Korma means stew. Stews are very common in Afghanistan. Rice and korma are almost always served at the dinner table. Stews are usually made by sauteeing and caramelizing onions, then adding tomato sauce, spices and your main ingredient that can be just about anything. Which spices are used will depend on what you're making. The most common spices we use are cumin, coriander, and turmeric along with the basic salt, pepper and garlic.
11. Do you put the Kormas on top of the rice, or are they eaten separately?
Either way, but kormas are normally eaten along with rice or bread. The best way to eat korma alone is to put green chutney on it and use some pita bread to scoop it into your mouth.
12. What is Kufta?
Kufta means broiled ground beef marinated in fresh herbs and spices. It is rolled around a shish kabob stick and grilled.
13. What is a Sambosa?
Sambosas are made using won ton skins that are filled with spiced ground beef and lentils, then closed like a turnover and fried.
14. What is Sabzi?
Sabzi translates to mean spinach. Our Sabzi Korma is a stew made with spinach.
15. What is Banjan?
Banjan means eggplant. We use slices of fresh eggplant daily. We take the slices and fry them. Then we put the slices in a pan and cover them with specially prepared tomato sauce and shredded slices of different colored bell peppers before letting it all bake in the oven. When it comes out we put our special white sauce over it.
16. Is Afghani food typically served inside a pita or wrap, sandwich style?
No. Most Afghani foods come in a platter style. The gyros and sandwiches we serve are modified to suit the audience of Kabob-e. Many people like rice as a base, others like a sandwich or salad form. So we made our menu to satisfy all of our audience.
17. For a first time visitor to Kabob-e, what would you recommend to get a sense of what Afghani cooking is all about?
To get a good sense of Afghani food I would recommend getting one of the kabob platters along with one of the stews - say the potato or spinach stew along with Afghani salata, which means salad in Farsi. Place them all on the rice platter and take spoonfuls of the rice, kabob, stew and salata. That is typical Afghan food. You can also get Banjan and just eat that with your hands by using the pita bread to scoop the Banjan into your mouth. Another option is to order the Ashak, which is a dumpling filled with scallions and topped with korma sauce. You eat Ashak with a fork and follow each bite with a piece of pita bread. You can also order Bolanee and dip it into our yogurt sauce. These are a few suggestions.
18. What would you consider to be your specialty or signature item that sets you apart?
I'd consider our white sauce to be one of our signature items. It can be used on top of rice, kabobs, stews, salads and gyros. We use it for a salad dressing and in many of our dishes. For example, it's what makes our gyro special. Our white sauce is very unique and you can't find it anywhere around Florida. It's different from a tzatziki sauce - it's not as thick and strong. It is tasty, light and tangy. It's made fresh in house by using sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar and special spices.
19. Are there any dishes that you know are really good, but are harder to get people to try?
Yes, our Bolanee Gandana and our meal size Ashak are hidden treasures that people do not know much about. The Bolanees are addictive. Egg roll like skins are used and filled with either scallions or seasoned mashed potatoes. They are then fried and served with yogurt sauce. People order the Bolanee Kachalou but we added the Bolanee Gandana later and it is really awesome. The Ashak is a steamed dumpling filled with scallions and topped with a yogurt and meat sauce. I think people will be wowed by the taste of both.
20. Do you also have vegetarian options?
They are many options for vegetarians such as Bolanee Gandana, Bolanee Kachalou, Banjan, Ashak - if you ask not to have meat sauce placed on it, mozzarella sticks, french fries, Afghani traditional Salata, house salad, Caesar salad, Greek salad, the different rice options, all the stews, hummus, falafel, and the desserts.
21. What’s your favorite item?
There are so many, I don’t know which one to mention! The gyro platter, Qahbulli Palow, Ashak, Chappli Kabob, and Bolanee Gandana to name a few.
22. In addition to your Afghani specialties you also serve classic items such as burgers and wings. How do they fit into your menu?
Many Afghani people eat Halal meat. All the items on the menu are Halal. Many Afghani people also love the traditional American classic burgers, wings, Philly cheese steak and they love that we are providing them with Halal meat. That is the other unique feature - that people who eat only Halal can come and enjoy these American favorites at Kabob-e.
23. Can you tell us about Afghani desserts?
They are also very unique. The uniqueness in the desserts comes from using traditional ingredients such as cardamom, rosewater, pistachios, and walnuts. The Jelabi and Firnee are the most common Afghani desserts. The Firnee is an Afghani creamy pudding flavored with cardamom and rosewater and topped with pistachios. We make it ourselves in-house.
The Jelabi also made in-house and is similar to an American funnel cake. Instead of a powered sugar coating it has a homemade syrup coating. It is crispy fried rings of dough coated in syrup. It is very difficult to make but tastes great.
24. Do you have catering?
Yes we do. We have already started catering and are working to expand in that department. We will be creating new menu options that will cater individually to specific functions. For example, we will create different options for weddings, office meetings, and other events. So keep an eye on that in the following months to come.
25. Where did you get all your recipes?
My husband is the main cook. He has had a special love for cooking all his life. His grandmother lived with his family when he was growing up and she always used him as her helper. He picked up many of the recipes from her. The special touches come from his love of cooking and always trying different things to come up with the best tasting foods. The majority of the food ideas are the traditional Afghani and Mediterranean style foods that have been passed down from generation to generation. This type of food is a big hit in the New York and New Jersey areas where we used to live.
26. Has your husband worked at a restaurant before?
For the past thirteen years Zabeh owned a pushcart in New York. He was serving breakfast but his love was to do lunches and dinners which involve grilling.
27. What made you want to open your own restaurant?
My husband loved to cook and always wanted to be his own boss. I have been a dental hygienist for the past 13 years and needed a break from it. The hours were too long and I wanted to do something that would give me more fulfillment. I have been trained many years in the concept of customer service and how powerful it can be. I think the main ingredient in any business is customer service. I wanted to bring this concept to Kabob-e and show how it can be successful. As long as you have a good product, which I know my husband has, and mix in great customer service - that will be your success.
28. What attracted you to Jacksonville?
My sister lived here for a while and we had visited a few times. We knew Jacksonville was in need of a good Afghani restaurant. So we sat together and said we knew we could do it. There’s been nothing but excitement from the first day. It’s been a big move for us, but we knew here is where we will grow old. We love the weather and the smiles on the Jacksonville people. We keep saying everyone is happy here, there has to be a catch. But luckily we have not found that catch yet. Kabob-e has been a hit since the first day we opened the doors.
29. Have you had any big surprises opening the restaurant?
Not really. The only thing I can think about is our Tandoor. We have spent a lot of money setting up a very expensive oven but we have not been able to perfect it. The bread was not coming out as good as Zabeh's grandmother's naan did. So for now we have taken it out of the menu until we perfect it. Other than this little dilemma, everything else has been smooth sailing.
30. How did you pick your location?
We knew we wanted to be on Beach Boulevard because of its busyness. We looked at many places but were turned off with them because they looked so big, dirty and overwhelming. We wanted to get a place that was clean and simple. Our current location is manageable. Once we get bigger, we can always expand.
31. What’s next for Kabob-e?
We have high hopes for Kabob-e. We want to be a household name that everyone wants to go to. We want people to eat, enjoy and talk about us to everyone. Once this location is perfected we would like to start franchising. We already have a couple of people asking for a franchise opportunity. We will not open second one now. We want to use all our energy in bettering Kabob-e everyday.
32. Anything else?
I just want to say that we are here to stay. We want to be the best. We are open to feedback. We have a suggestion box and anything we overlooked we would love to hear about. We want to thank the people of Jacksonville for welcoming us and making us a success.