Arriving in the United States from his native Afghanistan in the early 1980s, Hashim Sidiqee, now 51, went to work in his cousin’s restaurant, eventually opening Silk Road in Warren in 2004 to replicate the experience of dining in a fine Afghan home. In an interior accented by colorful chandeliers and dark wood, a video screen mounted on the back wall above a display of traditional Afghan garments presents a slideshow of Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and resilient people; many of the photos were taken by Sidiqee’s family on visits there.
Daughter Fatima, 23, likens dining at Silk Road to eating at her relatives’ home when she visited Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008. “At my aunt’s house,” she says, “I have experienced the same food we serve at the restaurant.”
Fatima, who mainly works the dining room with brothers Mustafa, 24, and Mujtaba, 21, points out that, “even though [Afghanistan is] geographically close to India, it has its own cuisine.”
While both traditions use the tandoor oven for roasting and bread baking, and some Afghan dishes have Indian counterparts, Afghanistan’s food is flavorful without the assertive spicing associated with Indian cooking. Fatima describes the cooking of chef Bakhtiyar Aliez as reflecting the culture of Kabul, where the family hails from. Being the capital, Kabul attracted cooks from different regions, who developed a pan-national repertoire of dishes.
Pleasant introductions to this tradition included two types of steamed dumplings with delicate, thin dough, similar to Chinese dim sum. Ashak dumplings, filled with cilantro, chives and scallions, came with a rich sauce of ground beef and house-made yogurt. Mantu dumplings, stuffed with minced beef and a bit of leek, were accompanied by a light sauce of lentils as well as that same yogurt infused with mint. Naan, whole-wheat flat bread warm from the tandoor, was a bit chewier than the Indian version, albeit pleasingly so. Delicious bholani—pockets of crisp fried dough—are available with three different fillings, each with Afghan spices: potato, butternut squash, and leek and onion. The bholani came with a trio of traditional condiments—tangy yogurt spread; sweet pepper, hot chili and eggplant dip; and cilantro sauce—that engagingly increased the flavor permutations. Refreshing Mediterranean salads—a mélange of crisp cucumbers, ripe tomatoes, red onion, olives, roasted red peppers, artichokes and feta, flavored by good olive oil and red wine vinegar—showed how rewarding simple food can be when perfectly prepared.
Kebabs, typically seasoned with aromatics like paprika, garlic, mint, chives, scallions, cilantro, cardamom and sometimes cayenne, are central to Afghan cuisine. Moist chicken kebabs, smoky from the grill, were paired with an exquisitely cooked rice palaw flavored with orange, saffron and pistachios. Baghlani, the Afghan rice variety the kitchen used, produced light, tender and aromatic grains. A mildly spiced chalaw, a slightly different kind of rice dish, partnered well with chicken korma, succulent pieces of a meaty bird braised in subtly piquant tomato sauce. A blander version of this dish was made with lentils and lamb shoulder. At Silk Road, lamb, the staple meat of Afghan cooking, showed more flavorfully in grilled lamb chops.
Seafood kebabs—one with plump but under-seasoned shrimp and another featuring overcooked salmon—were not the kitchen’s strong points. More reliable is a small menu section devoted to meatless dishes like fresh okra simmered in tomato sauce or spinach cooked with dill and cilantro.
Firni—not overly sweet milk custard, judiciously flavored with cardamom—nicely represented Afghan desserts, as did similarly flavored rice pudding. Delicately crisp Afghan-style elephant ears were thin, fried pastry sheets coated with powdered sugar and finely ground pistachios. Hot peppermint chai went well with these finales.