the real afghan cuisine
BY: ABE NEJAD
A Must on Your Culinary Bucket List
Redux Extra normally starts our restaurant reviews by talking about the food, ambiance and the accolades that the restaurateur received, thus far. But this time, we took a different approach because Omar Masroor’s restaurants are not only successful for culinary reasons, but also for what separates him from the pack, hospitality, hospitality and more hospitality. And it all stems from deeply rooted culture, tradition and family.
The Afghan culture, like many Asian and east Asian cultures are well known for their inviting and long-standing cultural traditions. These traditions are the bedrock by which many Afghans live by and have implemented right here in the Americas. These close ties to their rich cultural past and steadfast traditions are their guiding light and the primary reason for Masroor’s success.
“My passion comes from the fact that what we saw in Afghanistan is not what people are seeing today. We wanted to give a glimpse into the true culture of Afghanistan. Thousands of years of history cannot be deleted based on the last three decades. All my passion comes from trying to resurrect our culture through our authentic cuisine and hospitality and introducing classical Afghan gourmet dishes to the west,” said Masroor.
Another driver for Masroor’s success is his observation of what is being passed off as Afghan cooking is actually more Pakistani influence, “A genuine Afghan eatery doesn’t have falafel or gyros.” Masroor wanted to introduce the recipes of his mother, a native of Kabul, who leaves the cooking to Masroor’s wife [Sofia], but occasionally drops by to make recommendations on some of the specials.
Masroor’s three restaurants are truly a family business. Omar’s wife, Sofía, works as the head chef, mixing and creating complex ingredients and spices. Omar’s’ three daughters also work for the family business, managing the restaurants and serving the customers, always with a smile and always with the customer in mind, first and foremost. But the road to creating the vision for his restaurant chain was not an easy one.
According to Masroor, the biggest challenge that he had was to find the right candidates that understood what he was trying to achieve. He believes that the right people are the ones that will keep you on the right path. “It’s not just about hiring just anybody, but hiring people who understand the vision and are willing to sincerely be selfless for the sake of others, whether it be a colleague or guest. Finding selfless souls to be part of his family was the biggest hurdle. Once you set that up, anyone new that comes in will automatically adopt those characteristics and the energy of our house,” said Masroor.
Omar’s family came from humble beginnings and understood work and perseverance, and continued that vision when Masroor opened his first restaurant, Afghan Bistro in a strip mall, within an industrial section of Springfield, Virginia. “We just wanted to be able to work for ourselves while being able to express some great food and traditions from our culture. We had a very humble vision and just wanted to be in a situation where we can pay our bills and maybe once a month go out for a family dinner.”
What happened very soon after opening the Afghan Bistro was far more than Omar’s family business expected, a raving review in the Washington Post by well-known food critic, Tom Sietsema. “His eatery serves the kind of food that prompts some fans to drive three hours from New Jersey to Springfield, VA just for dinner,” said Sietsema. Masroor soon after opened Bistro Aracosia in Mclean, VA and Aracosia, in Northwest DC.
Masroor’s goal is to showcase authentic Afghan cuisine that goes beyond just kabobs, but also with dishes that go back hundreds of years, with spices from the silk road that not only taste amazing but have great health benefits.
Now, let’s get to Masroor’s menu. As with many middle eastern restaurants, you may expect menu items like kabobs, humus, gyros and all the rest. But as more eastern cuisines become introduced to the west, there is a steady education by diners for traditional uses of spices and ingredients by various cultures and different parts of the world.
Cardamom, turmeric, cumin and coriander are just some of the many spices Omar and Sofia use in their dishes.
Before we get into our reviews of Sofia’s menu, we mentioned earlier that the Afghan Bistro enjoyed many accolades and positive reviews by the Washington Post, the Washingtonian and other sites like OpenTable and Yelp. They offered reviews of many well-known dishes like Boulanee, which are pan-fried turnovers stuffed with roasted butternut squash and served with yogurt garlic sauce. Also, Manthu, which are steamed beef dumplings, and last but certainly not least, the very popular Afghan dish Sambosa, the juicy ground beef and lentils in a sheer pastry, dusted with powdered sugar and cardamom. Where Masroor grew up, Sambosa was often enjoyed with family in Kabul with tea, at weddings and parties.
Since those items were already reviewed, Redux Extra decided to focus on a few dishes that are not often reviewed but definitely recommended on your next visit to one of Masroor’s three Afghan restaurants.
First, we have to mention the Lamb Shank Moghuli, a bone- in lamb shank prepared in a tomato-based stew mixed with roasted eggplant, fresh cilantro and plain basmati rice. If you are a carnivore, we would absolutely recommend this Lamb dish. But, if you are a herbivore, we recommend the pumpkin dumplings with mint and cayenne pepper, or, the Baadenjaan Chalou, a dish of roasted eggplant served with saffron basmati rice, and you would be in good company as Forbes Magazine gave Masroor’s restaurants the top 50 best vegetarian restaurants in the country, in 2020.
Our favorite dish at Arocosia, which will not disappoint but with all the other options could get lost is the Chicken Lawaan. Serve with steamed basmati rice and topped with cilantro, this Afghan staple is cooked with a heaping amount of yogurt, yellow onions, finely chopped cloves of garlic, ground turmeric and coriander. If you are looking for that warm inviting feeling with a dish, this is the one.
For those health conscience diners, Arocosia boasts no GMOs, no preservatives, no MSG or hormones. Guests can also enjoy the majority of the menu items as gluten free, and you may be happy to know that all of Masroor’s meats are Halal (Kosher).
Along with the extensive meat and vegetarian menu, Masroors’ restaurants also offer fresh homemade chutney, with avocado, fresh herb cilantro, mango and red chili, ordered directly from their locations and ready for pick up from the restaurants.
From the Mazzas (Appetizers), Qormas, (Stews), Kabobs, Lamb entrees, vegetarian dishes, and if you have any room at all, desserts that include homemade Baklava and Rosewater ice cream, they all make either one of Masroor’s restaurants a must on your culinary bucket list.
As the pandemic is winding down, Masroor is happy to get back to business as usual and welcomes his guests.
“We have the best guests who have been supporting us from the very beginning and are the reason we are in the position we are today. I believe they feel like they are walking into our home and are touched by the gracious hospitality our team presents.”
• DINNER HOURS: Tues-Thurs & Sunday 3pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday 3pm to 10pm.
• LUNCH HOURS: 12noon to 3pm Tuesday-Sunday
• ARACOSIA- 1381 Beverly Rd, McLean, VA 22101
• AFGHAN BISTRO- 8081-D, Alban Rd, Springfield, VA 22150
• BISTRO ARACOSIA- 5100 MacArthur Blvd, Washington, DC 20016