Kishmish Restaurant – Interview with the Founders
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ― Jalaluddin Rumi –
Known for its culturally rich heritage, Afghanistan is one of those places on earth which is still undiscovered, in terms of the rich culinary traditions, the splendid hospitality and the warmth of its people that seems invisible behind the debris of its war-torn past. There’s more than just food Afghan cuisine has to offer, there’s century-old romance of poetry, there is warmth and the wealth of untold stories wrapped around the heart of its inhabitants, there is passion and an enigmatic love for life that is reflected in the food. There’s so much to be known, touched and felt about the beautiful land, and the food is the best preserver.
On a mission to acquaint the world with what Afghan cuisine is all about, three ardent Afghan friends and entrepreneurs Fatima Rabbani, Iman Nazemi & Homaira, have endeavored to make their dreams a reality. Kishmish, Dubai’s first gourmet Afghan street and soul food restaurant, has opened its doors to everyone at Dar Al Wasl mall, Dubai. The authentic Afghan eatery is all about the homemade taste of traditional Afghan food, the concept of sharing, and ultimately love for food and nostalgia for home. We spoke to the dynamic trio about their inspiration, their love for food and all things Afghan…
Q: Tell us about yourself and how did the idea of opening a restaurant come to your mind?
Fatima Rabbani: Well I love to cook so I’ve been wanting to open a restaurant for the past 4 years. A couple of projects I had started didn’t go through, and I know now why because everything happens for a reason. I’ve known the girls since my childhood we’ve been friends for a long time so we wanted to do something together and it just happened, naturally.
Homaira: I agree, I mean I’m not so much of a cook these two girls are. But I saw a huge gap in the market and I also knew how much of a great response that Afghan food has from everybody, from all parts of the world. I knew I would have a great feedback and it would do well Insh Allah.
Iman Nazemi: I think we all separately wanted to do something so we all had it in our minds from before, and when we sat down and spoke about it for the first time, it kind of all happened in one day literally. We just sat and we were like oh my god and we started talking, we started planning things. We met with ‘One Third Group’ our business partner because Fatima had been in touch with them previously, and 8 months later here we are.
Q: How did food help you to preserve your identity?
Fatima Rabbani: Well I had Afghan food at home every day. For us Afghanistan, even though growing up outside, has always been a big part of our lives and so has been the traditions, the food, and the culture. So we were taught that at home and I think that’s the case with a lot of Afghan families. You know it doesn’t matter where they are brought up, traditions play a huge role in our homes. When I started cooking, it was when I was doing my masters in London and I was alone and you know eating out was quite expensive and the closest thing that I knew was Afghan food because I would have it all the time. So it was very easy to just pick it up and cook myself.
Homaira: For me, it’s the same thing, I mean we ate it every single day and it was a sign of love from our family especially for our elders. Everyone knew who was coming based on what meal was being prepared. If we would have guests over, we would know that “oh someone else is coming today” because of the food that is being cooked. So it was a show of affection and love but mostly it was comfort really but it’s so delicious, so it’s something we all grew up with.
Iman Nazemi: It is the same for me too, I was born in London, every meal that we had was Afghan food maybe on a Sunday when we’d go for family lunch outside it would be something European, but apart from that, it was always Afghan, from our fresh cheese in the morning, that we would have with toast, which was an Afghan cheese, to our dinner. So this is what we grew up eating and we would kind of learn about our country while sitting and having our meal, you know we would hear stories from our families, from our parents, our grandparents, about Afghanistan.
Q: How would you define Afghan cuisine? What sets it apart from the other style of cuisine?
Fatima Rabbani: Afghan cuisine is influenced by different regions, but it’s still very different. It ties, kind of, a lot of different types of cuisines together, for example, Indian, Pakistani, Syrian, Iranian and even Mongolian but in a fresh, different way.
Homaira: We use a lot of spices that Pakistani people use, Saffron, Cardamom, we use the same things, but we don’t use those chili spices, we use other spices which are not like hot in taste.
Iman Nazemi: We have dumplings, ravioli style pasta stuffed with leaks, manto dumplings all these have Turkish, Armenian and Uzbeks influences but we are also different at the same time. For example the Uzbeks they serve the manto with hot yogurt but our yogurt is cold. So it may sound same but still, it is very different in its own way.
Q: What are your fondest childhood memories of Afghani food that helped your venture?
Fatima Rabbani: I don’t know if I have one specific childhood memory but like we have certain dishes that we cook during celebrations, such as manto. It’s really hard to prepare, we do everything from scratch like the dough, we cook the minced meat separately, and then we stuff it, and then it’s steamed, and the sauce is made separately, so it’s a process. And for me, I think I’ll remember manto as being the main dish at every gathering and party. And Yeah! It’s delicious too and reminds me of my childhood very often. It is also one of our best sellers at Kishmish and we run out of manto very quick.
Homaira: I think it comes back to what I was saying earlier, showing love through food and I think generosity and positivity inviting guests at home, where you have a whole spread of food with an endless variety which they would be wowed by and they wouldn’t know where to start. You know it’s like never-ending. I think we all wanted to show this other side of Afghanistan, this generosity, this positivity, it’s very happy and it’s very cozy.
Iman Nazemi: I used to as a kid spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I used to go and sit in the kitchen, from like the age of 5 or 6, and I used to watch my mom cook, and I think subconsciously that’s how I ended up learning how to cook because I used to spend so much time in the kitchen, watching and tasting through the process. I’d just keep tasting and I think I loved cooking food more than eating it because it’s also kind of you to re-live your memories.
Q: The culinary scene in Dubai is competitive how do you plan to set a mark on the culinary scene?
Fatima Rabbani: I think kishmish is very unique. We’ve done our research when it comes to Afghan restaurants in Dubai. Actually a few months before opening we decided to go and try some out, and we found out that none of them are authentic, they didn’t remind us of what we grew up eating. It was influenced by either Pakistani cuisine or Indian cuisine and it wasn’t what we grew up eating. We find that our food is very familiar, especially to locals. They really enjoy eating our food. We keep hearing, you know, someone coming and saying, “I feel like I’m eating in my grandma’s house”. Its soul food, it’s comforting and I don’t think it exists in Dubai. And also another thing we want to do, because Afghanistan has so many dishes and we possibly couldn’t fit all of them in our menu, we’re going to introduce monthly or weekly or daily specials.
Homaira: Already we’ve seen people coming back over and over with the motto of, “we feel that we’re eating our mom’s food”, or, “my grandmother’s food”. The response has been great and I think that we already stand out in the sense that people already love our food.
Iman Nazemi: We also have seasonal dishes. For example in the springtime we have sour cherries rice because that’s when they grow, so we’ll cook using that at that point in time. The sour plum, before it grows, the green ones, we have a dish with that again it’s a two week period. It’s a really delicious dish that which we wait until the next year to eat. There are so many dishes from so many provinces…
Q: Being Authentic Afghan Restaurant, what are the traditional Afghani dishes on the menu?
Kishmish: Narinj rice or Narinj pulao. It’s from the dried skin of oranges, literally just like the marmalade. And then we have the soup with the meat, which we break the bread into. It’s a very simple soup called Shorba. We have the traditional yogurt, Manto and leek stuffed ravioli pasta.
Who is the head Chef of Kishmish and as passionate Afghani food experts are you all hands on in the kitchen?
Kishmish: Our head chef is Persian but he’s been trained by Afghans, so he cooks pretty well. And yes! We are all very active in the kitchen and all the other aspects of the restaurant.
Read more about Kishmish in the link below;