There’s an odd phenomenon appearing in Toms River- enough so that even this sleep-deprived, far-from-hip foodie couple is taking notice. All along Route 166, and spilling over to where it becomes Route 9, there is the beginnings of glorious ethnic food explosion: Colombian, Greek, Peruvian, Jamaican…the list is growing. Although unemployment continues to plague us, the occasional odd job affords us a (very) small dining out budget once again. Under the assumption that ethnic equals great food for less, we decided to drop in for lunch at the Salang Afghan Kabob House.
From the outside, the place admittedly doesn’t look like much, and is easy to pass up. Having once been the vegetarian Green Onion Cafe, the inside is still a pleasant surprise: the “garden green” theme remains (light green walls, stylized veggie portraits and bric-a-brac), but with the addition of pictures and decor depicting Afghan food and life. Tables surround a wooden “bar” where one can sit for a quick lunch.
We were quickly greeted and seated by a friendly woman who, it was soon apparent, was the chef and owner. She was happy to answer our many questions (we’d only eaten Afghan once), so it didn’t take long to put in our order.We began with an appetizer of Aushak, leek dumplings with a yogurt and meat sauce. Creamy clouds of homemade pasta were stuffed with caramelized leeks and topped with a slightly spicy, yet cooling sauce-very addictive. A basket homemade Afghan bread (with a side of “chutney”- a dip made with coriander, walnuts, garlic, and hot peppers) arrived just in the nick of time to mop up the rich, tart goodness.
Being that this was a kabob house, we of course felt obligated to stick with- what else-kabobs. John had the beef, which was beautifully marinated and grilled, as well as juicy. I had the lamb, which although tasty, was disappointingly dry and needed to be dipped in the chutney as a remedy. Both came with Quabili Pallaw, a savory rice pilaf with carrots and raisins which made a nice accompaniment. Next time, I am curious to try the vegetarian dishes, such as Baunjaun (Eggplant) or Dal (yellow lentil) Chalow, spiced and cooked with onions, garlic and tomatoes.
We finished with chava, a “relaxation tea”. It was a milky, sweetly spiced chai-like tea that was a dessert in itself. It was listed as “sugar free” on the menu, but had no “artificial sweetener” taste. Curious, I asked the chef what it was sweetened with. Though I can’t remember the name of it, she explained that it was a sweet fruit native to Afghanistan (we had never heard of it). It was also steeped with chopped walnuts. It was absolutely delicious and the perfect ending to our meal. Lunch for the two of us ran no more than $30 , after which we were absolutely stuffed (we had little interest in dinner that night).
I hear a lot of grumbling about the lack of variety in good, “real” ethnic restaurants in our area (from myself included). My only fear is that, despite these complaints, a place such as Afghan Kabob won’t make it because of a combination of people eating out less and, when they do, are reluctant to try something new. My plea: go out and try these places! No, I don’t get free meals or get paid to say that-I am just tired of seeing so many great new places close, while the local “T.C. Slappy McBees’s” continues to thrive.
Be sure to stay tuned: we will be checking out many more places in this area…
-LisaUpdate (May 2010) – Sadly, Salang is now closed. A note on their restaurant indicated that they are available to do catering on weekends. – John