For Durkhanai Ayubi, her parents and siblings, food is their identity. “It has been the centerpiece of everything we did.”
Durkhanai runs Kutchi Deli Parwana, but we’re sitting in its parent restaurant, Parwana Afghan Kitchen, on a sweltering summer afternoon. Matriarch Farida Ayubi is already in the kitchen, prepping for the evening’s dinner trade. In two hours the small suburban restaurant will fill with diners who have crossed town from all parts of Adelaide, lucky to have scored a seat on a Friday night. As Farida cooks, husband Zelmai works the floor, slapping down colourful plates of even more colourful, home-style dishes such as palaw (Afghan-style rice), banjan borani (sliced eggplant in a rich tomato sauce with garlic yoghurt and mint) and gosht (grilled chicken or lamb coated in yoghurt, chilli and coriander).
“There aren’t a lot of people, even within the Afghan community, who know these recipes,” Durkhanai says. “They’re from an era gone by.”
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The recipes are a small piece of a country they left 30 years ago. The Ayubis fled Afghanistan at the height of the Soviet-Afghan War, after members of their family were taken in the middle of the night and never seen again. “Before the war, [Afghanistan] wasn’t a fanatical Islamic state,” Durkhanai says. “It was a monarchy, it was relatively secular, and people of all different faiths and expressions lived together. War changed all of that … there was political persecution and killing and anyone who had any influence was a target.”
The Ayubis landed in Melbourne before settling in Adelaide. Zelmai, a lawyer, took on odd jobs while Farida – who had worked as a teacher – raised their five children. “They had to start from scratch because, of course, no one comes over with anything,” Durkhanai says. “But when you’re in that situation and you come out with your life and your children’s lives you’re pretty grateful. You just rebuild with all the important things there.”
When Parwana opened in 2009, Farida admits she wasn’t sure there was a market for Afghan cuisine. “I thought mostly Afghan or Muslim people would come,” she says. “But when we opened, the whole community came.” As the restaurant’s popularity grew, Farida continued to receive praise from happy customers. “They really encouraged me. In the beginning I thought they were just being nice, but slowly, slowly, I believed them.” As she should. Parwana now has a reputation that stretches well beyond Adelaide.
When it opened, Durkhanai was working in Canberra and Melbourne as a policy analyst and writer. In 2013, feeling the need for a change, she came home to work in the family business. Within a year she had opened Parwana’s casual CBD counterpart. “My sister and I thought it would be cool to push it into a different market, which is a bit faster, a bit younger, a bit more kitsch but still the same good food,” she says. Durkhanai explains that with the deli, her interest is in sharing the links between food, culture and family. “In a way that is an expression of my experience, which is different to my parents,” she says.
Last year, a second Kutchi Deli run by brother-in-law Sayed Ayaz Ashna opened at Flinders University. The family also runs dessert catering arm Shirni Parwana. “We’ve made sure there’s at least a couple of family members in each of the things we do,” says Durkhanai.
The importance of family is palpable in all the Ayubi venues. In the framed black and white portraits and kitsch personal trinkets dotted along the walls; in the recipes passed down through generations; in their generous hospitality. The restaurant is run like a home, where guests are honoured through food.
“It’s a classic migrant story,” says Durkhanai. “Where food is so important because it carries on a story of your origin.”
This year, that story continues as the restaurant expands into the site next door. But if their history is anything to go by, this new chapter will not be the last. “I think we’ve always had an open mind to opportunities,” Durkhanai says. “I don’t know where that’s come from, maybe just being a migrant – that uncertainty – you always do as best as you can.”
Parwana Afghan Kitchen
124B Henley Beach Road Torrensville
(08) 8443 9001
Kutchi Deli Parwana
7 Ebenezer Place Adelaide
(08) 7225 8586
This piece first appeared in Broadsheet Adelaide's Autumn print issue.