Afghanistan has been torn apart by war for decades. The political upheaval has forced locals to flee the conflict to various parts of the world, including Australia. This wave of migration is no more evident than in the south-western suburb of Merrylands.

“There are so many people from Afghanistan around here,” Abdul Moeen says from across the table at his restaurant, Mazar. “I came to Australia 12 years ago, and my sister and her husband followed me years after.” The 39 year old says his sister ran restaurants before moving to Sydney. With her cooking knowledge and his background in business, he saw an opportunity to make a fresh start. “When people think of my country, they think of war, and I want to try and change that image,” he says. “Food is the best way to do that.”

The restaurant is spread over two floors. Downstairs there’s a large open space with table seating. Camel statues sit atop a shelf in one corner. A traditional lute-like instrument, called a rubab, made from thick wood, is displayed on one wall beside a red-and-black traditional hand-woven hat. Upstairs, families of 10 usually dine at long communal tables in private rooms. For something more chilled out, take off your shoes and grab a Persian rug-style cushion.

Here, you’ll find perfectly soft mantu [dumplings], stuffed with either lamb mince or a vegetarian option with lentils. The clay pot of eggplant, which is one of the chef’s favourites, is like indulging in a dangerous love affair with melted butter. It’s cooked with cucumber, capsicum and gorgeously ripe tomato. Similar to a Turkish pide, the bolani is potato or pumpkin gently folded in deep-fried flaky pastry. Long grains of rice are cooked in a pot that’s held together by bricks suspended over a flame. A lamb shank hidden inside gives the rice a beautiful silkiness. Sultanas provide a sweet touch.

For traditional street food, head to Kabul House. Silver plastic tablecloths are dotted with pictures of roses and hearts. Order yourself one of the huge chicken or lamb kebabs. Juicy meat is grilled and served with lettuce, parsley and chopped tomatoes, before being wrapped in flat bread, still warm out of the tandoor. For dessert, try the jelabi. Thin strands of dough are deep-fried and coiled into flat, palm-sized discs that are then dipped in a sweet, honey-like topping. It also does a great baklava.

When you’re done eating, head across the road to Shaheen Supermarket, where you’ll find Afghan groceries. Bottles of rose water are piled high alongside jars of pomegranate molasses, and a huge range of teas, breads and herbs.

Further east, in Five Dock, Bamiyan offers hearty curries and rice dishes in a slightly more formal setting. Owner Michael Miazad migrated to Australia and wanted to introduce his new home to Afghan culture. Miazad says his restaurant is a reflection of the meals he would eat with his family. “Cooking started as a hobby, I would call my mum and sister for recipes,” he says. Mantu here come filled with beef and a lovely chilli-and-mint dipping sauce. The rich chicken-and-potato korma works well with a side of qaubili. It’s a luscious rice dish with shredded caramelised carrots and sultanas.

Miazad says his Five Dock restaurant is always busy, so he knew the demand was there for more. A second Bamiyan opened in Dural in 2014, and a third restaurant will open in nearby Bella Vista in three weeks. “It fits about 80 people,” says Miazad. “People look confused when they first come in, because they don’t know anything about Afghan food, but they always leave happy.”

Mazar
178 Merrylands Road Merrylands
(02) 8677 8787

Hours:
Mon to Sun 12.30pm–10.30pm
www.mazar.com.au

Kabul House
186A Merrylands Road Merrylands
(02) 9682 4144

Hours:
Mon to Sun 12pm–10pm

Shaheen Supermarket
171 Merrylands Road, Merrylands

Bamiyan
175 First Avenue Five Dock
(02) 9712 7801

Hours:
Fri to Sun 12pm–3pm
Mon to Sun 5pm–10pm
www.bamiyanrestaurant.com.au