David, Sarah, and Akbar
at Afghan Kebab House
April 26, 2015

A language guessing game over lunch sounded like fun to me.

When I mentioned I would be passing through Hamilton Akbar proposed that we take lunch at a particular restaurant near his home, Samir Kabab. Though he and his wife, Sarah, loved their food it wasn't solely for the menu that Akbar suggested we eat there. He wrote:

"Perhaps you can enlighten us on this cuisine. They claim this to be an 'Afghan' restaurant. The owner and all the people working there speak Arabic. Most of the customers speak Arabic as well, but somehow they claim this to be an 'Afghan Cuisine'. I have hard time believing that it's Afghan food. Maybe you could help us unravel this mystery... "

Nobody was speaking in anything but English when we slid ourselves into a booth. Any of us could have just asked the staff, "Hey, where are you from?", but it was more fun to figure it out on our own. I started by looking at their menu. The food choices did seem authentically Afghan. Among them were distinctly Subcontinental dishes such as biriyani, chicken karahi, and shami kebabs. So, no matter which language Akbar had heard other customers speaking in over previous visits, the owners themselves probably weren't Arab, I figured.

But were they necessarily from Afghanistan? I assumed that, having grown up next door in Pakistan, Akbar would at least recognize the sounds--if not be able to speak some words, himself--of Pashto. That language is widely spoken in both countries. But neither Pashto nor Arabic was the language anybody was speaking in at the restaurant this afternoon.

When I finally heard workers speaking with customers who came in after us I could understand a fair bit. The language they shared was clearly some form of Persian. At first, I didn't think that fact jibed with any of the South Asian dishes listed on the menu. Then, I remembered how Dari, the main language spoken in Kabul, is practically the same language as Persian. Mystery solved. The restaurant owners were authentically Afghan but hailed from a very particular part of the country.

These times when I see Akbar never last long enough. We've always met up while I'm en route elsewhere. His hometown of Hamilton happens to fall conveiently between other points along the main road cutting across Ontario so I'm typically just passing through the times we meet. Today's afternoon catching up with him and Sarah was over a break on my drive from Buffalo to Toronto.

Sarah, and Akbar at
Afghan Kebab House
After lunch at the kebab house the three of us managed to squeeze out a couple more hours together before I had to carry on east to Toronto. We went back to their home to extend our visit. In part we went there because they had a specific favor to ask. A previous tenant had left behind a barbecue grill that they were interested in using over the summer. They'd never used one before. Could I show them how to use it?

I confessed that I was no expert myself but agreed to take a look. The grill seemed to be in working order. There was even a wire brush handy to clean it. I described to them what sort of gas tank they needed, pointed out where to connect the line, and demonstrated how to ignite the flames once they had a full fuel cannister. I hope they do give it a go sometime later this summer. I promised them that if they host a barbecue I'll make a return trip from Montréal and bring along some meat to grill up in their backyard.

As for Akbar and Sarah's news they've both been doing well. Both have advanced in their respective careers since I last passed through town. Sarah is now a nurse practitioner and is additionally teaching a related course one day a week at McMaster Univeristy. Akbar has incorporated his freelance accounting practice with a clever new name. He handed me a business card with his title as president of his new company, "Taxpert".

Thanks for lunch, Akbar and Sarah! I hope we can re-connect sometime this summer. Let me know whenever you have plans to get that barbecue sizzling.