For twelve hours every weekend, Afghans get a taste of a home that's 7,000 miles away
OWENSBORO, Ky. – Opening Pamir Afghan Restaurant in Owensboro, Kentucky, is only a small part of the story Khaiber Shafaq, Tariq Pakzad and Edris Akbari have lived since 2021.
The three were among thousands of refugees who left Afghanistan when the Taliban gained control of the country in August 2021. Getting out of Afghanistan was of paramount importance. Where they eventually landed was not up to them.
“It was a selection based on the capacity of where they were resettling people around the United States, so we were told, ‘You will be going to Owensboro, Kentucky,’ and we said, ‘Okay,’ said Shafaq, whose wife and children remain in Istanbul, Turkey, for the time being.
“When people left Afghanistan, they went to countries around the world. We started in Germany, then came to the United States and were (at) three months at the military bases for security verification, vaccinations, medical and all the paperwork.”
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When Shafaq’s group arrived in Owensboro in November 2021, they stayed in hotels for more than two months until housing could be found.
They missed their country. While the Tri-State is home to many Muslims, this was the first group of Afghans to settle in large numbers the area. About 200 were placed in Owensboro, with 500 more in Bowling Green and about 1,000 in Louisville.
Being Muslim, Afghanis are Halal, meaning they eat only meat butchered in accordance with Islamic law — and that’s hard to find at local restaurants. Some of the group began using church kitchens to cook traditional Halal meals and host gatherings for anyone who wanted to come.
“We were getting a big number of Afghan community volunteers, and that’s when the idea to have a restaurant came,” Shafaq said. “People liked it and we wanted to have a place for the Afghan people to go out of the house because they can’t just run to Chick-fil-A.”
As fate would have it, Shafaq had previously worked for the Red Cross in disaster relief, and when a tornado struck Western Kentucky in December 2021, he jumped in to assist with aid. Through those efforts, he met Evelyn Miller, owner of the Windy Hollow Restaurant south of Owensboro and the new Windy Hollow Biscuit House in town, just off Frederica Street.
He and Pakzad, who had owned a restaurant in Afghanistan, mentioned they would like to open a little restaurant.
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“She said, ‘If you’d like to use my restaurant, I’m only open three days for breakfast and lunch,’” Shafaq said. “So we thought we’d do it weekend evenings and she really helped us to start. Our chef Jawad Karimi is from Afghanistan and the servers and helpers are from the community. We are a team of 12 people.”
So, that’s how Owensboro, Kentucky, wound up with an authentic Halal Afghan restaurant that opens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 5-9 p.m. inside the country-themed Windy Hollow Biscuit House − through layers and layers of people stepping in to help each other through tough times and come out stronger, closer and better.
And it’s packed with diners, some Afghani, but mostly area natives who find themselves curious about and enjoying a new cuisine.
On the menu at Pamir Afghan Restaurant
Afghanistan is a Muslim country that shares a border with Iran and Pakistan. If you like Indian or Arabian food, you’ll find elements of both in Afghani cuisine. It is rich in spices, but is not chili-hot. On Pamir’s Facebook page there are lovely pictures and descriptions of all the menu items, and the menu thoughtfuly offers selections of tasting-sized plates so your table can sample many dishes.
Some examples are chalaw, Afghani-style basmati rice pilaf with raisins, carrots and almonds. Have it enhanced with chunks of chicken or beef as murgh palaw or Kabuli palaw. Kofta beef meatballs are served in a rich but mild tomato sauce. Rosh is chunks of beef roasted with whole potatoes and served with a whole cooked tomato.
We were especially taken with the bolani, a soft flatbread filled with a seasoned potato mixture served with a yogurt and cilantro dipping sauce. If you like naan, you’ll enjoy this. The steamed, meat-filled manto dumplings fall somewhere between pot stickers and the Himalayan momo dumplings you’ll find at Yak and Yeti, yet with a distinct spice blend. They’re dressed with a yogurt sauce and tomato sauce.
Vegetables including cauliflower, eggplant and okra are cooked until soft with gently fragrant spices, oil and a touch of tomato. All are especially good scooped up on bread.
When you are seated, complimentary tea is brought to your table. Pretty glass teapots of real saffron, lemon, ginger, cardamom, and black teas are ready for each diner to choose what kind they’d like.
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To finish your meal, choose from pistachio baklava; jelabi (rings of dough fried and then soaked in syrup) or Haft Mewa, a mixture of crunchy nuts and dried fruit soaked in rosewater.
As for Shafaq, Pakzad and Akbari, their stories have continued to evolve and blossom in Kentucky. Shafaq once again is working as a disaster case manager and as a paralegal, this time for the Catholic Churches of Owensboro. He hopes to bring his family from Turkey later this year. Pakzad, as well as once again owning a restaurant, is a supervisor for Purdue Chicken. And Akbari, who was a journalist in Afghanistan, is now the Afghan community liaison for the Owensboro International Center Refugee Resettlement Agency.
The tagline for Pamir restaurant is "Culture. Cuisine. Community." It offers everyone an opportunity to come, enjoy the cuisine, and see how community is strengthened by a willingness to help and welcome people from many cultures.
Pamir Afghan Cuisine
Location: 630 Emory Drive, Owensboro, Kentucky.
Hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Pamir Afghan Restaurant brings new cuisine, culture to Owensboro