If you’re visiting the exhibition (or even if you’re not) you may not be aware that just outside the entrance is a pop up cafe that serves tastes of the region. I was invited to try some of the Afghani menu and as I have no previous experience of food from that region I can’t comment on the authenticity of the food – I can only vouch for its tastiness!
My favourite dish turns out to be Afghanistan’s national dish Qabili Pilau ($12.50). It’s a generous serving of fluffy pilaf rice studded with raisins and nuts which hides a gently spicy slow-cooked lamb stew buried at the bottom of the bowl.
The Mourgh Delight (chicken) is also a hearty meal and good value for two pieces of sticky roasted chicken maryland for $9.80, though I think the orange-infused spicy sauce could have been punchier. It comes with two hunks of bread to mop up the remains in the terracotta ramekin.
The big seller at the cafe is Afghanistani bread stuffed with cumin lamb ($12.50) or leek and lentils ($9), both served with yoghurt on the side ($9). It’s essentially a fancy toastie but is enjoyable nonetheless, with the fluffy homemade bread similar in texture to a bagel, served crisp from the sandwich press and melted feta oozing out the seams.
For vegetarians there’s the Sabzee vegetarian filo which is chock-full of spicy roasted vegetables ($9.80). I found the filo pastry chewy rather than flaky, a shame as I think it was probably reheated via a microwave given the lack of proper kitchen facilities in the pop up space.
If you’re after a lighter option you might try the salad of chicken and orange segments. It was pleasant enough and the chicken was very moist but I couldn’t discern any of the advertised saffron vinaigrette in the mix ($9).
I highly recommend you try some of the cake, all of which are served with a pot of sweet yoghurt ($5.90). My favourite was the Halwa and Zardak pudding which was like a moist, spiced carrot cake with nuts and raisins fragranced with rosewater and cardamom. I thought I’d prefer the rosewater and orange curd tart but I felt the pastry was chalky and heavy-handed, a shame given that the curd itself was fragrant and silky.
There’s no special Afghani drinks served at the cafe but I highly recommend the spicy, creamy chai ($4) with a side of Sheer Payra Fudge, a large cube of cardamom scented fudge sprinkled with crushed pistachios which is usually served on festive occasions ($4.50).
The Afghanistan Pop Up cafe is open for the duration of Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures (until 28 July) from 10am – 4:30pm. I think it’s a great choice for lunch or morning/afternoon tea, even if you’re not visiting Melbourne Museum – just duck down the escalators on the right of the foyer, without going through the ticket office. If you’re in the area it’s a chance to sample some Afghani food, the service is fast and most dishes are under $10.
Plus if you purchase a ticket to Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures you can receive a free ticket for your friend until 21 July (of equal or lesser value). Just mention Gold Treasures when you purchase tickets over the phone or at the Ticket Desk (not online).
Afghanistan Pop Up cafe, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson St, Carlton
Every day 10am – 4:30pm until 28 July