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Poway’s Baba Kabob never slows down

“Mantu has been adapted all the way from Western China to Europe. A lot of people call it ‘The dumpling of the Silk Road.’”

Afghan family reunion, outside. Baba Kabob: fave dish, Mantu.
Afghan family reunion, outside. Baba Kabob: fave dish, Mantu.

Oh man. I do this every time: show up at my wannabe favorite place, Chennai Tiffins, just as it’s closing for the afternoon. This is in Little India, up by Miramar. I sit down in their tent, just to take a load off. Had to walk 1.4 miles down roads crossing scrubby fields from Miramar College to reach this food-mecca-in-a-bus-desert. That or wait 45 minutes for the #31.

Place

Baba Kabob

9474 Black Mountain Road, San Diego

So, hungry? You can say that again. Actually, though, the main reason I’m in this part of town is for the Marmite. Most people can’t stand the stuff. It’s a yeast extract made from beer leftovers — dark, strong, ancient gloop. Hard to track down. Sorta like soy, but different. It’s a concentrated, sticky spread that you scrape on toast, or make into a soup. For me: deee-lish! Has been around forever. (OK, just looked it up: it’s the creation of Justus von Liebig, a German nobleman. Invented it in the late 1800s.) The only place I know that has it in ’Diego is Akshar Cash’n’Carry, here in Little India.  I nail the purchase (costs about $6), and then head for Chennai Tiffins, because what I’m desperate for now is a nice gungey Indian curry, even a cliche one like chicken tikka masala. Only problem: Chennai Tiffins is closed for three hours between lunch and dinner.

Is it The Rock? Could be! But no, it’s Karim, air traffic controller and kabob fan.

Sigh. I wander up towards Black Mountain Road, but now I find I’m gradually joining what feels like a little group of hungry people. They have that urgent walk about them. We all end up outside a sign that says “Baba Kabob.” Open! “We are here for a family reunion,” says one of the ladies. “Half of us live in San Diego, the other half in Texas. We are all originally from Afghanistan.”

Huh. That’s interesting, specially with the US troops pulling out.

Afghanistan’s favorite treat meal, Mantu: Afghan wontons, veggies, special yogurt.

But the people — kids, grannies and everyone in between — ain’t interested in talking war. They move out to a parking area and sit down at long tables under tents near the grass verge. Me, I head inside the main building. Gent asks what I need. He turns out to be Rohullah Attaie, the founder and owner here — and of another Baba Kabob in Poway. I’m impressed that he’s still doing the day-to-day work like this at the counter. His wife, Sofia, is rolling dough for what look like dumplings.

Hmm. I look at the food pictures around the wall. Honestly, I’m so hungry that as soon as I see they have French fries, I take one order of those ($2.59) tout suite.  “Do Afghans have curry like Indians?” I ask Rohullah. Dumb question, when you stop to think that Afghanistan straddles all the trade and invasion routes of Asia. Heck, India and Pakistan are on Afghanistan’s doorstep.

Bolani - think flatbread stuffed with potato, or here, chives.

“Your best bet is our chicken tikka korma,” says Rohullah. Seems the korma is a mild curry with coriander, yogurt sauce and nuts. Heck yes. It sounds right on the button. Costs $10.99.  So I order that plus a fountain Coke ($2.69). And when it comes, it is like the curries I know and love. The meat may be a little less drowned in curry sauce than I like, but it’s still full of flavor. What impresses me the most is the steady stream of customers coming in. Tuesday, 3 pm! Other restaurants have closed for the afternoon! “I think we do good business because Afghan food is way less spicy than some other Asian foods,” says Rohullah (he says his name means “spirit of God”). “Afghan food is more familiar to the American palate. The amazing thing is despite covid, we have had our best year ever. We never slowed down. I am so grateful.”

“I always ask for the same thing,” says Karim, who’s at the next table. “The chicken kabob ($11.99). Really tasty.”

Somewhere in there, the “dumplings of the Silk Road.”

He’s an air traffic controller supervisor at nearby Miramar. Looks so like The Rock that I have to ask if he is The Rock.

Meanwhile, I’m also noticing this continuous stream of plates heading to the reunion outside. I follow them. “OK, this is bolani,” says one of the ladies. She’s pointing at a plate laden with slabs of thin, stuffed bread, looks like. I’m thinking Polish pierogi, Argentinian empanadas. “You usually have mashed potato inside and maybe spinach,” she says. “Or chives and spices.” (A plate costs $10.99.)

Owner Rohullah Attaire with tray of Bolani.

But the star of the party is a plate loaded with what looks like wontons and white yogurt and colorful veggies. “Mantu,” says one of the ladies at the end of the table. “A beloved Afghan dish. Especially for occasions like this.” I look at the plates. A mix of thin-skinned steamed wonton-style dumplings stuffed with beef and onions, with an herby yogurt sauce on top.  “Mantu is a dumpling that spread and has been adapted all the way from the Uyghurs of Western China to Turkey to Europe,” says the lady. “A lot of people call it ‘The dumpling of the Silk Road.’”

Whatever, the Afghans have taken this dish right to their heart. “We always have it at celebrations,” says the lady. Boy. I have to try this. I go back in and ask for a plate to go. Costs $15.99. When I get to it, it has the sharp edge of a distinctive yogurt base, in a tzatziki, lightly peppery, veggie-filled, creamy kind of way. I think of all the people in history, up and down the Silk Road, who must have closed their eyes dreamily at their first taste of this very dish. Meanwhile, Baba Kabob never slows down.

I’m gradually getting a picture of Afghan food: ground meat and vegetables, tomato-based sauce, garlic-based yogurt dressings, sprinklings of mint and paprika. Kinda Greek, kinda Turkish, kinda Middle-Eastern, kinda Chinese…kinda Silk Road, when you think about it. Guess I’ll have to come back for Chennai Tiffins, but if they hadn’t been closed just now, I would have missed all this. Crisis equals opportunity!

  • The Place: Baba Kabob, 9474 Black Mountain Road, Mira Mesa, 858-800-1258
  • Hours: 11am-8pm daily (till 9pm Friday, Saturday) 
  • Prices: Potato bolani (stuffed flatbread), $10.99; four sambosas, $7.49; chicken kabob, $11.99; lamb kabob, $13.99; Baba Kabob sandwich (gyro meat, chicken shawarma, fries), $9.99; mantu (dumplings, garlic sauce), $15.99; kabuli (brown rice, carrots, raisins, lamb shank), $14.99; chicken shawarma salad, $10.99 
  • Bus: 31
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Black Mountain Road at Miramar
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Afghan family reunion, outside. Baba Kabob: fave dish, Mantu.
Afghan family reunion, outside. Baba Kabob: fave dish, Mantu.

Oh man. I do this every time: show up at my wannabe favorite place, Chennai Tiffins, just as it’s closing for the afternoon. This is in Little India, up by Miramar. I sit down in their tent, just to take a load off. Had to walk 1.4 miles down roads crossing scrubby fields from Miramar College to reach this food-mecca-in-a-bus-desert. That or wait 45 minutes for the #31.

Place

Baba Kabob

9474 Black Mountain Road, San Diego

So, hungry? You can say that again. Actually, though, the main reason I’m in this part of town is for the Marmite. Most people can’t stand the stuff. It’s a yeast extract made from beer leftovers — dark, strong, ancient gloop. Hard to track down. Sorta like soy, but different. It’s a concentrated, sticky spread that you scrape on toast, or make into a soup. For me: deee-lish! Has been around forever. (OK, just looked it up: it’s the creation of Justus von Liebig, a German nobleman. Invented it in the late 1800s.) The only place I know that has it in ’Diego is Akshar Cash’n’Carry, here in Little India.  I nail the purchase (costs about $6), and then head for Chennai Tiffins, because what I’m desperate for now is a nice gungey Indian curry, even a cliche one like chicken tikka masala. Only problem: Chennai Tiffins is closed for three hours between lunch and dinner.

Is it The Rock? Could be! But no, it’s Karim, air traffic controller and kabob fan.

Sigh. I wander up towards Black Mountain Road, but now I find I’m gradually joining what feels like a little group of hungry people. They have that urgent walk about them. We all end up outside a sign that says “Baba Kabob.” Open! “We are here for a family reunion,” says one of the ladies. “Half of us live in San Diego, the other half in Texas. We are all originally from Afghanistan.”

Huh. That’s interesting, specially with the US troops pulling out.

Afghanistan’s favorite treat meal, Mantu: Afghan wontons, veggies, special yogurt.

But the people — kids, grannies and everyone in between — ain’t interested in talking war. They move out to a parking area and sit down at long tables under tents near the grass verge. Me, I head inside the main building. Gent asks what I need. He turns out to be Rohullah Attaie, the founder and owner here — and of another Baba Kabob in Poway. I’m impressed that he’s still doing the day-to-day work like this at the counter. His wife, Sofia, is rolling dough for what look like dumplings.

Hmm. I look at the food pictures around the wall. Honestly, I’m so hungry that as soon as I see they have French fries, I take one order of those ($2.59) tout suite.  “Do Afghans have curry like Indians?” I ask Rohullah. Dumb question, when you stop to think that Afghanistan straddles all the trade and invasion routes of Asia. Heck, India and Pakistan are on Afghanistan’s doorstep.

Bolani - think flatbread stuffed with potato, or here, chives.

“Your best bet is our chicken tikka korma,” says Rohullah. Seems the korma is a mild curry with coriander, yogurt sauce and nuts. Heck yes. It sounds right on the button. Costs $10.99.  So I order that plus a fountain Coke ($2.69). And when it comes, it is like the curries I know and love. The meat may be a little less drowned in curry sauce than I like, but it’s still full of flavor. What impresses me the most is the steady stream of customers coming in. Tuesday, 3 pm! Other restaurants have closed for the afternoon! “I think we do good business because Afghan food is way less spicy than some other Asian foods,” says Rohullah (he says his name means “spirit of God”). “Afghan food is more familiar to the American palate. The amazing thing is despite covid, we have had our best year ever. We never slowed down. I am so grateful.”

“I always ask for the same thing,” says Karim, who’s at the next table. “The chicken kabob ($11.99). Really tasty.”

Somewhere in there, the “dumplings of the Silk Road.”

He’s an air traffic controller supervisor at nearby Miramar. Looks so like The Rock that I have to ask if he is The Rock.

Meanwhile, I’m also noticing this continuous stream of plates heading to the reunion outside. I follow them. “OK, this is bolani,” says one of the ladies. She’s pointing at a plate laden with slabs of thin, stuffed bread, looks like. I’m thinking Polish pierogi, Argentinian empanadas. “You usually have mashed potato inside and maybe spinach,” she says. “Or chives and spices.” (A plate costs $10.99.)

Owner Rohullah Attaire with tray of Bolani.

But the star of the party is a plate loaded with what looks like wontons and white yogurt and colorful veggies. “Mantu,” says one of the ladies at the end of the table. “A beloved Afghan dish. Especially for occasions like this.” I look at the plates. A mix of thin-skinned steamed wonton-style dumplings stuffed with beef and onions, with an herby yogurt sauce on top.  “Mantu is a dumpling that spread and has been adapted all the way from the Uyghurs of Western China to Turkey to Europe,” says the lady. “A lot of people call it ‘The dumpling of the Silk Road.’”

Whatever, the Afghans have taken this dish right to their heart. “We always have it at celebrations,” says the lady. Boy. I have to try this. I go back in and ask for a plate to go. Costs $15.99. When I get to it, it has the sharp edge of a distinctive yogurt base, in a tzatziki, lightly peppery, veggie-filled, creamy kind of way. I think of all the people in history, up and down the Silk Road, who must have closed their eyes dreamily at their first taste of this very dish. Meanwhile, Baba Kabob never slows down.

I’m gradually getting a picture of Afghan food: ground meat and vegetables, tomato-based sauce, garlic-based yogurt dressings, sprinklings of mint and paprika. Kinda Greek, kinda Turkish, kinda Middle-Eastern, kinda Chinese…kinda Silk Road, when you think about it. Guess I’ll have to come back for Chennai Tiffins, but if they hadn’t been closed just now, I would have missed all this. Crisis equals opportunity!

  • The Place: Baba Kabob, 9474 Black Mountain Road, Mira Mesa, 858-800-1258
  • Hours: 11am-8pm daily (till 9pm Friday, Saturday) 
  • Prices: Potato bolani (stuffed flatbread), $10.99; four sambosas, $7.49; chicken kabob, $11.99; lamb kabob, $13.99; Baba Kabob sandwich (gyro meat, chicken shawarma, fries), $9.99; mantu (dumplings, garlic sauce), $15.99; kabuli (brown rice, carrots, raisins, lamb shank), $14.99; chicken shawarma salad, $10.99 
  • Bus: 31
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Black Mountain Road at Miramar
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