Kadir Sultani, an accomplished chef and business-owner, brought a taste of his homeland to Philadelphia when he opened a small and intimate Afghani restaurant tucked away on Chestnut Street. Ariana is a sweetly quaint eatery that offers a variety of authentic Afghani dishes for anyone who comes in with a hearty appetite for quality food.
Ariana, an ancient name for the region of the Persian Empire now known as Afghanistan, is a small, family-oriented establishment. Sultani is the head chef. He came to the U.S. in 1982 and has been in the restaurant business for over 10 years. He had never cooked a meal in his home country, yet he developed a penchant for it after he came to the U.S. and worked at his cousin’s restaurant in New York.
Sultani moved to Philadelphia shortly after and was the co-owner of another restaurant in Old City for nine years before he decided to open his own place in 2000.
Upon entrance, one is instantly transported to a place far from Philadelphia due to the ambience and music that greets the visitors. The decor, though simple, consists of numerous traditional Afghani garments and accessories adorned on the walls. Various ethnic, antique artifacts and photos are tastefully placed around the cozy and intimate establishment.
Another major attraction the restaurant offers is the dining niche which has been set up for visitors by the bay window. Four to six people can sit in the area for a traditional floor sit-down dinner, while pleasuring their taste buds with delicious Afghani cuisine and their ears with classical Afghani music.
The menu at Ariana offers a great variety for hungry visitors to choose from. The meal can be started off with an appetizer like Sambosa Goshti ($2.75); a fried pastry stuffed with chick peas, ground beef and spices, but is not as heavy and filling as its Indian counterpart. The sambosa is served with an Afghan sauce that is a little spicy, but absolutely divine.
The appetizer menu also includes a number of other savory samplers that range from $2 to $3. Most of the scrumptious entrees range from $11 to $15.
The entrees on the menu include a variety of lamb, beef, fish and chicken kabobs, kofta (meatballs), and chicken and beef corma (curry). All the dishes that constitute as a main course are served with delicious, freshly-baked Afghan bread and a garden salad.
The foreign names might be a tad bit confusing and overwhelming for a first-timer. In which case, it is strongly recommended for people to close their eyes and order the appetizing Norange Palow ($11.25). The dish comprises of delicately seasoned chunks of lamb or chicken on a bed of saffron basmati rice, topped with almonds, pistachios and orange strips soaked in rosewater. Not too sweet, not too salty.
Additionally, Ariana also offers a wide variety of vegetarian platters for all the vegetarians and vegans out there. Chalow Gulpea ($9.75) and Chalow Sabzi ($9.25) are delicious and absolutely worth trying. The former dish consists of cauliflower that is cooked with tomatoes, onion green pepper, herbs and spices. The latter is primarily a spinach platter that is prepared in traditional Afghani style and is mouthwatering.
For dessert, Ariana visitors can choose from a number of a savory delights. Firnee ($2.50) a traditional Afghan dessert described as pudding, is lighter than what most Americans are used to. Its ingredients include a dash of cardamom, rosewater, almonds and ground pistachios. Also on offer are baklava ($2.50); sheeryak ($3.75), an Afghan-style ice-cream and jellabee ($3.50), a fried pastry dipped in sugar and rosewater.
The perfect end to the meal is Ariana’s hot and spicy Afghani green tea ($1) made zesty with cardamom.
Ariana is a great restaurant that begs to be visited for a taste of Afghani culture, cuisine and hospitality.
Amna Rizvi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.