Amid Parwana Afghan Kitchen’s eastward expansion, the founding Ayubi family and Mash Design explain how they are improving the famously welcoming restaurant while staying true to its roots.
The once vacant shopfront beside Parwana Afghan Kitchen is now occupied, shining blue with the restaurant’s newest room. Expansion isn’t new to the Ayubis, having opened two other Afghan venues under the flag of Kutchi Deli in Ebenezer Place and Flinders University, but the growing popularity of their first Henley Beach Road restaurant has meant more space to sate the baying masses.
“We want our customers to be more comfortable,” says Farida Ayubi, sitting with her husband Zelmai and daughter Durkhanai in Parwana’s main dining space. “With that room they’ll have more space and we can bring more people in.”
“This is because of demand of the people,” Zelmai adds. “Many people come here without bookings and we have to turn them away because we’re full.”
Chatting with the Ayubis it becomes clear that their enterprise isn’t simply a business, though that is always important, but a somewhat altruistic mission to showcase the delights of traditional Afghan cuisine and culture.
Without needing to go into detail, the troubled view of Afghanistan received through media doesn’t capture the full reality of Afghan culture. Having migrated to Australia in 1987, the Ayubi family have always intended to demonstrate Afghan hospitality for diners.
“For us we’ll always hold on really strongly to making sure that people feel really welcome here, that it’s open for everybody, not just certain groups of people,” Durkhanai says. “It’s about the service and the authenticity of the food and the old recipes from my mum’s side of the family that we’re all learning. I think all of that combined is what we’ll hold onto here.”
“One of my daughters always says, ‘we should treat everybody like a queen’,” adds Farida.
“That’s just part of Afghan hospitality,” Durkhanai continues. “I mean, when a guest comes to your home, you go out of your way and make them feel like they’re part of your family.”
Farida and Zelmai Ayubi
Mash’s design for the original dining room helped communicate that legendary hospitality too, evoking the vibe of an old-school Afghan eatery. It’s a feeling that continues in the new space, with its textured walls, simple geometry and tiled floor. Having worked on the design of all of their venues, Mash developing the new space’s design was a natural fit.
Mash designer Claire Markwick-Smith says that the design process was inspired by the Ayubis’ stories of Afghanistan, and aimed to stay connected with the original dining area, which has also taken a fresh lick of paint and design.
“This was about keeping that warmth and familiarity,” Markwick-Smith says. “We’ve taken it a step further with shapes, textures and finishes, and a new colour palette. The old design was more like you were being welcomed into a family gathering in an old house, casual and rustic… The update to Henley Beach Road is individual like the others but moving forward, it takes hints of the rustic old flavour but contemporary and cleaner.”
As for the functioning of the restaurant itself, a new store room, basement, cool room and potential kitchen expansion will service more diners, and changes to the menu will come bit-by-bit.
“We’d like to introduce people to different things,” Durkhanai says. “We’ve had this menu and it’s changed incrementally, but we’ve pretty much had it for nine or 10 years, and there’s things on there we’ll never change or take away, but there are other things we want to introduce. I think we’re in a nice position to push Afghan food further and just keep upping the ante for ourselves personally and for others to experience different things.”
As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Parwana’s adherence to traditional Afghan food sets the restaurant apart in a dining scene with more Middle Eastern restaurants popping up, though many others adapt their menus for Australian tastes.
“It’s just been for us about introducing people to a cuisine that’s wonderful and beautiful and that people can connect with,” says Durkhanai. “It almost combines Mediterranean cuisine with a lot of Eastern flavours, so I think that’s what the connection is —“
“Iran, Russia, India, Pakistan,” Farida adds, listing the nations that have contributed to Afghan cuisine’s style.
“There’s a strange familiarity to it and for us that’s been the goal,” continues Durkhanai. “And from the beginning, when we expanded with the [Kutchi] Deli, a goal for my sisters and I was to make Afghan food a part of the mainstream vernacular. So that people talk about Afghan food as they would talk about their favourite Italian or Greek or Chinese food, and offer a perspective of Afghanistan that’s really positive.”
“And one day we hope that in Afghanistan peace will come, and the people that come here and love it can go there too,” Farida says.
Photography: Sia Duff