Word of Mouth: Maiwand Kabob

From Kliman Online’s “Word of Mouth”

Kabob shops are not so plentiful that they could be mistaken for fast-food joints, but eating your way across the vast ethno-culinary landscape, it can sometimes seem that way. That's particularly true in Virginia, where skewered meat emporiums are more numerous than even chicken joints and burger shacks—and where the great Ravi Kabob, with two outlets on a single street in Arlington, reigns as a kind of Cheap Eats colossus.   

Maryland, for whatever reason, can't touch Virginia in either the output or the quality of its kabobs. But though it lacks a thriving kabob culture, it does not lack a great kabob shop. That would be Maiwand Kabob, with locations in Burtonsville, Linthicum Heights, Columbia and—later this month—Arundel Mills.  

The stark setting—an order-at-the counter operation, with harsh fluorescent lighting, plastic plates, forks and knives—suggests quick-serve food, lacking in conviction or warmth, and the first-timer is consequently ill-prepared for the cooking that follows.  

Chow pan is the defining dish—a plate of three marinated and grilled lamb chops so juicy, crusty and tender that picking them up with your fingers and chewing them off the bone doesn't seem at all crude or ill-mannered; it seems only fitting.  

The other kabob plates, including a grilled lamb and a lipstick-red chicken tikka, are worthy, too, and come with an unexpectedly good side salad, a cinnamony rice, and a hot round of naan. One of the measures of a good kabob shop is the freshness of the bread. Some shops are prone to passing off naan that's been sitting around, as if they can't be bothered with producing mere bread when they are consumed with tending the skewers of meat. Not at Maiwand: even if the dining room is empty, you can expect that the naan will be baked to order.  

Maiwand is Afghan, which accounts for the presence of aushak on the menu. I've had better versions of this simple, sustaining dish, a layer of thin scallion dumplings doused in a rich meat-and-tomato sauce, finished with a drizzle of yogurt and sprinkled with dried mint. But not many. And the version here—an appetizer, but big enough to constitute an entree for many appetites—costs just $3.75, an astonishing value. Likewise, the chalu, a dish of fried pumpkin stewed with sugar and yogurt, is not revelatory—but it's immensely satisfying and remarkably cheap. 

Chalu means that vegetarians are guaranteed to eat as well as omnivores. There are also non-meat samosas— small, triangular, and fried to a greaseless crunch—and a passable version of channa, a rich, oniony chickpea stew.  

You can wash all of these riches down with a mango lassi, or, better, a big cup of doogh. Many places sell the yogurt drink by the bottle, in the refrigerated case. Maiwand makes it fresh—a tangy, frothy shake that functions as a refreshing counterbalance to so much meaty heaviness.

-August 26, 2008