BY GEOFF MCGOVERN
Buzkashi, a Persian word meaning “goat drawing,” is both the national sport of Afghanistan and a pleasingly intimate dining experience located just up Mass Ave. past Porter Square. Run by a charming Pakistani family, the Afghani cuisine is well prepared and served in an unpretentious environment by friendly staff. The only Afghani cuisine within easy access of Harvard, Buzkashi fills an underserved niche of Middle Eastern restaurants in Cambridge.
Students of Middle Eastern culture might be surprised at the restaurant’s choice of nomenclature. Buzkashi the Sport combines the basic elements of soccer and polo with a goat carcass in a way that is–let’s admit it-wholly unappetizing and likely to make one avoid a charming international eatery so named. For the curious and strong of stomach, Wikipedia has a tasteful description of the game.
Thankfully, no goat carcasses were in sight when I visited Buzkashi the Restaurant. On the walls hung a few National Geographic photos of Afghanistan, surrounding a dining room packed with tables and noticeably few diners for a Friday evening. The lack of patrons suggests that Cambridge has yet to find this hidden gem, for the food rewards those willing and adventurous enough to head north of Harvard Square.
As appetizers, our party shared an order of Banjan ($5), pan-sautéed rounds of eggplant, seasoned with mint and served with a creamy yogurt sauce. These were delicious, but I found the sauté left the eggplant’s skin a bit tough and chewy. We also enjoyed the Kaddo ($5), an epiphany in sweet pumpkin topped with a savory meat ragout and yogurt. Yes, the combination of squash and meat sounds risky, but it is the best culinary combination I have tried in many years. Buzkashi’s Kaddo is good, but for the truly excellent, I’d recommend The Helmund.
My dinner consisted of Dwopiaza on Pallow rice ($15), expertly grilled lamb with split-peas served on baked rice seasoned with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin seed, and pepper. The meat was superb, the accompanying garlic stewed mushrooms positively memorable, and the baked rice surprisingly moist and tender. The Koufta Challow ($11) and Korma Challow ($13), beef meatballs with tomato, and lamb with vegetables, respectively, were well done but not stellar. Both were served with seasoned Challow rice. Mourgh Kabab ($12) replaces the lamb with chicken. Ample vegetarian dishes are available. Refreshing Lassis ($3-4) are served with laughably long straws that inadvertently add an air of levity to the meal. But no alcoholic beverages are served. Presentation is lacking, however, due to the stew-like nature of most of the food. Still, given the comfortable and unpretentious feel of the dining room, any embellishment to the food would seem inappropriate. The flavor is there-and that’s what counts most of all.