While searching for the cuisine of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen (the seven countries whose citizens were banned from entering the U.S. by Donald's Trump executive order) in metro Denver, I came across Rice & Kabob Persian Kitchen at 1699 South Colorado Boulevard. I assumed Persian would equate to Iranian, but while the little subterranean kitchen does cover plenty of ground — from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean to the borders of western India — the owner of this counter-service eatery hails from Afghanistan, and many of the best dishes on the menu and specials board are also from that country.
The Persian part of the restaurant name makes sense from a historic and linguistic standpoint, since the Persian Empire once spread over much of southwestern Asia; the two major Persian languages, Farsi and Dari, are spoken in Iran and Afghanistan. The food, too, doesn't stick within modern borders, but instead the grilled meats, heavily spiced rice dishes and other specialties at Rice & Kabob can be found with various names and configurations in several countries. The restaurant's mantoo dumplings are Afghan in origin, but mantu or manti are common from Turkey to Saudi Arabia to central Asia.
Here, the mantoo are stuffed with ground beef and topped with a Bolognese-like sauce made with more ground beef, split peas, dry spices and a generous hit of lemon. The entire plate is drizzled with a tangy topping of creamy garlic-yogurt sauce. The beef in the dumplings and in the sauce is soft and fine-grained, evidence that the meat is cooked long and low to break it down and allow the seasonings to penetrate.
Iranian koobideh kabobs are also available, and there are also such ubiquitous Mediterranean dishes as shawarmas, falafel and gyros. Rice & Kabob gets bread for its Afghan dishes from Madinah Bakery & Open Flame Kabab in Aurora, where I recently found a chicken shawarma sandwich good enough to make our list of 100 Favorite Dishes.
While you can stick with Iranian dishes as an act of solidarity, Trump's executive order (which is currently under review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) goes far beyond a ninety-day halt on entry into the U.S. by people from Iran and the six other countries listed; it also bans all refugees — from any nation — from coming to the U.S., with no exact timeline set on lifting the restrictions. Here's the wording of that part of the ban:
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I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest.
This denies safe harbor to many people from all over the world who may be in immediate danger from war and political and religious persecution, and has ramifications far beyond our own restaurant community. But restaurants are one way that many immigrants establish an anchor and integrate into the texture of a city, so we can provide financial stability and a sense of belonging by patronizing the establishments of people new to Colorado.
Trying the mantoo or koobideh at Rice & Kabob isn't so much a political act as it is simply a way to extend welcome and friendship at a time when the message from our executive branch is far less accommodating.