The exotic aromas and authentic flavours of this suburban kebab house will take you on a memorable journey
The name “Ghan” is a tribute to the indomitable, leather-skinned cameleers who blazed a permanent trail through the middle of Australia, long before the rail link that now ferries passengers in comfort to the far side of this big lump of an island.
These pioneers are also remembered in the imagery for The Ghan Kebab House, a recently expanded northern suburbs eatery that will take you on its own memorable journey.
While Adelaide has plenty of kebab joints, of varying quality and influences, few have the where-am-I-now impact of this captivating place.
Less than a year ago, The Ghan was a squeezy takeaway with a couple of tables crammed at the front. Now that original property is taken up by the kitchen with a door leading to the counter and a new, cavernous dining room.
Walk through the large sliding doors and it takes a moment to get your bearings. The ceiling and window decorations are sunset orange. To the right, a carpeted platform is set aside where you will often see people sitting to feast in their traditional manner. A mix of pictures, artwork and a large-screen TV (good for the World Cup) adorn the walls. Rows of black-topped tables are each set with shakers of chilli powder and a single red rose.
But if that is at all unsettling, the aromas wafting out of the kitchen will wrap a warm and reassuring arm around you, and you can also be guaranteed a friendly smile at the counter where you order and pay.
Owner/chefs Rahim and Sayed Zadi are brothers who grew up in western Pakistan, near the Afghani border, and learnt to cook in a family restaurant.
Their spice repertoire is distinguished by the tang of lemony cardamom and sumac, as well as a lovely background flicker of chilli that sneaks up through the meal.
Kebabs are their bread-and-butter but they also turn out a small selection of curries and, more notably, rice dishes that demand regular return visits.
In the “Quabuli Palaw”, the long grains laced with grated carrot and sultanas are so delectably tender and light that it takes quite a while to get to the gnarly-looking stewed lamb knuckles that sit on top. But they are good, the gelatinous meat peeling easily from the smooth curves of the joint and the chorus line of deep-toned spices working well with the distinct lambiness. Even the plate of “plain” rice that comes as a bed for the kebabs is fantastic, with a mix of white and saffron-stained grains, and a scattering of pomegranate seeds.
The “Afghan Chalaw” provides a trio of different kebabs, each stripped from its skewer. Large, juicy pieces of chicken thighs are stained orange by a tikka marinade with the trademark one-two punch of tang and heat. Lamb pieces are equally good but, for mine, the pick of the sticks is the “shami”, a flat log of mince freshened with chopped herbs.
All meals are accompanied by a frisbeesized grilled flatbread, a small salad pepped up with a sprinkle of sumac and little dishes of yoghurt and chilli sauces, so everything can be rolled or dipped or mopped up however you like.
Dessert will cost no more than a little loose change. Ras malai is a dumpling of coarse, paneer-style cheese submerged in a bowl of sweet, creamy milk flavoured with rosewater. Or stick to baklava or one of the other pastries, washed down with black tea brewed with cardamom.
Friendly, affordable and true to its origins, The Ghan is one of the great array of community restaurants with which Adelaide is blessed. And you won’t need to buy a ticket to get there. MUST TRY Shami kufta with bread, salad and sauce; lamb curry with rice. ALSO CONSIDER Parwana, Torrensville; Lawash Bakery, Thebarton
Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Barossa 2012 Shiraz ($25). From orthodox elements of plum and spice are subtle sweetness of fruit and wood as you handedness. It works a treat.