Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Khyber Pass Cafe

In my old age, I anticipate regaling any whippersnapper within earshot with embroidered tales of my sweet-toothed adventures.  Top billing might go to the story of how I used to trek miles through knee-high snow, subzero temperatures, and artic winds...just to eat pudding.

When I was in college in Minnesota the Khyber Pass Cafe was a special destination, a cozy spot for spicy, saucy Afghan cuisine. It was a little too expensive and a little too far from campus for casual visits. It was a place we went to celebrate, or when someone's parents were treating. So we'd make every visit count, packing in as much aushak or shola as possible, then capping it off with a restorative bowl of firni.

Afghan firni is a light, silky pudding of milk and starch flavored with rosewater, cardamon, and pistachios (some Indian versions apply the same flavors to a rice pudding base). A lot of people say that it reminds them of hand lotion, which might be part of the appeal for me.  When I stayed with an Afghan family in Australia, they'd make a huge vat of the stuff for parties, serve everyone their share, then give me the vat to polish off.  

At times when I haven't been living with Afghans or near an Afghan restaurant, I've also resorted to making firni myself, from the actual Khyber Pass recipe.  Some 15-20 years ago another fan wrote into the St. Paul paper begging for the recipe; a reporter tracked it down and it was published.  For many years the yellowed clipping hung on the wall of the Khyber Pass dining room, and I scribbled it down before I left town.  I share it here for everyone who lives in a town without commercially available Afghan food.  If you live in the Twin Cities, for heaven's sake, go and try it at the Kyhber Pass; on weekdays there's a huge lunch buffet for only $10, firni included.

3 1/2 c milk
1/4 c cornstarch
1/2 c sugar
1 Tbs rosewater
pinch cardamon
crushed pistachios

Combine milk, starch, sugar and rosewater in a saucepan.  Bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly.  When thickened, pour into bowls and sprinkle with cardamon and nuts.  

Khyber Pass Cafe
1571 Grand Avenue
St Paul, MN

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