It might seem hard to believe, but for most of Australia’s history the word ‘Afghan’ wasn’t followed by ‘asylum seeker’, but by ‘cameleer’.
The first Afghans may have arrived in Australia as early as 1838, but they really came into their own in 1860 when a party landed with the country’s first caravan of camels. The Afghans had been lured here by the opportunity of work on an expedition heading into the harsh interior organised by the explorers Burke and Wills. These Afghans came from the southern Hindu Kush region and the area around the Indus River in what is now modern day Pakistan.
While those around them swooned, collapsed and frequently died in the intense heat, the graceful camels and their hardy Afghan handlers (known as cameleers) proved resilient, sailing through the searing temperatures with ease and proving the truth in their moniker, they were indeed ‘ships of the desert’.
Camels, deserts, Afghans and Pakistani people were on my mind this week as the Food Safari set off again on our ongoing exploration of the West End’s great foodie spots. The next stop was A1 Foods, specialists in Afghani, Pakistani and Turkish cuisine.
At street level it appears like a typical kebab or pide shop, there are a couple of small tables for eat in diners, a drink fridge and a wooden counter for solo customers inside the front window diagonally opposite Bank Corner. But inside the door something is immediately discernible. It is clean. Really clean.
A1 Foods is the perfect place to take someone fearful about the hygiene of takeaway food outlets. Here the tiles are polished, counters shiny and the glass hot food display spotless. The metal walls behind the roasting pieces of meat, slowly rotating on their skewers, are so clean they glint.
The Food Safari had gathered up so many people that we headed upstairs to their banquet room where we explored the menu ordering as many dishes as we could. A range of curries, pides, kebabs, naans and an intriguing lamb and green chilli patty called a chapli arrived along with bowls of yoghurt and a piquant tabouli both of which provided a cool contrast to their spicy counterparts.
When we began to eat I soon understood why A1 Foods has garnered such a regular and loyal clientele. The food was hot, but delicately so, meaning that the spices were still detectable and the heat never overpowered the delicate balance of the meal. The naan, including an Afghani one, came straight from the oven warm and fluffy on the inside with a slightly crunchy, buttery crust. If you wanted to throw caution to the wind jalapenos were available as a side dish.
If you don’t like spicy food, or are otherwise decidedly unexotic in your tastes, the menu has fish and chips, along with a sizeable range of pides, including a vegetarian one, which came crispy on the outside and sliced into delicate fingers. One of the Safari team, who has a serious allergy to chilli, was easily catered for and had a chicken curry with spiced tomato and cashews, but no hot stuff. The value for money is staggering. Seriously great food, with many dishes made fresh to order, friendly and attentive staff and to finish it off – low prices. What’s not to love? I’ll be back.
A1 Foods, 701 Hunter Street, Newcastle West. Phone: 4929 7829. Hours: Monday-Friday 9.00am-9.00pm, Saturday 10.00am-9.00pm, Sunday closed. Dine in or take away. Delivery available 11.00am-2.00pm and 5.00pm-9.00pm. Catering done upon request. Facebook: a1foodsnewcastle
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