Thoughts on Life, Kabobs, and Najib Sidiqi

Most people, including myself, have a tendency to view life as a linear trajectory. If someone goes to a good college and then to law school, they’ll probably become a lawyer and eventually a partner until they some day retire or decide to teach law. The track is already laid.

Life, however – and yes I’m stating the obvious – is not linear, despite our simplistic assumptions. We know this but we often forget it until those unique, very human moments when we are reminded of the admirable adaptability, creativity, and ingenuity of the human spirit. These moments are often short and sweet, brief, or even fleeting reminders – the Harvard MBA grad who became a 4th grade math teacher, the girl who passed the New York Bar and then ran off to Broadway, etc. At first, it may be hard to remember such moments with such people. Yet, they’re everywhere you look and everywhere you don’t.

I like gyros (and no, this is not a digression) so I go to this place called the Kabob House on P Street NW, near Dupont Circle during lunch breaks. It’s a pretty basic canteen with stereotypical travel photography from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia – including the woman from the cover of National Geographic. I don’t know Afghan food so I can’t say to what degree the kabobs can be considered authentic. In fact, my first impression was to ask myself, is this for real? I am not familiar at all with Afghan culture or gastronomy and, frankly, I figured that filling in the massive, shameful black hole of ignorance that I have regarding that part of the world would be a lot… well… less simple. Consequently, all I know about the food at the Kabob House is that the gyros are cheap and better than anywhere else in DC and the bread is superb. The portions are huge if you get something other than a sandwich. Is the food in any way an Afghan experience? I have no idea but it’s so good, I don’t really care.

The owner is jovial, jolly even. He has a thick accent and always has some Bollywood-type music playing on the big-screen TV. When I first encountered him, I had to ask myself if this was actually happening – he was just so happy and I was not used to having someone in the food business at a canteen during lunch being in such a great mood. Every time I go there, he’s in a great mood. I go there a lot and now he calls me “friend”, which is what he calls anyone he recognizes who has been there before. He greats his real friends (not me) with a kiss on the cheek and a shake of both hands, a barrage of questions – most likely variations on the theme of “how are you?”

This is it, I thought. This is the part that is Afghan, recalling my friend’s explanations of the emphasis on hospitality in Afghan culture. Well, then, is the food? Again, I have no clue, but at this point it was undeniable that there was some other cultural influence defining the experience there – Washingtonians are just simply not that nice every day. They also don’t all speak Dari and will only shake with both hands if you’ve endorsed their campaign.

I’ve been going there for a while now but, despite the warm and welcoming atmosphere, I didn’t learn his name until one day when I was leaving the restaurant and noticed that, near the door, hung on the wall were some small, square pictures of him covered in what looked like lists of short phrases written in lavish Nasta’līq. CD covers?

My Persian not being the best (I can only say من قد کوتاه  هستم  meaning “I’m short”), I could only manage to sound out the writing on the main photo with his face on it – Najib. His name must be Najib. No way… was the Kabob guy an Afghan singer?

After a minute consulting the internet about the Kabob House, I found this brief article about him from the business’s website and got his full name – Najib Sidiqi. I immediately googled him and found his music videos. I then found his Facebook fan page, his myspace, and his Youtube channel. My favorite video is definitely Aresoo/Arozo.

I think I now know why my “friend” at the Kabob House is so jolly. He has music in his heart and he is surrounded by delicious food – who wouldn’t be? Also – he’s a singer with music videos turned multiple restaurant owner with kabobs – how cool is that? Talk about a non-linear, creative, and diverse, yet cohesive trajectory. I think that’s just awesome.

Every time I need a reminder that change is okay and I can do whatever I want with my life and be happy, I will go sate myself on a gyro and say hello to my “friend”.

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Omletten

Also known as Palatschinken, Omletten are the Austrian answer to the crêpe and the blintz. While this dish has been a traditional Christmas morning favorite in my family, it’s great for any warm-hearted occasion – Easter included.

I’m sure that other folks know this dish under the name of Pfannkuchen or Eierkuchen. The fact is there are many different names, which vary by region within German-speaking Europe (Deutscher Sprachraum). Most Austrians don’t even use the word Omletten (which is what Tiroleans say) but rather the Slavic loan word Palatschinken. There is a lot of dialectical differentiation in the various regions within Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. The University of Augsburg Department of German Language and Literature Studies (Germanistik) has produced great isogloss maps, including this one (which shows the multiple words for this delicious Germanic pancake).

There are many Omletten recipes available, given the many different forms of the dish, that I’m sure would suit most anyone’s taste. However, I find a minimalist approach sufficient because slight adjustments will allow you to adapt it to your own circumstantial needs. The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 – 2.5 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • Butter / oil for frying

Other things you’ll need to dress the omletten will be some sort of jam, preserve or compote, and confectioner’s sugar. It’s also good with butter and honey, melted chocolate, or Nutella.

Put the flour in a big bowl with the two cups of milk. Separate the yolks from the whites of all four eggs, adding the yolks to the big bowl and saving the whites separately. Throw your pinch of salt in the big bowl. Beat your egg whites until they are firm. Mix everything that’s in the big bowl until it’s smooth and then fold in the egg whites.

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This method of folding in the beaten egg whites is common to a lot of delicious Austrian goodies (including the Sacher Torte and Salzburger Nockerln). In this case, it gives the Omletten their puffy, light texture. However, it does have a tendency to thicken the batter, so keep some milk handy for thinning if it comes out too thick on the pan.