From Hosted to Hosts

Local Afghan émigrés ring in the Solar New Year with Nau-Rouz

There will also be live music, though probably not Afghan music, maybe even flamenco guitar. Sherzad's tastes reflect his cosmopolitan childhood and notable linguistic skills (he speaks six languages). For the last 10 years he has hosted KFAI's weekly show International Jazz Conspiracy, which airs on Wednesdays from 10:30 p.m. to midnight. "I would rather have good music of any kind than mediocre music that would fit a stereotype," he says. "Music is the world language. It is my religion."

A few years ago, the family moved Khyber Pass from its original St. Clair Avenue location to the corner of Grand and Snelling avenues. The new spot, once home to the short-lived Spudzza Pizza and the Kosher mainstay Old City Café, demands higher rent, but Sherzad says he's happy with the more visible location.

"More people walk by, so more come in," he says. "The shortest way to someone's heart is through their stomach. This restaurant enables me to be appreciated as an Afghan and that is priceless. I'm not in this business for the money. If I were, I'd have closed this place up years ago."

A taste of home: Emel and Masooda Sherzad at Khyber Pass
Jana Freiband
A taste of home: Emel and Masooda Sherzad at Khyber Pass

 

In Afghanistan, Borhanuddin Haffas was a college professor, so he's chosen to take an educational approach to his new role as owner of Da Afghan, Bloomington's venerable Afghan restaurant.

"We try to use food to educate our diners about Afghanistan, about our culture," Haffas says. "My goal is to create a dining experience that it is both educational and pleasant. We want people to come here and leave with good feelings in their hearts about Afghanistan and the people who live there."

In January, Haffas took over the restaurant when his brother-in-law, Ghafar Lakanwal, stepped aside to devote more time to his job as executive director of the Minnesota Cultural Diversity Center. Running a restaurant may seem like an unlikely job for a former academic, but Haffas, much like Sherzad of Khyber Pass, sees it as his opportunity--maybe even his duty--to give back to a country that he feels has given so much to him.

"One can serve society in different ways," Haffas says. "My wife and I have chosen to do it this way. We are both working here in the restaurant. I am the host and my wife is working back in the kitchen preparing the food. So this is a family restaurant. And it is our family's gift to the community."

Haffas sees his first Nau-Rouz in the restaurant business as yet another opportunity to educate his customers about Afghan culture. On Tuesday, March 21, the restaurant will offer a New Year's-themed menu.

"We will serve lamb and a little bit of sweet desserts," he explains. "I haven't set the menu yet, but we will prepare special food that is usually served during Nau-Rouz." There will also be Afghan music and a belly dancer.

"Belly dancing is common in much of the Arab world, but it's not done in Afghanistan," explains Haffas. "Still, people like to see it. It adds to the festive air on a special occasion. Nau-Rouz is a special occasion in our country and we welcome our American friends who want to know more about our traditions. Maybe after coming here and enjoying our celebration, Nau-Rouz will become a new tradition for them, too."

Dara Moskowitz is on vacation and will be back next week.

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