Cold War to warm welcome

Cold War to warm welcome

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Zainab Ayubi, baker, stands holding a plate of cookies in front of a glass case (Shirni Parwana

In 1985, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced Zelmai and Farida Ayubi to flee their home. The priority was to find a safe place to raise their daughters, which they found when they eventually settled in Adelaide. In a strange new land, food became the essential thread keeping them connected to their homeland.

As the eldest daughter, Fatema Ayubi recalls how her mother loved to not just cook for the family, but also share with her daughters the stories of the people who first taught her the dishes.

“My mum always just had such a love for like cooking and she’s just so good at what she does,” Fatema says.

“Throughout the years, she’s always taught us how to make the traditional dishes—I guess it was just a way of also being connected to our culture and sharing that with us.

“Food has always been a really important part of our life and growing up, I remember my mum would cook something and tell us who had taught her that and the memories behind it. It was just a really beautiful part of our life growing up.”

As Fatema and her three sisters got older, they wanted to help their mother’s dream come true and share their cuisine with the community. The family restaurant, Parwana, opened in 2009 to a very warm welcome.

“So many people would say to her, ‘you should open up a restaurant; your food’s amazing’,” Fatema says.

“We all sort of came together as a family to open Parwana.”

In fact, the unassuming Torrensville restaurant has published a cookbook, been reviewed in the New York Times, had a visit from the queen of food herself—Nigella Lawson—and just recently won the delicious.100 People’s Choice campaign for South Australia’s favourite restaurant.

“We were just so moved and just blown away,” Fatema said of the nomination.

“It’s incredible; we’re just so blessed.”

But while guests rave about Parwana’s banjaan borani (eggplant), mantu dumplings and Kabuli palaw (rice) dishes, Fatema has always been drawn to the sweet side.

With her family’s rich Islamic culture, the experience of growing up in Australia and having friends from all over the world, she creates desserts ranging from the very traditional to the more experimental with an Afghan and Middle East-inspired flavour.

“I love what I do—it allows me to be creative, to explore other ways of doing things and just kind of experiment,” Fatema says.

Fatema went on to get formal patisserie training and launched the Shirni Parwana brand—a sweet catering spin-off of the family restaurant—in 2014, featuring in local events as well as on the menu at the flagship restaurant.

With her desserts taking on a life of their own, fans were just itching for her to open a permanent store. That dream became a reality, with a compact space within Plant 3 at Bowden presenting the right opportunity at the right time for Fatema and her daughter and business partner, Zainab, to launch a permanent Shirni Parwana store.

They’d already been in Plant 4 since 2016, doing popups on Wednesday and Friday nights and night markets, so the recently-opened Plant 3 next door was an ideal next step.

“We were one of the last businesses that they approached and said, ‘We would love for you to be a part of this—there’s just this beautiful little space and it’s like a glass cube’,” Fatema says.

“They offered us that space and when we saw the space, we could really envision it—it’s just this beautiful little space that came to life for us.

“It was time for us to just explore more of the sweet side of things. We were looking for a space, so we just thought, ‘You know what, this is home already. This makes sense’.”

The mother-daughter duo use flavours popular in Afghanistan and surrounding regions, like rose, cardamom and saffron, in their vibrantly-coloured sweets. Think cream rolls made of flaky pastry and rose-infused cream; gulab jamun (traditional sweet and spiced milk dumplings in rose and cardamom syrup); Afghan cardamom sponge, which is layered with fresh cream and bitter marmalade; orange-and-almond syrup cakes; semolina biscuits with orange blossom; and Persian love cake made with pistachio, almond and semolina, and soaked in rose syrup.

“Afghanistan is sort of the heart of Asia, so there’s a lot of influences from surrounding countries as well as Afghanistan,” Fatema explains.

“We have pastries that are soaked in rose and cardamom syrups and we’ve got lots of biscuits.

“We also use a lot of fruits and nuts in our desserts—a lot of pistachios, walnuts and almonds. The ingredients, as with our food, are all common ingredients that you can find anywhere, but I guess it’s just the way we combine ingredients and the techniques we use that kind of sets it apart a little bit.”

Although they don’t have walls as such, that Afghan influence manages to flow through into every inch of the tiny 25-square-metre space, with mosque-like gold arches on the windows and counter, and display cases influenced by the colourful Afghan street vendors.

Although Fatema and Zainab had hoped to gently ease into their new venture, the local sweet tooths were not prepared to wait any longer.

“It’s just been busy since day one,” Fatema laughs.

“People have been telling us that they’ve been waiting for quite a while for us to open. There were quite a few delays, unfortunately—things that were out of our control—so it took a year longer than what we had thought before opening.

“It has just been incredible; we’re blown away. It’s been busy and it’s been consistent and we’ve been getting amazing feedback.

“We’re so very lucky.”

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