In Fremont, California, home to one of the country’s largest Afghan populations, you'll find Zamzam Supermarket. It's a butchery, grocery, bakery, restaurant and, ahead of Thanksgiving, the store rolls out it's signature dish: an Afghan-seasoned halal Thanksgiving turkey.
Gamal Siddiqi, who owns the supermarket, moved from Afghanistan in 1987 and tested the idea of selling his Afghan-style turkey around 2001. “We started with a small sample, and people tried and loved it,” he says. "Now, the demand goes higher and higher. We cook the turkey with our special recipe that we use in house.”
As of earlier this week, he had orders for 67 turkeys.
Siddiqi shows me one of his freshly cooked turkeys. It’s piping hot orangish-red, glowing, and sits on a large round stainless-steel tray. Instead of smelling like the usual turkey baste, its aroma is rich with cumin, ginger and other spices unfamiliar to my nose. Surrounding the bird are seasoned potatoes, carrots, zucchini. And the stuffing is not made with bread, rather basmati rice.
Siddiqi’s daughter, Madeena, is a young business school grad and manages the kitchen with her mom, who created the turkey recipe. “We cook the rice and then after that we kind of toss it with the gravy,” Madeena says. Chillis and blended red bell peppers turn the gravy a dark red. "We put the gravy so it has all the spices and seasonings with it, so the rice is not just plain," she says. "Once it’s cooked and fully seasoned, we toss in the pinenuts, mix it together and then we stuff it in the turkey.”
Seasoned with what, you may ask?
“It’s more of like Middle Eastern-Afghan," she says. "There’s a little bit of cumin, a little bit of turmeric in it, and then”, she pauses, then laughs, “I think that’s all I can share before my mom’s like, 'Do not share my recipe!'"
Okay, fair enough. Now, it’s tasting time. Siddiqi pushes tables together, and invites every customer who comes through the door to join us. Kitchen staff bring over plates and forks, and start slicing turkey portions. Elizabeth Singh just came in to buy onions, and finds herself sitting down to a plate of turkey. “It isn’t your grandma’s dry turkey!” she says.
Then Niaz Ahmad comes in. He’s here for his daily naan bread run, but he's curious about the turkey. He has questions, like how much is it? Siddiqi says $50. How can it be transported home? Siddiqi answers that there’s a special tray in a box. What’s left is for Ahmad to have a taste. He says, “It looks very good from outside, but taste is in the mouth. When we taste it, we’ll know but it looks delicious!”
He tries it and is impressed.
As more customers join our impromptu Thanksgiving meal, Siddiqi explains why this holiday is special for the community. “Unfortunate things have happened in Afghanistan," he says. "Now people have started building their lives back here. We have second and third generations here now. This is an appreciation and thank of God to have a good wealth and good health for us and for our families, not just today, but every day.”
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