Monday, November 10, 2014

Diwan: The Culinary Heart of The Aga Khan Museum

North America’s first museum dedicated to Islamic art and culture, The Aga Khan Museum opened its doors in Toronto just over a month ago, offering visitors a window into worlds unknown or unfamiliar: the artistic, intellectual, and scientific contributions of Muslim civilizations to world heritage across the centuries. Created as a pillar for global pluralism, the Museum’s permanent collection of more than 1,000 artefacts includes masterpieces that reflect a broad range of artistic styles and materials, including portraits, textiles, miniatures, manuscripts, ceramics, tiles, medical texts, books and musical instruments that represent more than ten centuries of human history from a geographic area stretching from Spain, Sicily, Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, China, India, and Southeast Asia. 

Part of the permanent collection on the main floor of the museum

Inspired by the Aga Khan, the museum was envisioned as a way to fill the gaps of knowledge between the West and East with the belief that the world will be a better place, and have space for all, if only people understood each other’s cultures better. “One of the lessons we have learnt in recent years is that the world of Islam and the Western world need to work together more effectively at building mutual understanding, especially as these cultures interact and inter-mingle more actively,” says the Aga Khan. “We hope that this museum will contribute to a better understanding of the peoples of Islam in all of their religious, ethnic, linguistic, and social diversity.” 

A Prince and a Hermit: watercolour, gold and ink on paper ca. 1595

One of the treasures of the museum, a bronze and silver Astrolab from the Iberian peninsula ca. 1300s

Sulawesi Qur’an with elaborate calligraphy and illustrations ca. 1804

Designed by award-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, the Museum shares the 17-acre site with Toronto’s Ismaili Centre, which was designed by architect Charles Correa. The surrounding landscaped park and gardens, designed by Lebanese-Serbian landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic, were inspired by the ones in ancient Persia and Spain, and includes lush gardens and five spectacular reflective pools.

Designed by award-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, the museum shares the site with landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic's gardens and spectacular reflecting pools; Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi's floral painted concrete garden installation in the foreground

The glass enclosed central courtyard 

Tucked away on a bright sunny corner of the museum's main floor is Diwan, which means 'spiritual room', the museum's elegant and refined restaurant, handsomely decorated with original panels from an 18th-century Damascus Mosque bought at auction in London by the Aga Khan. Few museums offer as beautiful a dining space as the one at the Aga Khan Museum, a culinary destination in its own right. Executive Chef Patrick Riley's menu which highlights the great cuisines of Turkey, Iran, North Africa, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, has recently been updated from simple soup and sandwiches to include a variety of dishes that stand up to the museum's collections, as they delight with their variety and broad symphony of flavours. Appetizers such as Chilled Yogurt Soup, Fresh Herb Salad and Assorted Bites Plate with 'Kibbeh', a Lebanese national dish made with ground lamb meat, peppers and onions mixed with bulgur wheat, a pinch of ground cinammon and chopped parsley, flattened into torpedo-shaped balls and stuffed with a date and pine nuts; 'Briouart', a Moroccan parka pastry filled with marinated artichokes; 'Somucha', a spicy fragrant Bengali Samosa filled with ground beef and chopped onion; and 'Kousa Mashi', a Levantine favourite of baby marrow filled with rice, chickpeas and peppers poached in tomato sauce. 

The spectacular interior of Diwan Restaurant at Toronto's Aga Khan Museum features rescued ceiling and wall panels from a Damascus mosque, bought at auction in London by the museum's namesake

The glorious painted and relief carved ceiling and ornamented wall panels inside Diwan 
create a memorable impression

Entrées include 'Kuku-Ye Yadoo', a fluffy and flavourful Persian oven-baked omelette with white zucchini, scallions, mint, Laghavan cheese, baby herb salad and yogurt; 'Pide', a Turkish-Style Pizza with swiss chard, golden raisins and beyaz peynir cheese served with zesty pickles; 'Manti', a Turkish minced lamb pasta with whipped yogurt and zesty butter; 'Ras-el-Hanout Seared Tuna Loin with Moroccan Spices' served over green bean, artichoke, olive and  roasted tomato salad with garlic and chill new potatoes; 'Jawaneh Dajiaj', Arabian 'Wing-Style Garlic Chicken Thighs' in a garlic and lemon juice marinade served with a cucumber and pomegranate salad, and 'Mujadara', rice, lentil and caramelized onions, in addition to four 'Mixed Kebabs': Iranian 'Ozun-Borun' Lemony Sturgeon Kebab', Persian 'Joojeh' Saffron Chicken Kebab and 'Barg' Marinated Thin-Sliced Beef Kebab; and Turkish 'Adana' Spicy Ground Lamb Kebab with red onion and sumac salad. Our fabulous lunch was in large part due to our charming server Eleazer, who explained every dish, described from which country it was inspired, and made our delicious meal, a truly memorable one. We'll certainly return, and hope Eleazer will be there for our next culinary and cultural quest into the museums treasure trove of Islamic treasures.

Diwan's menu features the great cuisines of Turkey, Iran, North Africa, Central Asia 
and the Indian subcontinent

A bottle of Eska sparkling water with fresh lime

A selection of white and red wines are available by the glass or bottle as well as a small list of imported beers, such as Stella Artois

Diwan's Stuffed Bites Appetizer Plate with Kousa Mashi, Somucha, Briuart and Kibbeh 

'Kuku-Ye Yadoo', a Persian oven baked omelette with white zucchini, scallions, mint, 
Laghavan cheese, baby herb salad and yogurt

Indian Prawn Kati Roll with paratha bread in an egg omelette buttered with green chill and cilantro chutney, topped with tamarind prawns, tomato and onion and served with a mixed dal salad

Diwan's dessert menu

Diwan's dessert plate setting

Pastry and Fruit Plate with dried fruit, nuts and regional pastries

Leaving the restaurant around 1:30pm to explore the Museum, it was still very busy with families and lecture-attendees enjoying a wonderful lunch on a bright sunny weekend

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