At Twins Halal House & Bakery, Farida and Mohammad Nabizada use small, square pizza boxes to pack up your order of bolani. They include enough slices of the stuffed Afghani flatbread to feed a famished family of four. The potato inside is, texturally, as creamy as melted cheese. With the addition of seasoning, and herbs like green onions and cilantro, each bite of bolani is spicy—but subtly and pleasantly so. Dipping it in a side of yogurt tempers that heat. The combination of the two together is a wakeup call for a sleepy palate. If you’re used to the flavors of a standard pizza pie, these bolani might be the gateway meal to wean yourself off ye olde slice of mushroom and pepperoni.
The Nabizadas make their own dough for the bolani as well as for what Mohammad calls their Afghani naan. While describing the cuisine, Mohammad emphasizes the fact that they use fresh ingredients. The bolani and naan doughs, he says, are made without additives, with just all-purpose flour, salt and water. Farida makes comforting stews and rice dishes from family recipes. The ingredients for her chicken karahi are similar to the Indian and Pakistani versions of the same dish. In her karahi, the chicken absorbs the intense spice of long-simmered onions and peppers. Twins Halal serves all of their rice dishes, like this one, with sides of that homemade naan, salad, chutney and yogurt.
Located on the busy corner of Market and 27th streets, the currently to-go-only restaurant sits parallel to Downtown Oakland, on the other side of the 980 freeway. There’s a red zone in front of Twins Halal, so be prepared to look for parking. Another tip: when the cashier at the ordering window says, “Your order will be ready in 20 minutes,” he really means 30, because Farida is making each order à la minute. Mohammad said that he’s in charge of the grill, barbecuing the meat that fills their gyros and wraps.
Twins Halal is named after the Nabizadas’ eight-year-old twins. They all left Afghanistan by way of Russia in 2014 and settled in Oakland. For several years after they arrived, Farida and Mohammad tried to start a restaurant. “My credit wasn’t very high, because we were new to the United States,” Mohammad says. Last year he contacted the landlord at the Market Street location when he saw that it was available to rent. Undeterred by the pandemic, the Nabizadas are about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Twins Halal.
His experience running a business over the last year has been a positive one. “I love Oakland, but a lot of people ask me, ‘How do you make it there? Isn’t it hard to run a restaurant in this area?’” he says. Mohammad, who is still perfecting his English, responds to them with a short sermon, “If you’re a good person, nobody touches you and the people are with you.”
Like many immigrants, the Nabizadas also started this venture to make a better life for their children. The only sense of frustration that he expresses is a plea for the City of Oakland to help keep the area surrounding the restaurant clean. With a bus stop out front and an abandoned lot behind them, Mohammad recognizes that a lot of people pass through the area. “My wife and I work very hard,” he says. “I just need help from the city to help keep everything clean.”
Farida and Mohammad opened Twins Halal when restaurants started to close down or try to-go meals to adapt to Covid-19 restrictions. “But me and my wife, the reason we opened during the pandemic is because we knew it was going to be a tough time for people,” he says. “I didn’t care about making money.” Some of his friends told him that for the kind of labor-intensive food they were preparing, the prices were too low. His response was, “I want to help the people, especially the Oakland people.” The best way he and Farida knew how to help was by sharing food with their adopted community.