“Dictation being forced in Afghanistan…” is the opening lyric to the Pet Shop Boys 1988 hit ‘It’s Alright‘ (video still below) and the first time I’d really ever heard of the place not that I would have been able to point it out on the map at the time!
The Soviet war in Afghanistan in support of a communist regime had already been going on for about seven years when the song was penned. The “dictation” most probably refers to the Afghan regime implementing a variety of highly repressive measures including suppression of religion and the closing of mosques. In the balance of fairness, there were also a number of positive reforms designed to modernize the country.
By coincidence, on the same day we went to this restaurant I had actually been teaching a student some stuff about Afghanistan. In unit 2 of the god-awful Clockwise Intermediate book there is half a page (above) about change in this Central Asian country including a listening section about a 1997 news item. It basically focuses on the Taliban Movement since 1996 and their extreme dislike of Western influences which led to bans of TV, music and cinemas as they were considered un-Islamic. This was part of the Taliban’s attempts to free the country from such influences which led to some kind of discussion about how the States influences Japan and what kind of things should be banned here.
Furthermore, I was lying in bed listening to an old BBC Radio 4 podcast the other week where an aid worker who worked in Afghanistan both during and after the Taliban period was being interviewed. It was an episode of ‘Excess Baggage‘ from May 2011 and it was during this episode that I felt a strong desire to vomit but that was purely because it was pretty much the start of my illness and nothing to do with taste for the country! Far from it, as within days of my recovery I took my girlfriend for dinner at this Afghan restaurant.
When I moved into my new place I came across this restaurant one day whist exploring the surrounding areas. ‘Caravan Sarai‘ is at 2-25-6 Higashi Nakano and is just a 20 minute walk down the road from the ‘Lost In Translation‘ (2003) temple. With two entrances this restaurant is part of the PAO Compound which is home to other ethnic activity such as the Egyptian belly dance show that was on the night we went there. The name derives from a roadside inn where travellers could rest and recover from a days journey with particular regard to the flow of commerce and people along the Silk Road.
They have a fairly extensive menu and first up we had a Yoghurt drink (above) which was lovely and that was soon followed by the delicious sikh kebabs (below) which were served up on a massive long steel skewer.
The gyouza-like dish above is known as Afghan-manto which came covered in sour cream sauce and boy were they awesome. With such an amazing texture you really will have a hard time finding a more perfectly constructed food item. Naturally I could have eaten far more than the five we were given.
It seems that a dish called Pashton Karahi is the national dish as that was the most expensive high profile dish on the menu. At 2300 yen my girlfriend and I decided that it was out of our price range. Instead we had a couple of karahi dishes (with naan) such as karahi hitsuji (sheep) for 880yen and lamb spare rib karahi for 1200 yen. A karahi is a type of deep, thick, circular cooking-pot (similar in shape to a wok) which is used to prepare stew dishes, usually with tomatoes (much to my dislike!), and they are named after the utensil itself.
As I mentioned before the menu is quite large and if you want to have one of the courses you actually have to make a reservation three days in advance which is I guess so they have time to get the ingredients in. The place was fairly busy when we went one Saturday evening with a few groups congregated in the floor seating room whilst us non-bookers had to sit either at the counter or the table seen in the pictures below.
Of course my main reason for going to ‘Caravan Sarai‘ was to tick it off my list of ethnic cuisines eaten in the vicinity of Tokyo but thankfully it was more than that as we had an interesting experience in a place full of character.