It's too bad that my kids don't know much about Afghanistan other than there's a war going on there. John told me that Afghanistan is a corrupt country that's near Iraq (Iran is actually next door to Afghanistan, but thanks to Bush Iraq and Afghanistan will forever be lumped together). I admit that even to me Afghanistan seems barbaric and war torn - out of reach. My exposure to the country has been like most everyone else's in North America - headline news about roadside bombings and the Taliban and the best-selling books by Khaled Hosseini "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," and from the movie "Charlie Wilson's War." Sadly its beauty and ancient history are mostly lost to us in the onslaught of bad press. What's underneath the sordid layers of this perhaps( perhaps not) misunderstood country?
My kids and I may not have discovered Afghanistan's hidden treasures but we did taste its cuisine today.
My husband Kevin dropped us off at the train station, but before I got out of the car he said, "While you're in Toronto see if you can find another ethnic restaurant on your list and get that one done."
"I can't just do any ethnic restaurant," I said. "I'm doing this in alphabetical order."
"Oh. Well, what country's next?"
"Yeah. Right. I mean, if you can, you myswell do two in one day." I knew what he was thinking: that'll be another one I won't have to eat!
"Sure. I'll do my best to find an Albanian restaurant while I'm at it," I said sarcastically.
We caught the 12:30 train to Toronto. Being that it's the end of the summer (only one more week to go!) John and Julia can barely stand to be in the same room with each other, let alone, sit next to each other on a train. They kicked and pushed until I moved John the next seat over and gave them both a hard, cold stare.
"Why are we going to eat Afghan food?" John asked as he stared aimlessly out the window. I sighed. "Because we're starting the project!" I've been talking about the Eat Planet project for a week and I gave him the full rundown that morning on what we were going to do and where we were going.
At Union Station we hopped on the subway (well, a subway and I just prayed we were going in the right direction). We were - thankfully - and we got off at the Eaton Center - a huge and crowded mall. From there we walked a few blocks east on Dundas, and just when I started thinking how shady the neighborhood suddenly looked, I saw a bight yellow sign saying "Kabul Express." It was on the other side of the street and we ran to it - barely looking to see if cars were coming we were so excited (or at least I was excited). As soon as we arrived I made the children stand in front of the restaurant's sign. I happily snapped pictures while John tried to stand as far as he could from Julia and still be in the picture.
It was 2 o'clock by the time we strolled into Kabul Express. The place was virtually empty except for three women sitting at a back table talking loudly. Even though the place was small it was clean and airy. A T.V. hung on the wall and a soap opera was on that nobody was watching. Everything except for the brown tables and chairs was orange and yellow - orange walls, orange trays, big illuminated yellow menus on the wall beside a series of big, yellow illuminated photographs of all their meals. The kids and I stared at the menu that proudly proclaimed it had world famous Kabul Kabobs. A pleasant-looking woman stood behind the counter and took our order as we pointed to the kabob photos we liked. John got the choppan kabob (lamb chops). Julia got the beef koffa. I got the chicken tandoori kabob. After we finished ordering the woman said to me, "You have beautiful children."
A short time later the woman served our meals on the orange trays. The food was piled on oval plates, the rice spilling over the edges every time we cut into our meat. I sheepishly took pictures of the food making it all too clear we were new to this Afghan cuisine. Julia gladly posed for the pictures while John tried to stay out of them.
The food was delicious and we had way too much ( in addition they served us a basket piled high with warm nan). My chicken was red and a bit spicy (I've had it before, actually), Julia's looked like two long beef logs and tasted like a hamburger. John had three lamb chops spread across rice and his dish was - hands down - the best.
When we were done the three of us had a ring of rice around our plates - enough to feed a hungry family of four. We happily waved good-bye to the nice cashier lady and stepped out into the sunshine. I said, "Yeah! We did it! Our project has officially started!" It felt good.
On the way back to the station we couldn't help but stop at the Eaton Center and buy a few things. Even though we went to an Afghan fast food restaurant where every thing on the menu was under $10, the excursion to Kabul Express turned out to be any thing but economical. The two-way family train ticket to Toronto was $25, the subway to and from the Eaton Center was $8, the meal was $38.39, a stop in Banana Republic for two blouses was $129.00, and an impulse buy at the Disney Store cost me $22.50.
On the train coming home I called Kevin to pick us up at the station. He was there waiting when we arrived. We told him all about our Afghan eating experience on the way home. Finally, after a long day, we pulled into our driveway - five and a half hours later and $222.89 in the hole - we were back from Kabul Express.