Authentic Afghan Cuisine at Pao Caravan Sarai, Higashi Nakano
I love traveling. And what’s more, I love eating. Even though I make it overseas once or twice a year, globetrotting on a stuff-my-face quest is out of reach on my humble teacher’s salary. So instead, my boyfriend and I decided to embark on an “eat around the world in Tokyo” quest. We started with the most exotic “A” country we could find: Afghanistan.
Pao Caravan Sarai is a quaint restaurant that from the outside looks as if it could be a downtown yakitori shop or a lovely little cafe. The interior, though, is another story. It’s like stepping into a real local restaurant in Afghanistan. Handmade clay pots line the walls, while customers lounge elegantly on the many colorful rugs and cushions strewn about the place. It’s a family friendly, warm, earthy place with delightfully smoky barbecue smells wafting about.
Adorning the celling is a huge, heavy looking, round wooden structure called a toono. The toono’s traditional job is to act as a weight to hold together an Afghan kherga (similar to a yurt). In Caravan Sarai, however, its purpose is to bring atmosphere to the room. It does just that, and it’s easy to imagine you’re in a yurt. In Japan, such structures are known as pal, from the Chinese name bao (包), hence the name of the establishment.
We arrived thirsty from our two-minute trek from Higashi Nakano station and ordered Yebisu drafts (¥600) and a plate of toroshi (Afghan pickled vegetables with spices and herbs, ¥480) to start. The toroshi was subtly sour with a lovely crunch that whetted our appetites both for more beer, and for the main courses.
Next on our menu was karahi gosht (¥2,900 yen for two). It was almost like a casserole, cooked and served in a wok-like pan (karahi). The tomato-based sauce was filled with hearty cuts of mutton on the bone, shishito peppers, and generous amounts of warming ginger. I enjoyed dipping my flat bread (¥350) into the sauce after the meat was devoured.
“Onegaishimasu,” shouted a man out a small window in the wall, as he barbecued the meat on sticks right outside. This apparently indicated that our kebab, chargha (chicken), and koftas (Afghan meatballs, ¥300 each) were done. Cleverly, there is a yakitori-style grill and bar just outside the restaurant, where salarymen and women alike can sit in the fresh air and have Afghan yakitori and a beer.
Our first stop on our tour of Tokyo’s most exotic restaurants was a resounding success, and we’ll definitely be back. But not just yet. Next stop: Bhutan.
Address: 2-25-6 Higashi Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo
Open: Mon–Sat, 5 p.m.–midnight; Sun & hols, 5–11 p.m.