Tucked and almost invisible to the naked eye in a hidden bend on Upper Street by the Islington green rests a recognizable name to residents – the afghan kitchen. A mom and pop operation that serves delectable (I miss that word) ethnic curries with a nice pile of basmati rice – transplanting you to the bosoms of comfort food heaven (that is if you’re from that part of the world where you’d equate curry and basmati rice to comfort food). Raved about by my brother and his wife for years, I decided to now give it a try since I was a short walk away.
Little did I know, that the Afghan kitchen would become the thorn in my side that I loved to twist.. the eatery took the form of an older bullying sibling, one that enjoyed making you jump through hoops for sheer amusement - all the time you've got this whiny voice begging him/her to stop bugging you. I tried in vain to locate the place, and yet I kept on missing it. Going back to the great internet brain, I’d google map it and yet again miss it.. thinking they might have closed or something like that.. The more I read about the place the more I wanted to go and eat there. My research had already prepared me to skip booby trap #1: cash or check, no credit cards.. mental note to self “make sure you have cash”. Easy. Then finally, one random nondescript day, I spot the tiny shop with the tiny sign that brought me to skipping about and jumping for joy! Alas, it was a Sunday, they were closed, and I had already eaten - but that did not matter, for i knew had the coordinates.
Picking the right kind of food coma day, I head down with parents (visiting) cause I couldn’t stop talking about said restaurant only to find it closed. We picked an acceptable mealtime hour to eat, and yet they had no hours of operation sign on their door, I did not know when they'd be open. Then just to pour pickled onions soaked in vinegar into my wounds, my parents both tell me that my brother must’ve taken them there cause they remember eating here years ago and it was delicious.. Argh.. booby trap #2: know the exact opening hours, no strolling in, you need to prepare.
Back to the internet, I find out their hours, and read more reviews.. they have this one dish that has tender chunks of lamb and spinach curry – that, I kid you not, gave me a little bit of a "is that your hands in your pocket or you happy to see me?" feeling. With every passing day, I continued to think about how good this lamb spinach curry would taste like.. i wanted to eat it, i wanted to dress up, rent a limo and take the bowl of lamb spinach stew on a night out on the town.. i wanted to get cozy with the bowl, up close and personal.
My breakthrough came when my sisters were visiting, I woke them up on a Saturday for lunch, told them where we were going, even called the afghan kitchen at 12:30pm to see if they’re open, they were, and off we went. Regaling them with maria1962’s reviews or how urbanspoon called it magical – I filled their appetites with enough anticipation that we were set for the lunch to end all lunches.. at 1:00pm the waitress saunters up the stairs to the table next to us to give them a bowl of that lamb spinach curry.. winking at my sisters I use our secret Arabic language to indicate that’s what we’re gonna have. She turns to us, hands out menus and then tells us that there’s no lamb spinach curry.. that was the last bowl.. What do you mean there’s no more? You’ve been open for 45minutes how can you run out so quickly? The place isn’t even that full?? She then tells me of a pickup order that took most of the curry inventory on hand..
I was left in a difficult situation.. the table next to me were just about to tuck into that which I’ve been fighting to have for a good part of four months.. how can I not have it? Thoughts of negotiating came to mind. Excuse me, sorry to interrupt.. yes? before you sully that bowl of lamb and spinach with your spoon, I have a proposition I’d like to make you .. you see, my willingness to pay for that bowl of goodness in front of you, is, and I’m willing to make this estimate with a fair bit of confidence, is way way way higher than your willingness to part with it. I’d like to propose a suggestion, what if I bought you and your companion lunch today.. you can order anything you want as long as I get to have that bowl.. my sisters thought I was ridiculous, but then again, I am. Just as I was about to lean in, I realised that I’d be the only person who’d be enjoying the curry, meaning that they (my lovely sisters) would also want to share all the curries, something I just wasn’t prepared to do. I called time on our short visit to the Afghan Kitchen, picked them up and marched them out to another restaurant. Either we all eat lamb spinach curry, or no one eats lamb spinach curry. And with the deflated head of the evil nemesis from an 80s cartoon, i whispered in a skeletor voice “you may have one the battle, but I’ll get you next time lamb spinach curry..” booby trap #3: call to have them reserve your order.
Weeks later, I eventually get to sit down and enjoy the curry for all its sublime home cooked goodness.. There was the tender chunks of meat bearing a series of flavors so complex and yet so familiar - there was the basmati rice that smelled so fragrant, - there were pickles that gave my spoonfuls a little zing- there was Bahrain in every bite.. I won, I finally won.. enjoying the delicious meal over and over again, I sidestepped the pitfalls and foxholes.. but it wasn’t finished yet.. there was still the 36th chamber..
Raving about the afghan kitchen to friends, we decide to do a full on, big family Saturday meal at Kam’s place. I was going to pick up the food and then hop a cab and lunch would be perfect.. having become well versed in the methods of the kitchen, I called 4 days in advance to pre-book.. my early stage planning was casually brushed aside by what I’d like to call developing world time (Arab time, Indian time, African time, anything to push back being timely).. I call back a day before the lunch, and ask them for 4 orders of the lamb spinach, 2 orders of the chicken, 1 order of the pumpkin dish and a whole mess of rice.. I get met with a hesitant response and the phone gets shuffled to mama afghan kitchen, who proceeds to tell me, that 4 orders of the lamb spinach ees too too much for you have you can only have 2. I fight back. What do you mean? I called 4 days ago and you told me that I should call the day before. She then countered with, my husband used to do all the cooking and now I do eet, eet take a long time to make and eet’s a popular dish. She finally throws the kitchen sink at me, I couldn’t deprive the other customers.. of course, I wasn’t going to have any of it.. listen lady, I’ve done everything I had to do.. are you in the business of selling food to customers? Well then I don’t see what the problem is.. I know you do large orders, and I don’t have a ginormous order.. so cut me some slack.. she finally agrees.. but not before the sky turns grey and a cackle of lightening crashes down on a street light in my neighbourhood.. .
Saturday rolls around.. I go to pick it up the food.. I meet mama afghan kitchen and she tells me that it takes so long to prepare the lamb spinach - that she and her husband do all the cooking and it’s a lot of work.. I thanked her for the food and her time.. paid my bill and went to get out.. the minute I step out carrying all this food.. it starts raining.. 3 minutes into me trying to catch a cab I finally find one.. To Mayfair my good man! And off we go.. but to make matters worse, there’s a whole procession closing off all the roads from my part of town to Mayfair.. the cab driver then tells me it best to jump onto the tube a stop, then switch lines, get to green park and then take a cab.. all I could see is Mama Afghan Kitchen last night, sweat dripping off her brow, stirring a pot of food chanting out loud: i call upon the blood of all my ancestors to make this meal for you as uncomfortable as I am in preparing it tonight.. and bam.. there I was running around the tube in London carrying two enormous bags of food, with the smell seeping onto the Piccadilly line and following me around until I got to Kam’s place. At one point I couldn't tell if the other passengers were offended by the smell or were going to mug me for the food. booby trap #4: always be nice to mama afghan kitchen.. thankfully once I got there, we sat down and enjoyed a fantastic meal and the tender chunks of lamb and spinach curry mixed with that wonderful basmati rice erased the saga I endured and brought back Bahrain with every single bite..