The Long Road
By Nathan Conz, Staff Writer
The Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan is not the Amiri
family's first venture into Hartford-area restaurant
ownership. In the mid-1980s, the Amiris owned and operated a
fried chicken place on Albany Avenue.
"A lot of people remember that place because of the radio
commercials: 'Don't cook tonight. Call Chicken Delight,'"
says Aaron Sarwar, the 18-year-old son of Halima Sarwar,
whose family got out of the fried chicken business and
opened up the Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan on Franklin
Avenue in 1988.
Thanks to good, home-cooked Afghan meals and a strong repeat
customer base, the family has been there ever since. Before
his mother took over in 2002, the restaurant was owned by
Mousa Amiri, Sarwar's uncle. Another uncle, Rahim Amiri,
owned it for a brief period before that.
Quame Amiri, Aaron's grandfather, was the first owner of the
restaurant. He was born in Afghanistan and lived in Kabul
where he worked for the government. "When the Soviets came
in," in 1979 Sarwar says of his grandfather, "they saw him
as one of the patriotic people. So, they took him and a
couple of his oldest sons and threw them in jail."
Sarwar says that his grandfather and uncles talked their way
out of jail, and, when they got out, saw things had gotten
far worse. Quame got the family together and told them to
pack like they were going on a short trip -- just a few
changes of clothes and not too much money -- and to leave
everything else exactly the way it was. Soon after, the
whole family left for India, where they would stay from 1981
The family came over to America gradually. Sarwar's
grandfather and a couple of his uncles were the first to
arrive, with the others soon to follow. At first they lived
in New York City and got by working whatever jobs they
"They came with just whatever they had in their pockets and
a couple hundred dollars. They didn't know a single person
here. They just got off the plane and started walking,"
Sarwar says. They spoke almost no English.
The family decided to move to the Hartford area, Sarwar
says, after taking a trip to a nearby park.
For this writer, stepping into an Afghan restaurant was big
deal. Trying new things isn't my specialty and adventuresome
eating usually means that I've left the special sauce on my
Big Mac. Nevertheless, Sarwar was confident that I'd like
Afghan food. He ordered me a small plate of samosas (deep
fried fritters filled with spiced eastern peas, potatoes and
vegetables) for an appetizer, and a chicken shammi kebab
dinner for the main course.
I enjoyed just about everything put in front of me,
especially the samosas. The chicken shammi (ground chicken
meat mixed with spices) was seasoned perfectly and the
kabeli palow (flavored rice topped with almonds, raisins and
carrots) was just the right amount of sweet.
Of course, I'm still not sure that I like Afghan food. It'd
be quite possible for me to have just enjoyed this
particular restaurant, and thus, only like very good Afghan
food. After all, the Shish Kebab House has enjoyed its fair
share of great reviews from critics, including one printed
on the back of the menu from this newspaper. Unfortunately,
it's going to be hard to find another Afghan restaurant in
the area for comparison. Sarwar believes that his family's
business is the only Afghan restaurant in the state.
Because of that, Afghan immigrants sometimes seek out the
restaurant and the family that owns it for help finding
their way in a foreign country. Sarwar, who also speaks
fluent Dari (one of the languages of Afghanistan), says his
family will sometimes help new immigrants -- by translating
their important documents (like a letter from a landlord,
etc.), giving them jobs at the restaurant to their sons and
daughters or just taking them along on trips to parks and
Aaron Sarwar recently began his freshman year at the
University of Hartford, where he is majoring in mechanical
engineering. And that fact worries this writer, who just
found a new restaurant and hopes it will continue for a few
more generations. Will a young man with an engineering
degree want to take over a restaurant when his mother
decides to retire?
Aaron Sarwar says the Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan has
always been a family business, and with a next generation
that includes three siblings, more cousins than he can count
and himself, he affirms: "It will remain a family business."