Cables From Kabul - Big Trouble Little China
Afghan president Hamid Karzai's cousin visits the Golden Key. A red letter day.
Our Holy War holiday got off to a lively start yesterday. We got hustled by kids, threatened by cops, touched a warm Beretta and found a piece of suicide bomber on the ground.
Last night, the rest of the town was laying low expecting another attack. All the good internationals were in their homes, but when you've only got three weeks in a place like Kabul you don't want to let a dead minute pass, so we went out for dinner in the city's most famous Chinese Restaurant, the Golden Key.
Maybe part of the reason the Golden Key is Kabul's most famous Chinese restaurant is because the only other one still open doesn't have a menu and they'll only let you order in Mandarin. This seems a strange decision for a restauranteur based in Kabul to make, but it's fine with us, because we end up in the company of a lovely lady from Shangai called Sasa. Lovely and brave. Last year a guy in a vest (Kabul street talk for a suicide bomber) was stopped at the door and a year previous a bomb two doors down smashed the Golden Key's windows out.
Still that doesn't stop Sasa running a fine Chinese cookhouse. Henry had a chicken and sesame dish, while I went for the lobster and long beans. The meal was accompanied by a few cans of blackmarket Heineken, and desert was grapefuit with blackmarket Johnnie Walker. All cooked to perfection. Yum.
Sasa's security guards
Business isn't great for Sasa at the moment. "I worry," she says. "Normally the Taliban don't attack in Kabul. This year they attack and I worry."
But Sasa’s not just sitting back and worrying, she’s converted the Golden Key into a fortress. No vest’s getting in here without a considerable fight. First you got to make your way past three reinforced steel doors. Guarding the doors are Sasa’s two loyal security guards, and if an attack comes from above, Sasa’s got an underground "safe room" where you can retire for deserts and karaoke. Lastly, there are a team of feral kittens who live in the dining area. They’re a slick combination of cute and deadly.
The "safe room"
Sasa’s security guards live in the restaurant too. If you ask for a photo they immediately pass you their gun to pose with. In Kabul, guns are like babies – the owners always assume you want to touch or hold onto them.
Sasa’s been here seven years. If you ask her if she’ll stay for much longer, she says, “We look, we see. This year I worry.”
'The Golden Key' is a lucky name in China. For Sasa's sake, we hope that the restaurant continues to live up to its moniker.
"The author, with gun"
WORDS: CONOR CREIGHTON
PHOTOS: HENRY LANGSTON & CONOR CREIGHTON
Previously: CABLES FROM KABUL - MANGLED JIHAD NECK FLESH