- Who is the Hotelier and sushi chef?
“Afghan people are scared to eat different foods.
But once they try they are happy and they love it.”
My name is Hiromi Yasui
I am from Japan. I own the Silk Road Hotel in Bamiyan and the Japanese home cooking restaurant Bentoya in Kabul.
I have been coming to Afghanistan since 1993 when I worked as a photojournalist. In 1996 the Taliban took over and it was impossible for me to work here. I returned in 2001 before the Americans started bombing. I entered Kabul with the mujahedeen. Everyone was so happy because the Taliban were finished. People were dancing and showing me how they had shaved their beards. There was music everywhere. The Taliban didn’t allow any of these things.
Since 2001 I have lived full-time in Afghanistan. I met my husband here in 2002. He is an Afghan from Panjshir. We got married in Turkey in 2003 and had another ceremony in Kabul. We had to date in secret which was difficult when we fell in love and we could not continue like that, so we got married. I converted to Islam. I’m not a very good Muslim but I hope I will be in the future. It is not so difficult to be a Muslim but I am lazy. I need try a little bit more.
Kabul has developed a lot since I first came. The best thing is that some of the roads are paved now. There is electricity and better water too. I remember trying to cook Japanese rice in tap water in 2001 and it turned green; I was so scared of that water! The sad thing is that the people have changed as well. They will do anything to get money and they have become more greedy as the city has developed. They have lost some of the culture of hospitality that was here before. In the war time if I passed in front of someone’s house they would stop me to eat with them and drink tea. Even if they had nothing they would not let me go until I did. But it’s not much like that anymore. But I love Afghanistan and that is why I stay here.
I was very busy with journalism until 2007 when things started to calm down. It was 2007 when we opened our hotel in Bamiyan. It took four years to complete it because we could not work in winter because of the cold. People don’t visit Bamiyan in the winter so I live half the year in Kabul. It would be impossible for us to operate in winter anyway. We are very close to the cliffs and only get an hour of sunshine a day and the water from the spring along with all our pipes freeze so there is no water. Our guests kept asking me to bring my Japanese food to Kabul so I decided to open a restaurant.
There is a lack of good restaurants in Kabul and Afghan food is very oily and quite tough for foreigners to eat every day - it is too much for me, I always want nice food. I think Afghan people should be taught to cook lower calorie food with less oil. But for them less oil is a heresy! With my business I want to make internationals have a good time and not want to escape and run back to their own countries.
Our food in the restaurant is not that special. Most Japanese families would eat like this at home. It is difficult to cook Japanese food here because it is hard to get ingredients. Luckily I can find the best Soy sauce – Kikkoman. But there is no sea and so no fresh fish for sushi. Sometimes I get it in Dubai but it is very expensive and hard to keep here in the fridge for long.
Our customers are mainly expats but we do have some Afghan visitors - the more adventurous ones. Most of the Afghan people are scared to eat different foods and try new tastes. But once they try they are happy and they love it, like my husband does. They like maki sushi very much.
I have learned since I’ve been living here that if you try and work hard then you can get somewhere. I want to say this to the Afghan people. My cook was 15 years old when she got married. She never went to school or learned to read and write. Now she has worked for me for five years, she can read and she can write slowly. She is a trained Japanese chef and she has moved to Kabul to work in my new restaurant. So people shouldn’t give up; every Afghan can have some success. Just keep doing what you’re doing.