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Afghan food: Anwar Bazaar and Cafe Sophia

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The sign on the street reading "Fresh Afghan Bread" drew me into Anwar Bazaar & Bakery, a tiny storefront in a strip mall on the border of San Jose and Campbell. Actually, I didn't even notice the "Bakery" in the name, because when I walked in I was surprised to see the wide, low doors of bakery ovens in the back. The guy who was working there told me that the Afghan bread is made in-house, and produced what must have been a yard-long, flat loaf, pricked all over with holes and sprinkled with a few sesame seeds. It was a little warm, and just delicious - pliable, with a hint of crustiness, and the hearty flavor of whole wheat.

I ate the bread with my leftovers from Cafe Sophia, an Afghan restaurant in Palo Alto that I had visited a few days prior. I'm reviewing it for reference purposes because, in fact, it was not that good.

"What is Afghan on the menu?" my mom asked the older woman (Sophia?) who seated us, who seemed like the proprietor. "Everything," she responded. Considering items like the "BBQ Afghani Bacon Burger," she seemed to use that definition pretty lightly. There were also kebabs, mantu, pallows, and of course, the famous Afghan panini. ;-)

Of the day's special, coconut curry shrimp (Afghanistan is landlocked), she said the method and seasonings were the same that Afghans use for fish. Fair enough - my mom ordered that, and I got a vegetarian sampler plate with bolani, aushak, and sambosa (samosa). I also ordered a pumpkin appetizer and an eggplant one.

When the shrimp arrived, I could see at a glance that it was overcooked. Although the flavoring was good, and more spicy-hot than I would've expected as a default in Palo Alto, the dish as a whoe was dry. My sambosa was greasy and heavy and so was the bolani, not nearly as good as the bolani from East West Gourmet.

The appetizers were decent, though the use of the exact same sun-dried-tomato-and-yogurt condiment was repetitive. (It also characterized my aushak, which was otherwise inoffensive.) The tomato overshadowed the pumpkin but played well with the silky eggplanr, the one dish that made me think I could tolerate another meal here if necessary. Unfortunately the bread was not that good, and it came with a mysteriously flavorless dip that contained sesame seeds.

They advertise themselves as a coffee roaster, and the special came with free soda and coffee/tea, but as the new Philz is a couple blocks away, I opted to take my mom there. Mmmm, mocha Tesora.

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Cafe Sophia Coffee Roasting Company
2706 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94306

East & West Gourmet
108 Medburn St B, Concord, CA

Philz Coffee
3191 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94306

Anwar Bazaar & Bakery
2626 Union Ave, San Jose, CA 95124

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