Edmonds-area restaurant gets boost from Rick Steves

Shahzad Raja, the chef and owner of Caravan Kebab in Edmonds, loves to travel – a passion he shares with longtime friend Rick Steves.

Recently, Steves featured food from Caravan on his weekly Zoom show, “Monday Night Travel,” which he has been hosting while at home through the pandemic. The cameo by Caravan’s pita and dips gave the neighborhood restaurant a bump in business – and inspired Steves to do the same for other local spots.

Steves has been eating at Caravan Kebab for about a decade, estimates Raja, often bringing his parents in when they were still alive, and even hiring Caravan to cater Christmas parties. So when Steves planned a December episode of “Monday Night Travel” focusing on Egypt, he asked Raja if he could supply some of the typical foods of the country. On the broadcast, he dug into Caravan’s hummus and baba ghanoush, explaining the cuisine of Egypt and shouting out to his friend’s restaurant.

“Our location is a bit hidden,” said Raja. But after Steves mentioned the restaurant, Caravan saw a bunch of new customers placing orders and stopping by. “When people understand where we are, they come.”

Though Raja is not Egyptian, the inspiration and menu for his restaurant comes from a passion he shares with Steves: travel. Born and raised in Pakistan, Raja speaks a half-dozen languages and has traveled and cooked in countries all over the world, including a long stint in Greece where he “learned from the yiayias,” as well as from other cooks from around the world – including about the Middle Eastern and Arabic foods common in Egypt and featured on the show.

Caravan Kebab opened in 2009, earning fans with its eponymous special, which presents an international meat feast of lamb shish kebab, chicken boti, and Turkish Kofta kebab. Some dishes, like beef nihari, come straight from Raja’s home country of Pakistan, while others, such as Moroccan lamb tagine come from his travels – and, he says, often remind people of their own time visiting other places.

Business at Caravan Kebab was good prior to the pandemic, something notable in an industry where few restaurants last as long as it has. Throughout the last year, Raja saw his community and regulars he had built up over the last dozen years do their best to support the restaurant during the pandemic. But a lot of his customers were older, and safety concerns have made it harder for them to get in to eat or pick up food. He hopes that Steves’ show highlighted Caravan to a new group of people.

“We were on the edge,” Raja says of the struggle during Covid restrictions. “We weren’t making money, but we didn’t give up.” With the added bump from Steves, he remains even more resolute that he won’t.

When Steves heard about the customers heading to Caravan Kebab after seeing it on his show, he saw an opportunity to help out the community. Though he has mostly enjoyed cooking for himself while at home, he saw the opportunity to encourage his 10,000 weekly viewers to get out and support the struggling restaurant industry.

While the plan is just hatching, the team that produces “Monday Night Travel” says they are “extremely excited to start emphasizing the importance of supporting local businesses.”

As for Caravan Kebab, Raja is reinvigorated in the kitchen and remains excited to continue his mission to “provide good and different food,” to his customers. “I traveled a lot, and I will again,” he says. With each trip, he adds new dishes to the menu and tweaks the old ones, and he’s already dreaming of his next potential destinations: Central America, Jerusalem, Al-Jazira, and Malta.

To find out more about Caravan Kebab in Edmonds – head over to their website – and enjoy the flavors of the East!

Original Article By Naomi Tomky, Special to the Seattle P-I