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60 FOOD & DRINK •• Staples & Specialities


 Afghan meals are usually eaten from a communal dish. Always eat, offer and accept food with your right hand – never your left.

 Don’t hesitate to ask for cutlery if you’re having trouble getting rice from hand to mouth.

 Always remove your shoes before entering the dining area in a private home, or sitting on the floor in a chaikhana (teahouse).

 Don’t point the soles of your feet at diners when seated on the floor.

 Beware of accepting food from Afghans who may not be able to afford it – they may only be offering out of hospitality. If the offer is meaningful you’ll be asked three times, at which point it’s fine to accept, but try not to eat the choicest morsels on the dish.

 Don’t eat too quickly – as soon as you finish, your host will stop eating too. Putting your right hand on your heart indicates you’ve had your fill.

 Never blow your nose during a meal (or in public if at all possible) as it’s very rude.

than the animal’s meat. You’ll most commonly encounter it diced and squeezed between cubes of lean meat in a kebab. These sikh kabab are eaten alongside a kofteh, a kebab of ground meat. Both come served with bread and raw onion, and a sprinkling of spice. Chapli kabab is eaten in the east and south, and is something akin to a Pashtun hamburger.


Street snacks are plentiful in Afghanistan, and if you’re eating mostly local food they’re a good way of breaking out of the standard routine of pulao and kebabs. They’re sold from mobile stands run by sellers called tabang wallah. Tastiest and most filling of all is boloni, a fried pancake stuffed with finely chopped vegetables. The commonest filling is potato with onion or greens (sabzi), although you can often find kadu (squash). Another popular dish is shor nakhod, stewed chickpeas with a mint sauce, samosas and falafel stuffed in nan with some salad. Mantu is also often sold by tabang wallahs as well as mahi (fish) deep-fried and sold in sheets of paper.

Desserts & Sweets

Afghans delight in their sweet tooth. Milk-based puddings like firni are popular, along with syrupy jalebi and a multitude of sticky pastries like


Local handmade bastani (ice cream), flavoured with rosewater or pis-

tachio is delicious, but can be a source of stomach problems (a factory making pasteurised ice cream recently opened in Herat).


Fresh fruit is one of the delights of any visit to Afghanistan. Marco Polo was one of the first Westerners to rhapsodise about the joys of sweet and juicy Afghan tarbuza (melons) that are grown in vast quantities across the north. The kharbuza (watermelons) are just as good. Kandahar is famous for its fat anaar (pomegranates), Bamiyan for its sib (apples) and the Shomali Plain for its many varieties of angur (grape). Tut (Mulber- ries) are grown everywhere, and are often sold dried as an instant energy food. Nuts are also very popular. Fruit is seasonal and arrives in waves as summer and autumn progresses.

FOOD & DRINK •• Drinks 61


There are few things more Afghan than drinking tea, or chai. The national drink is chai sabz (green tea), followed closely by chai siaa (black tea), both served scaldingly hot in small glasses. Chai is sweetened with heaps of sugar, or is served with a small dish of sweets. In Herat and some other places, chai is sucked through a ghand (sugar cube) in a manner similar to that in Iran. Green tea may sometimes be flavoured with cardamom. Bottled water is widely available, including locally bottled brands such

as Zalal and Cristal. Although water from springs and pump boreholes is generally good, you should never otherwise assume that water is safe to drink unless treated. As a rule, Afghans drink very little water, believing that tea is better for them – in winter many shun it altogether, convinced that it’s bad for their health. Fizzy drinks can also be found everywhere; Coca Cola opened a bottling plant in Kabul in 2006, a marker on Af- ghanistan’s path to the globalised economy. Fruit juices are very popular, including kela (banana) and aam (mango) when in season. These are often topped with cream and honey, and a few almonds. Alternatively, look for fresh lemonade, freshly pressed from tiny limu (lemons), and a sweetened spoonful of sugar. The availability of alcohol is a contentious subject. In the 1960s and ’70s there was small-scale local wine production using grapes from the Shomali Plain, but alcohol consumption has always been frowned upon. The Taliban crushed the contents of the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel’s wine cellar under their tank tracks, and it remains illegal for Afghans to drink. However, alcohol has been widely available in Kabul for the international community since the fall of the Taliban. A clampdown was announced in 2006 and supplies dried up, but seemed to be flowing fairly freely again as we went to press. In the north, alcohol smuggling from Uzbekistan – vodka and Russian Baltica beer – is a big business.


The chaikhana (teahouse) is the most common eatery in Afghanistan, in many cases doubling as a cheap sleeping house for travellers. There are usu- ally only one or two dishes on offer; if you just stick to these places you’ll quickly become tired of answering the ‘pulao or kabab?’ question. In larger towns, more formal restaurants broaden the range of Afghan dishes, and there are fast food joints selling local versions of burgers, chips and pizza. Kabul has a surprisingly broad range of international restaurants,

offering everything from Thai and Italian to Croatian. Take care if ask- ing directions to a Chinese restaurant, however – these have become synonymous with brothels.


Afghanistan isn’t a country designed for vegetarian travellers. Anyone who can afford to eat meat does, so the concept of voluntary vegetarianism is incomprehensible. Be prepared for a lot of self-catering, and enjoy the variety of Kabul’s eating scene between trips further afield. Dished served in chaikhanas will almost always include meat, whether it’s buried under a pulao or hidden in a bowl of qorma. If you ask to skip the meat, you’ll just get the same dish with the meat fished out. Eating street food brings a lot more variety, and you can usually find stalls sell- ing boloni, vegetable-filled samosas and the like. Few Afghans eat meat every day, even those who can afford to, so eating at someone’s house may bring up dishes like borani that are rarely served in restaurants. As an honoured guest however, you’ll still usually be offered meat.

The Mughal emperor Babur loved Afghan melons so much that he regularly had them shipped to India packed in crates of ice.

The Russians introduced tea to Afghanistan in the 19th century – previously only curds were drunk. They also left the word samovar (hot water urn), still boiling away in the corner of every chaikhana. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123
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