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K ABUL

100 KABUL •• Eating

have come and gone in Kabul; this one has stayed the course. Tables are easily laden with mezze like houmous, tabouleh and Lebanese salad, making it easy to fill up before hitting the grill for your main. At the end of your meal, you can relax by smoking a shisha, per- fect in the garden in the warmer months.

Shandiz (Map p80 ; x07079 9342 928; Street 10, Wazir

Akbar Khan; meals from US$4; h10am-9pm) Opposite

the domestic Ariana office, Shandiz serves Iranian food in pleasant surrounds. The chelo morgh (chicken and rice with berries) is as good as in any Persian restaurant.

Haji Baba (Map p85 ; Charahi Torabaz Khan, Shahr-e Nau; meals from US$7; h11am-9pm) Run by a gen-

ial Afghan, the food here bridges the gap between Persian and Herati food. The sur- roundings are brisk and simple, not that the many locals passing through seem to mind. They’re here for bowls of thick chicken shorwa (soup) and plates of moist kebabs, king of which is maheecha, a sublime oven- baked leg of lamb. Be sure to leave room for dessert.

WESTERN

Popolano (Map p85 ; x070 288116; Charahi Ansari; meals from US$5; h9am-10pm) Popolano offered

Kabul’s first post-Taliban pizza, and is still going strong. The fickle expat dining scene means it hasn’t been trendy for several years and it gets a correspondingly decent Afghan crowd, but we still like its strong blend of pizza and pasta, served in something ap- proaching a bistro.

La Cantina (Map p85 ; x079 8271 915; off Butcher

St, Shahr-e Nau; dishes from 330Afg; h11.30am-3pm,

6pm-late Tue-Sun, closed winter) There’s a full range of Tex-Mex food on offer here, with great plates of nachos, burritos and bowls of chilli – tick off your choices on the menu sheet and present it to the waiter to order. Dining is al fresco, with the traditional Afghan court- yard garden pressed into service as a half- decent pueblo substitute (hence the dining season is restricted to the warmer months). Alcohol is served.

Le Bistro (Map p85 ; x079 9598 852; off Chicken St; mains US$5-12; h8am-10pm) In a pleasant

Kabuli house, this French restaurant has its own bakery attached, making the con- tinental breakfast (US$10) a treat of bread, pastry and croissants. Evening meals are good, even if the servings are a little on the small side. Carpets and paintings festoon

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the walls, and there are regular art shows and sales on site.

Vila Velebita (Map p85 ; x079 9160 368; Street 10, Wazir Akbar Khan; pizzas from US$8, mains from US$12;

h10am-10pm) The name of this restaurant seems to confound many Afghans, but it’s actually named for a famous Croatian na- tionalist song. The quality of the food is high, with wood-oven pizzas, and a mix of pasta, steak and seafood, but the price tag is equally steep, especially if you throw in a bottle of Croatian wine.

Red Hot Sizzlin’ (Map p80 ; x079 9838 646; ARC

Yuksel Camp, Old Microrayon; meals from US$9; h11am-

9pm) Slightly out of the way, this restaurant is the place to go if you are after a steak, American-style. It’s all Tex-Mex here, with juicy T-bones, piles of fries and a cold one to wash it all down.

Carlitos (Map p85 ; x079 9159 697; Heetal Hotel,

Street 15, Wazir Akbar Khan; buffet US$12; h10am-10pm)

Carlitos touts itself as Kabul’s best Mexican restaurant, and not happy with that crown, it then goes on to attempt Lebanese, Indian and anything else it can think of. It’s at its best in the summer, when the Thursday and Friday buffet and barbeque comes into play. With a bar attached, it’s deservedly popular.

Café Zarnegar (Map p93 ; x079 9654 000, ext

4553; Kabul Serena Hotel, Jad-e Froshgah; brunch

US$31; h6.30am-10pm) If you’re in need of a splurge, come here from 11am for Friday brunch. There’s a huge buffet with every- thing from tremendous salads and burgers through to sushi (yes, sushi), plus some Afghan dishes to remind you what country you’re in if the surrounding glitz makes you forget.

Quick Eats

Any chaikhana you visit will be able to serve you up pulao or a plate of kebabs for less than 80Afg. There are plenty of good meat and chicken kebab-style places between Shahr-e Nau Park and Charahi Haji Yaqub, interspersed with ice cream and juice bars. More fun still is to explore the mobile street food stalls that spring up on busy market streets – there are good clusters on the west- ern edge of Shahr-e Nau Park, and in the markets around Pul-e Khishti bridge. For less than 50Afg you can fill up on a pile of bolani, samosas and bowls of shor nakhod (chickpeas with mint).

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Serena Pastry Shop (Map p93 ; x079 9654 000, ext

4560; Kabul Serena Hotel, Jad-e Froshgah; h7am-10pm)

All the delicious pastries you could ever want are here, in plush and polished sur- roundings. If your great aunt ever comes to Kabul, bring her here.

French Bakery (Map p85 ; Jad-e Torabaz Khan; cakes

from 25Afg) A tiny shop opposite the Kabul Bank, this is a great place for a mid-morning bite, with some heavenly banana cakes and brownies. They’re a little dry by the end of the day; we’re not sure if this is a product of the genuine ‘Frenchised’ baking process advertised.

Chief Burger (Map p85 ; Cinema Zainab Rd, oppo-

site Shahr-e Nau Park; meals from 80Afg; h9am-9pm)

Western fast food, Afghan-style. This place is heaving at lunchtime, with local workers and students (there’s a ‘family lounge’ for women). There are burgers, pizzas and a great tandoori chicken, served on nan with fries. Quick, tasty and filling.

Flower Street Café (Map p80 ; x070 293124;

Street 7, Qala-e Fatullah; snacks from US$4; h8am-

5pm) The name is momentarily confusing, as this café is nowhere near Flower St. It’s worth finding though, as it does some great sandwiches and burgers served in a flowery garden, with cake for afters. Alternatively they’ll deliver your lunch to your door, but that means you’ll miss out on the great smoothies and cappuccinos.

Everest Pizza (Map p80 ; x079 9317 979; Street 13 Wazir Akbar Khan; pizzas from US$5; h9am-9pm)

There’s some argument about the best pizza in Kabul, but this place consistently turns out the goods. Tasty sauce, a good variety of toppings and the all important takeaway/ home delivery option.

Markets & Self-Catering

For fresh produce, the best place to go is the Mandayi Market around Pul-e Khishti mosque (Map p93 ) – either side of the river you’ll find endless stalls selling fruit, vegetables, bread and even wheelbarrows full of cows’ hooves. Around Shahr-e Nau, you’re more restricted to the always-mov- ing handcarts, piled high with fruit and veg, but there are plenty of corner shops for dried goods. Flower Street (Map p85 ) Where the souvenir

shops of Chicken St end, the grocery stores of Flower St begin, piled high with every- thing you might need from cornflakes to

KABUL •• Drink ing 101

maple syrup. Interspersed with these there are some lovely bakeries, places selling pirated DVDs, and the flower shops that give the street its name – most likely piling the petals on to highly-decorated wedding cars.

Chelsea Supermarket (Map p85 ; Jad-e Torabaz Khan)

The biggest (and dare we say most expen- sive?) supermarket selling imported food and toiletries in Kabul. It’s handy though, and has just installed an ATM. Who can argue with its proud motto over the door: ‘Be happy all the time’?

Supreme PX (Jalalabad Rd, h8.30am-5pm) The

best established of the military PX stores, every expat winds up here from time to time. There is a huge range of imported goods and food, hidden behind the most extreme security you have ever seen at a supermarket.

DRINKING

Bars

The availability of alcohol is a perennial topic of discussion in Kabul. During re- search it was officially ‘banned’, leading to its disappearance from the PX stores, and a price hike for all the places serving it. The authorities seemed happy enough with this clampdown, but be aware that changing do- mestic politics could quickly lead to the bars and restaurants we’ve listed here running very dry.

L’Atmosphere (Map p85 ; x079 9300 264; Street 4,

Qala-e Fatullah; h10am-late; s) It’s a restaur ant, but not so many people come to ‘Latmo’ for the food. Especially in the summer when the pool is full, this is a bar pure and sim- ple, and the most popular expat joint in town. On Thursday nights you could be forgiven for thinking you’re back at the university bar, as the place fills up with the young and beautiful (and single) side of the aid worker scene. It’s certainly fun, but we’re not sure if it’s Afghanistan at all, and it’ll leave your head spinning in more ways than one.

Hare & Hounds (Map p85 ; in the Gandamack Lodge,

Charahi Sherpur; h6pm-late) This bar gives you a geographic jolt in a completely different way: an English pub shipped lock, stock and barrel to Kabul, all the way down to the beer mats and dart board. It’s as cosy as you’d hope; if it had real ale on tap, we’d be in heaven.

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