has a wide varying landscape allowing for many different crops. Afghan food is largely based upon the nation's chief crops: cereals like wheat
. Accompanying these staples are dairy products (yogurt
), various nuts, and native vegetables, and fresh and dried fruits; Afghanistan is well known for its grapes
. Afghanistan's culinary specialties reflect its ethnic and geographic diversity and has similarities with neighboring Iran
, and Turkmenistan
Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic nation; over 16 different ethnicities inhabit the country. Three major ethnic groups have formed modern Afghan cuisine: the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, and Turkic groups such as the Uzbeks.
Although Afghan food may vary between regions, similarities exist. Fresh yogurt, cilantro, garlic, onions, scallions, tomatoes, potatoes, and fruit are widely available in all parts of Afghanistan and are used in preparing foods. Fruits, fresh and dried form an important part of the Afghan diet, especially in the rural areas. Afghanistan produces exceptionally high quality fruits, notably grapes, pomegranates, apricots, berries, and plums. These fruits have traditionally been Afghanistan's main food exports. Dried nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and pine nuts are very popular in Afghanistan and plentiful. Exceptional varieties of oranges, known locally as "Malta" are grown in the warm climate of Nangarhar province. Olive oil is also produced in Nangarhar province but for local and national consumption only. Herb and spices used in Afghan cuisine include mint, saffron, coriander, cilantro, cardamom, and black pepper. Lamb and chicken are the preferred meats. When available, meat is widely consumed. Afghan cuisine emphasizes well-balanced tastes. Food should be seasoned but neither too spicy nor hot. Contrasts are emphasized.
Kabul influence on Afghan cuisine
Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is a multi-ethnic city and has always been so. As the seat of government for the Pashtun
Afghan kings, food was an important part of royal life. Chefs were commissioned from all over the empire and places afar. They are credited for creating a myriad of dishes, blending different styles and in the process creating the best examples of true Afghan cooking. Their creations include exotic kormas, palaos, sumptious rice dishes, desserts, and other creative items. These royal chefs passed down their art to aristocrat denizens of Kabul, they in turn to others. Several attempts were made to record the arts of the royal chefs. Two such publications have been published. The first one, published in Afghanistan in the early 1900s recorded the ingredients and cooking styles of Afghanistan's monarchy. The second, called Aushpazi
, by Wali Zikria, published in the United States in English, during the early 1990s, was essentially the cookbook of one of Afghanistan's royal houses.
Known as the destarkhan or sofrah, the table spread is an important expression of culture in Afghanistan. Regardless of economic status, creating an adequate destarkhan is important to any family, especially when having guests. A large cloth will most likely be spread over a traditional rug in the living area or on a formal dining table. Most likely a young member of the family will present a "aftabah wa lagan", a copper basin and elaborate pot filled with water for the household to wash their hands in. He or she will go around the destarkhan to each member, pour water over the hands. Soap is provided, as is a drying cloth. The destarkhan is then dutifully filled with breads, accompaniments, relishes, appetizers, main courses, salads, rice, and fruits. Arrangement of foods is important when having guests; they must have easy access to the specialty foods. Young children are taught how to spread a good destarkhan and will be busy helping their parents.
Breads and accompaniment
There are mainly three types of Afghan bread
- Naan - Literally "bread". Thin, long and oval shaped, its mainly a white/whole wheat blend. Topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nigella seeds, or some combination of these. Upon request, customers may be able to get all white flour and helping of oil, which makes it rich and delicious.
- Obi Non - Uzbek-style bread. Shaped like a disc and thicker than naan. Usually made with white flour.
- Lavash - Very thin bread. Similar to the Lavash elsewhere. Usually used as plating for meats and stews.
- Torshi - Various pickled fruits (i.e., peaches) and vegetables (eggplant, garlic, lemon) mixed with vinegar and spices.
- Chatney - Pepper sauces. Usually made with vinegar, fresh cilantro, chili peppers, and sometimes tomato paste.
Rice dishes are the "king" of all foods in Afghanistan. The Afghans have certainly taken much time and effort in creating their rice dishes, as they are considered the best part of any meal. Wealthier families will eat one rice dish per day. The Afghan royalty spent much time on rice preparation and invention as evidenced in the sheer number of rice dishes in their cookbooks. Weddings and family gatherings must feature several rice dishes and certainly reputations can be made in the realm of rice preparation. The types of rice prepared are outlined below.
White rice. Extra long grains such as Basmati is required. First parboiled, then drained, and finally baked in an oven with some oil, butter, and salt. This method creates a fluffy rice with each grain separated. Unlike Chinese or Japanese rice. Chalow is served mainly with qormas (stews or casseroles)
Qorma is a stew or casserole, served with chalow. Most qormas are onion-based. Onions are fried, meat is added, as are fruits, spices, and vegetables. Finally water is added and left to simmer. The onion 'crystallizes' and creates a richly colored stew. There exist over 100 qormas. Below are some exceptional examples.
- Qorma Alou-Bokhara wa Dalnakhod - onion based, with sour plums, lentils, and cardamom. Veal or chicken.
- Qorma Nadroo - onion based, with yogurt, lotus roots, cilantro, and coriander. Lamb or veal.
- Qorma Lawand - onion based, with yogurt, tumeric, and cilantro. Chicken, lamb, or beef.
- Qorma Sabzi - sauteed spinach and other greens. Lamb
- Qorma Shalgham - onion based, with turnips, sugar; sweet and sour taste. Lamb.
Cooked the same as chalow, but either meat & stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination are blended in before the baking process. This creates elaborate colors, flavors, and aromas for which some rices are named after. Examples include:
- Yakhni Palao - meat & stock added. Creates a brown rice
- Qaboli Palao - The national dish, meat & stock added, topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, pistachios.
- Zamarod Palao - Spinach qorma mixed in before the baking process, hence 'zamarod' or emerald.
- Qorma Palao - Qorm'eh Albokhara wa Dalnakhod mixed in before the baking process
- Bore Palao - Qorm'eh Lawand added. Creates a yellow rice.
- Bonjan-e-Roomi Palao - Qorm'eh Bonjan-e-Roomi (tomato qorma) added at baking process. Creates a red rice.
- Serkah Palao - Similar to yakhni palao, but with vinegar and other spices.
- Shebet Palao - Fresh dill, raisins added at baking process.
- Narenj Palao - A sweet and elaborate rice dish made with saffron, orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken.
- Maash Palao - A sweet and sour palao baked with mung beans, apricots, and Bulgur (a kind of wheat). Exclusively vegetarian.
- Alou Balou Palao - Sweet rice dish with cherries and chicken.
Boiled medium grain rice cooked with its meat, herbs, and grains. Because the water is not drained, it forms a sticky rice texture. Notable dishes include Mastawa, Kecheri Qoroot, and Shola. When white rice is cooked to a sticky consistency it is called bata, and is usually eaten with a qorma, such as Sabzi (spinach) or Shalgham (turnips).
Pasta is called "khameerbob" in Afghanistan and is exclusively in the shape of dumplings. These native dishes are wildly popular. Due to the time-consuming process of creating the dough for the dumplings, it's rarely served at large gathering such as weddings, but for more special occasions at home.
- Mantu - Uzbek dish. Dumplings filled with onion & ground beef. Steamed and topped with spicy tomato-oil sauce and garlic-coriander qoroot. Qoroot (yogurt cheese) is similar to yogurt but is saltier, thicker, and has a more pronounced sour taste than yogurt. Sometimes a qoroot and yogurt mixture will be used.
- Ashak - Kabul dish. Dumplings filled with leeks. Boiled and then drained. Ashak is topped with garlic-mint qoroot and a well seasoned ground meat mixture.
Each family or village will have its own version of mantu and ashak, which creates a wide variety of dumplings.
Afghan kabobs are most often found in restaurants and outdoor vendor stalls. Families rarely serve homemade kabob in their home due to the need of inaccessible equipment. The most widely used meat is lamb. Recipes differ with every restaurant, but Afghan kabob is usually spiced with salt only, and served with naan, rarely rice. Customers have the option to sprinkle sumac
, locally known as "ghora", on their kabob. Kabob quality is solely dependent on the quality of the meat. Pieces of fat from the sheep's tail (jijeq) are usually added with the lamb skewers to add extra flavor. Other popular kabobs include lamb chops, ribs, kofta (ground beef) and chicken; all of which are found in better restaurants. Chapli kabob, a specialty of eastern Afghanistan, is a spicy fried hamburger. The original recipe of chapli kabob dictates a half meat (or less), half flour mixture, which renders it lighter in taste, and less expensive.
Afghan food items