The most important tip I can give you on Afghanistan local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Afghanistan, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in
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 a 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. 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. Chalao-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. Chalao is served mainly with qormas (korma; stews or casseroles) PalaoCooked the same as chalao, 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. Caramelized sugar is also sometimes used to give the rice a rich brown color.
Yakhni Palao – meat & stock added. Creates a brown rice 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. Sticky Rices -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). A sweet rice dish called Shir Birenj (literally milk rice) is often served as dessert. Qorma is a stew or casserole, usually served with chawol. Most qormas are onion-based. Onions are fried, then meat is added, as are a variety of fruits, spices, and vegetables depending on the recipe. Finally water is added and left to simmer. The onion caramelizes and creates a richly colored stew. There exist over 100 qormas. 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, turmeric, 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. Pasta is called “khameerbob” in Afghanistan and is often 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 is rarely served at large gatherings such as weddings, but for more special occasions at home: Mantu – A dish of Uzbek origin. Dumplings filled with onion & ground beef. Mantu is steamed and usually topped with a tomato-based sauce and a yogurt or qoroot-based sauce. The yogurt-based topping is usually a mixture of yogurt, sour cream, and garlic.
The qoroot based sauce is made of goat cheese and is also mixed with garlic. Sometimes a qoroot and yogurt mixture will be used. The dish is then topped with dried mint. Ashak – Kabul dish. Dumplings filled with leeks. Boiled and then drained. Ashak is topped with garlic-mint qoroot or a garlic yogurt sauce and a well seasoned ground meat mixture. Afghan kebab is most often found in restaurants and outdoor vendor stalls. Sometimes they are put into shishas. Families rarely serve homemade kebab in their home due to the need of inaccessible equipment.
The most widely used meat is lamb. Recipes differ with every restaurant, but Afghan kebab is usually marinated with a blend of spices, and served with naan, rarely rice. Customers have the option to sprinkle sumac, locally known as ghora, on their kebab. The quality of kebab 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 kebabs include lamb chops, ribs, kofta (ground beef) and chicken; all of which are found in better restaurants. Chapli kebab, a speciality of eastern Afghanistan, is a fried hamburger.
The original recipe of chapli kebab dictates a half meat (or less), half flour mixture, which renders it lighter in taste, and less expensive. Desserts and Snacks Baklava Afghan Cake (similar to pound cake sometimes with real fruit or jelly inside) Gosh Feel (thin, fried pastry covered in powdered sugar and ground pistachios) Fernea (Milk and cornstarch very sweet, similar to rice pudding without the rice) Mou-rubba (fruit sauce, sugar syrup and fruits, apple, sour cherry, various berries or made with dried fruits “Afghan favorite is the Alu-Bakhara”) Kulcha (Variety of cookies, baked in clay ovens with char-wood) Narenge Palau (dried sweet orange peel and green raisins with a variety of nuts mixed with yellow rice glazed with light sugar syrup)
What to Drink in Afghanistan
Since Afghanistan is an Islamic country, alcohol consumption is illegal. However, it is tolerated in western restaurants in Kabul.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.