Spotlight on 9 of the Most Popular Afghan Dishes

While Afghan cuisine was relatively unknown outside of the country’s borders until fairly recently, anyone who has sampled some of Afghanistan’s exquisite traditional dishes would agree that Afghan food deserves a worldwide following. Drawing from the cultural influences of neighboring countries—including India, Persia (Iran), and Mongolia—Afghan cuisine is a rich and complex fusion of flavors that will make any food enthusiast’s mouth water. Read on to learn about nine of Afghanistan’s most popular—and delicious—traditional dishes.

 

  1. Kabuli Pulao

food

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At an Afghan table, nothing is more important than rice, and Kabuli Pulao is the classic way to prepare and serve it. Dubbed the “national dish of Afghanistan,” Kabuli Pulao is what Western foodies would recognize as pilaf: a delicious mixture of rice, spices, vegetables, nuts, and meat, usually lamb. While the dish varies greatly from one region to another, with different areas making use of their own local ingredients and cooking methods, they all prepare Kabuli Pulao with a slow, multi-step cooking process during which the rice develops a deep rich brown color and a beautifully caramelized flavor. In Afghanistan, young girls are taught to make Kabuli Pulao before marriage. Indeed, it’s said that a woman’s marriage prospects may depend on how well she prepares this dish.

 

  1. Mantu

Also known as manto or manti, these stuffed dumplings are a nod to Mongolia’s influence on Afghan cuisine (dumplings and noodles being major staples of Mongolian cooking). A popular street food in many Afghan cities, mantu are prepared from a filling of spiced ground meat and onions wrapped in a thin dough. The dumplings are then steamed, rather than fried, which gives them a lighter taste. They are often served with tomato and yogurt sauces on the side, or you can try them with qoroot, a special type of sour cheese.

 

  1. Ashak

Another traditional dumpling dish, this one hailing from Kabul, ashak uses meat as a topping rather than as a filling. Smaller than mantu dumplings, ashak dumplings are stuffed with gandana, a vegetable that resembles chives or scallions, and is served on a large platter topped with spiced minced meat, garlic yogurt sauce, and dried mint. Unlike many Afghan dishes, which usually have a fairly mild flavor, ashak can be quite spicy. Since dumplings can be time-consuming to make, ashak is not usually prepared as an everyday meal, but instead is reserved for important holidays such as Eid and Ramadan.

 

  1. Bolani

This delicious stuffed vegetarian flatbread is a classic example of the central role that bread plays in Afghan cuisine. Also known as peraki (or poraki), bolani’s stuffing is made of hearty vegetables such as pumpkin, potatoes, and lentils, with chives and leeks adding flavor. The stuffing is encased in a light, thin dough, almost like a sandwich, and the dish is baked or fried until crisp. Bolani is often eaten as a quick snack or served alongside other main courses.

 

  1. Kebab

Lamb or mutton is the most common type of meat served in Afghanistan, and Afghan cooks are experts at preparing it, often marinating it for hours to ensure maximum tenderness and flavor. The best way to consume Afghan lamb is as a kebab. Chunks of marinated lamb meat, often still on the bone, are threaded onto long metal skewers and grilled over a charcoal fire. The slow cooking process enables the meat to melt in your mouth. Rice, naan, and a special Afghan green sauce comprised of garlic, lime juice, and chilies are common accompaniments.

 

  1. Kofta

Kofta is another delicious way to consume lamb in Afghanistan. In this dish, ground lamb is used rather than whole chunks: the minced meat is flavored with spices, onions, and garlic, and shaped into small patties or meatballs. They are then fried and served over rice with tomato-yogurt sauce.

 

  1. Qormas

quormas

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Also known as kormas, the Indian version of these creamy stews will be familiar to most Westerners. Afghan qormas are prepared from a base of fried onion and garlic to which cooks add tomatoes, chickpeas, vegetables, meat, dried fruit, and yogurt, as desired. Qormas are often thickened with a nut puree, which gives them their distinctive smooth and creamy texture, and they usually have a sweeter flavor.

 

  1. Roat

While Afghan cuisine tends to focus more on the savory rather than the sweet, there are still many delicious examples of Afghan baking and desserts, and roat is one of the most common. A dense, crumbly cake, flavored with cardamom and only lightly sweetened, roat is a cross between a savory quick bread and a sweet cake that is often served for breakfast or with afternoon tea. Roat is traditionally made in the shape of a large oval, sprinkled with nigella seeds and served sliced into diamonds.

 

  1. Sheer Payra

Another example of an excellent Afghan sweet dish is sheer payra, Afghanistan’s answer to fudge. This mouthwatering confection is prepared with the traditional Afghan flavorings of rosewater and pistachios, along with cardamom and other nuts. Since milk and sugar, the main ingredients in sheer payra, are at a premium in Afghanistan, the dish is usually only prepared for special occasions including Eid, weddings, and birth celebrations, as well as for honored guests.

Fascinating Facts About Afghanistan’s Most Famous Poet You Need to Know

Of all the threads that make up the tapestry of Afghanistan’s rich culture, poetry is one of the most important. The history of poetry in Afghanistan dates back thousands of years; even today, Afghans live and breathe poetry in a way that few other people do.

While Afghanistan has produced countless powerful and passionate poets over the centuries, none are more famous than Rumi. He was a 13th-century poet and theologian who continues to fascinate readers all over the world more than 700 years after his death.

There is some debate around which nation or country Rumi “belongs” to – his exact birthplace is not known, with some scholars saying it was in present-day Afghanistan and others claiming it was present-day Tajikistan. He also spent much of his life in in present-day Turkey. Regardless, Afghans have always held him in their hearts as their own beloved poet. Read on for fascinating facts about this legendary figure.

 

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

By İncelemeelemani – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32889117

 

He came from a long line of preachers.

Rumi’s father and grandfather were both well-known Muslim preachers and Sunni jurists. Baha Valad, Rumi’s father, often led prayers at the local mosque, and was very disciplined about following religious rules and regulations. He was also deeply influenced by Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam that Rumi himself strongly identified with in his later years (in addition to his poetry, Rumi wrote several works of Sufi philosophy).

 

He reportedly saw angels as a boy.

After the poet’s death in 1273, many stories about his childhood and early life began to emerge, including the report that he had visions of angels as a small boy. While these episodes agitated the young Rumi, his father reassured him by saying that the angels appeared to him in order to offer favors. Many scholars view stories like these as a valuable clue to the interest in religion, spirituality, and poetic imagination that Rumi would become known for.

 

 

He spent much of his life away from his homeland.

Around the year 1210, Rumi’s father made the decision to move the family away from the town where Rumi was born, likely in response to the imminent invasion of Genghis Khan’s armies. After this move, Rumi never saw his homeland again.

Instead, he spent much of his life as a migrant, moving with his family through Uzbekistan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and finally Turkey, where he lived for the last 50 years of his life. This experience exposed Rumi to a wide variety of languages and religious traditions. It also contributed to his embrace of the impermanence of things, which is reflected in much of his poetry.

 

One of his most important relationships was with his great teacher Shams of Tabriz.

By the time he was in his late thirties, Rumi was settled in Konya, Turkey. Despite being known as a respected jurist, scholar, and preacher, he wasn’t wholly satisfied with his life. It is at this point that he met Shams of Tabriz, a mystic and a religious seeker.

The two fell immediately into philosophical conversation, and each recognized a kindred spirit in the other. Over the next three years, the two men pursued what scholars describe as an “electric friendship,” during which time Shams of Tabriz introduced Rumi to the idea of considering music and poetry spiritual practices.

 

Rumi’s poetry was sparked by Shams’ disappearance.

The friendship between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz was counter to the social norms of the time and was a source of great strain for Rumi’s family and community. After their period of closeness, Shams of Tabriz disappeared from Rumi’s life. Scholars are still uncertain whether Shams left of his own volition or whether he was killed, possibly by a jealous son of Rumi’s. Whatever the reason behind Shams’ disappearance, Rumi turned to poetry in order to cope with his grief and suffering.

 

Much of Rumi’s poetry is regarded as a fusion of the sensual and the devotional.

Perhaps not surprisingly given that they are rooted in the loss of a beloved friend and spiritual teacher, Rumi’s poems often mix sensual and religious themes and imagery. His most famous work, the Mathanvi (also known as the Masnavi), is a spiritual epic – a six-book mystical poem that attempts to teach followers of Sufism how to become one with God. His thousands of other poems (including ghazals, or lyrical rhymed poems, and robaiyat, or four-line rhyming poems) explore both earthly and spiritual passion.

 

Rumi is credited with creating the dance of the whirling dervishes.

The dance of the whirling dervishes is a unique form of religious ceremony in which Sufis aim to connect to God by listening to spiritual music and spinning in circles. According to legend, this practice can be traced back to Rumi, who heard the rhythmic sound of metalworkers striking their hammers as he walked through a marketplace one day. At the same time, the workers were chanting “La ilaha ilallah” (or “There is no god but Allah”), and Rumi was so overcome with joy that he reached out his arms and began spinning in a circle.

Spotlight on the Most Important Holidays That Afghans Celebrate

Afghans enjoy celebrating their national holidays. For people across the country—and, indeed, for members of the Afghan diaspora around the world—traditional holidays are observed with great enthusiasm, bringing together family, friends, neighbors, and entire communities in joyous celebration. Read on for a closer look at some of Afghanistan’s most important holidays and festivals.

 

Nowruz

Perhaps the most popular and lavishly celebrated holiday in Afghanistan is Nowruz. Literally translated as “new day,” Nowruz is the Persian New Year, a day of rebirth and renewal which originated from the Zoroastrian tradition. Zoroastrianism is a Persian religion which was prevalent long before the rise of Islam. Due to this connection, Nowruz was officially banned in Afghanistan during its years of fundamentalist rule, although many Afghans continued to hold secret celebrations.

 

Nowruz

Image by alisamii | Flickr

 

Nowruz, which occurs on March 21, the vernal equinox, is celebrated across the Middle East and Central Asia with music, dancing, and, above all, feasting. Some of the special traditional dishes prepared for Nowruz include samanak, a sweet dessert paste made of wheat and sugar that can take two days to prepare, and haft-mehwah, a dish comprised of seven dried fruits and nuts—almonds, pistachios, walnuts, red and green raisins, apricots, and the Afghan fruit called sanjit—that symbolize the coming of spring. Given that community is at the heart of Nowruz celebrations, Afghans always cook more food than usual for this holiday so that they are able to offer hospitality to unexpected guests.

 

Eid al-Fitr

Eid al-Fitr is the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. One of Islam’s most sacred traditions, Ramadan is a month of ritual fasting associated with the lunar calendar during which most Muslims (except for children, the elderly, the sick, and pregnant women) do not eat from dawn till dusk. In addition, many businesses, particularly restaurants, are closed during the month-long observance. It’s not hard to imagine, therefore, that an event marking the end of this period would be quite the party, and that is indeed the case. The celebration of Eid al-Fitr lasts for about three days, and involves congregational prayers in mosques, visits to friends and relatives, games, gifts of new clothes (especially for children), and of course, plenty of feasting. Since it is based on the lunar calendar, the timing of Eid al-Fitr, and indeed of Ramadan itself, varies by about 11 or 12 days every year.

 

Eid-e-Qurban or Eid al-Adha

Another important Muslim holiday in Afghanistan is Eid-e-Qurban or Eid al-Adha. Celebrated during the 12th month of the Muslim (lunar) calendar, Eid-e-Qurban marks the preparation for the hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca that all observant Muslims with the necessary physical and financial ability are obliged to make at least once in their lifetime. During the feast of Eid-e-Qurban, animals such as sheep, goats, and sometimes camels are sacrificed in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice of a sheep, instead of his son Isaac, according to Allah’s command. One-third of the sacrificed animal is used by the family, one-third is given to relatives, and the remainder is given to those in need. Friends also give and receive presents during Eid-e-Qurban.

 

Mawlud-un Nabi

The holiday is a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (note, however, that not all denominations of Islam observe this day). For those denominations that do observe it, Mawlud-un Nabi is celebrated with prayer, stories of the Prophet’s birth, life, teachings, and wisdom, and the decoration of mosques and buildings with colorful pennants and bright lights. In addition, Mawlud-un Nabi is an important time for charity, with affluent Muslims making generous charitable donations.

 

Ashura

The Islamic month of Muharram is a period of mourning in memory of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, around the year 680 AD. Ashura, which is held on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, is a day of fasting that marks the climax of the mourning period.

 

Ashura

Image by Ninara | Flickr

 

Jeshyn-Afghan Day or Independence Day

Held annually on August 19, Afghanistan’s Independence Day commemorates the signing of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, which restored full independence to Afghanistan after its years as a British protectorate. The day is a source of great pride for Afghans and an opportunity to remember a time when Afghans fought for independence with a shared vision of unity and prosperity. Many people celebrate the holiday by visiting galleries, attending poetry readings, or taking part in other activities that celebrate Afghanistan’s culture and heritage.

 

Labor Day

Celebrated on May 1 along with many other countries around the world, Labor Day is a holdover from the Soviet era in Afghanistan. Many Afghans consider it a valuable occasion to draw attention to the plight of unemployed Afghans and to advocate for better and safer working conditions for the country’s laborers.