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.

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

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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

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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.

DAI in Afghanistan – Spotlight on 5 Important Projects

A global company wholly owned by its employees, Development Alternatives, Inc. has been working to bring fresh ideas and alternatives to the field of international development since its incorporation in 1970. Known today simply as DAI, the company partners with development agencies, private corporations, national governments, and philanthropies to create and implement innovative solutions to social and economic development challenges in some of the world’s most vulnerable nations.

At present, DAI has more than 3,300 employees worldwide, and it has active projects in more than 80 countries. In Afghanistan, DAI works with international funders on a broad range of development projects, from agricultural initiatives to programs that support small businesses. Projects currently in progress include:

  1. The Regional Agricultural Development Program (RADP-East)

This initiative is focused on the agricultural sector in eastern Afghanistan. Farmers and agribusinesses in this part of the country could stand to benefit significantly from Afghanistan’s growing economy and expanded opportunities for international trade. However, many of them still face considerable challenges like unreliable irrigation, inadequate cultivation techniques, and a lack of knowledge about how to connect with new markets. All of these have a negative impact on productivity and profitability.

The RADP-East program aims to address these issues with a value chain facilitation strategy that uses value chain analysis and training initiatives to help improve crop yields and identify new markets where rural Afghan farmers can sell their harvests.

Sample activities conducted under RADP-East include conducting a rigorous evaluation of regional agricultural value chains; leveraging strategies like SMS marketing, radio publicity, and “farmer field day” initiatives to increase awareness of regional agribusiness and connect farmers to new buyers; and providing financial support to organizations that work with farmers to improve business management and operations practices, like farm service centers, agricultural depots, and grower associations.

Afghanistan farm

 

  1. The Agricultural Credit Enhancement Program (ACE)

For over 25 years, farmers in Afghanistan could not access agricultural credit, and this severely restricted the expansion of the farming sector. Under the auspices of the ACE program, DAI helps to manage a major international grant awarded to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock. It makes credit available to farmers during the farming season, with repayment due after the harvest.

A wide range of farming participants are eligible for these loans, including small commercial farmers, high-value crop producers, agricultural product processors and exporters, and agriculture-related businesses. The ACE program also offers technical assistance and support, as well as learning and advocacy initiatives around agricultural finance, to ensure that farmers who receive loans have the best possible chance of success.

  1. The Strong Hubs for Afghan Hope and Resilience Program (SHAHAR)

Afghanistan’s municipal governments will play a critical role in building civil society and providing a better future for Afghanistan in the years ahead. However, although many municipalities have improved over the last decade, few are currently performing at the level necessary to support their citizens during a time of ongoing change.

The SHAHAR program aims to change this by providing targeted financial assistance to municipal governments, municipal advisory boards, and Afghanistan’s General Directorate of Municipal Affairs (GDMA). This assistance specifically supports improvements to municipal financial management, citizen consultation, and service delivery in urban areas.

Additional activities include organizing national, regional, and district conferences where municipalities can share best practices and lessons learned as well as working with municipal officials to prepare and implement capacity building plans. SHAHAR’s central goal is to create well-governed, fiscally sustainable municipalities that are capable of meeting the needs of Afghanistan’s growing urban populations.

  1. The Assistance to Legislative Bodies of Afghanistan Program (ALBA)

Designed to help both of Afghanistan’s houses of Parliament increase their self-reliance, the ALBA program provides issue-based assistance, training, and capacity-building support to members of Parliament (MPs) and staff as they address current bills and policies.

This support aims to boost outreach work done by Parliament and increase dialogue between MPs, citizens, civil society, and media; enable parliamentary staff to enhance their work in the areas of budget analysis and legislative research; and improve Parliament’s capacity to serve as an effective and independent oversight body for the executive branch.

  1. The Assistance in Building Afghanistan by Development Enterprise Program (ABADE)

The ABADE program is focused on economic growth in Afghanistan. Specifically, its focus is on increasing domestic and foreign investment, stimulating employment, and increasing sales of Afghan products. There are three main components to ABADE.

The first is the provision of grants to small- and medium-sized businesses and business alliances. This financial support allows businesses to plan more effectively and to take calculated risks on innovative ideas. The second component is the provision of technical support and business advice to growing companies. The third aims to incite broader improvements to the business environment.

DAI’s involvement with ABADE falls under this third component. DAI works with partner businesses and alliances to identify specific regulatory and procedural barriers, then collaborates with relevant ministries to remove or ease those barriers.