7 Fun Facts about the Most Popular Beverage in Afghanistan

Few experiences are more quintessentially Afghan than the simple act of drinking tea. Black or green, plain or sweet, tea is widely (though unofficially) recognized as the national beverage of Afghanistan due to the important role it plays in daily life all over the country.

Feeling thirsty yet? Read on to learn some fascinating facts about Afghanistan’s most popular drink.

Afghans drink a lot of tea.

Believe it or not, Afghans drink more tea than anyone else in the world! According to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Afghanistan imported 299 million pounds of tea in 2012. This makes Afghanistan the world’s third largest importer of tea, surpassed only by Russia (close to 400 million pounds) and the UK (319 million pounds).

However, when you look at how many pounds of tea were imported per capita, Afghanistan takes the lead by an impressive margin, having imported nearly 10 pounds of tea per person, which is enough to brew over 1,500 cups of tea (by comparison, the UK imported just over five pounds per person). In other words, Afghanistan imports enough tea for every Afghan to drink four or five cups daily all year round!

Tea is strongly linked with Afghan hospitality.

One of the reasons why so much tea is consumed in Afghanistan is that the beverage is an essential element of Afghan hospitality. Afghans are an extremely hospitable people, and treating guests with generosity and honor is considered to be a reflection of personal reputation. Offering tea is one of the most important ways that this hospitality is demonstrated.

If you are ever a guest in an Afghan home, you will always be offered tea: this is a sign of the host’s respect for you, just as your acceptance of the offer is a sign of your respect for your host. You can then expect to have your cup constantly refilled throughout your visit. To politely signal to your host that you have had enough, you can turn your cup upside down, or you can cover it with your hand and thank them.

Tea can be made and served in a variety of vessels.

In many businesses and households, tea is brewed in large traditional kettles or urns known as samovars: these vessels keep a large supply of tea hot and ready all day. As for serving, different types of cups may be used depending on where you are.

If you are in an urban household, such as a home in Kabul, your tea may be served in Western style teacups. In other places, vessels used to serve tea include small, short glasses called istakhan, or porcelain bowls without handles, known as piala, that are similar to Chinese tea bowls.

Tea can be sweetened or unsweetened.

In Afghanistan, tea is drunk with and without sugar, and you will usually be served both sweetened and unsweetened tea as a guest in an Afghan home. For example, it is a typical Afghan custom for the first cup of tea offered to a guest to be heavily sweetened: this sweet tea is known as chai shireen, and the more sugar the cup contains, the greater the honor shown to the guest.

It’s then usual for the next cup of tea to be served without sugar; this plain tea is called chai talkh. When having tea in their own homes or in cafes, Afghans often dip lumps of sugar called qand in their tea, and then hold these lumps in their mouths as they sip rather than placing them directly in the cup.

Tea is often served with particular foods.

In addition to being offered tea in an Afghan home, you will also be offered food, usually the best that the household has to offer. Some typical foods that are served with tea when entertaining guests include shirnee, which are sweet candies that are similar to toffee; noql, which are sugar-coated almonds, pistachios, or chickpeas; and kulcha, which are biscuits or pastries that may be made at home or purchased from local bakeries.

A special kind of tea is prepared for formal occasions.

While ordinary green and black tea is consumed on a daily basis in Afghanistan, formal occasions often involve the preparation of a special kind of tea known as qymaq chai. To make this tea, green tea is brewed, and then bicarbonate of soda is added, which turns the tea a dark red color. To finish the tea, milk and sugar are added, and the beverage becomes purple-pink in color. Qymaq chai has a strong, rich taste, and is often prepared for events such as engagements and weddings.

You can make one of the most popular kinds of Afghan tea at home (kahwah tea).

The most popular kind of everyday tea consumed in Afghanistan is known as kahwah tea, and it’s easy to make at home, wherever you are. It’s a traditional combination of green tea, cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron, and every family will usually have their own version of the recipe. To make it yourself, add the spices to water and bring to a boil; then add the green tea and let steep. To serve, sweeten with either sugar or honey.

Spotlight on the Bayat Foundation’s Families in Need Program

Dedicated to the education, wellbeing, and health of Afghanistan’s people, the Bayat Foundation strives to help Afghans flourish irrespective of gender, ethnicity, age, religion, or marital status. The foundation was established with the aim of unlocking the potential of every man, woman, and child through a variety of national and regional initiatives.

In this article, we look at the impact of the Bayat Foundation’s Families in Need campaign, which addresses the unique challenges of Afghan families in some of the country’s most remote communities.

The Bayat Foundation supports at-risk families

The Bayat Foundation

Through Bayat Family funds, support from partner NGOs throughout Afghanistan, and the generous support of its patrons, the Bayat Foundation has established numerous campaigns designed to improve the standards of living and prospects for tens of thousands of Afghan families.

In the winter of 2008-09, the Bayat Foundation initiated a Winter Aid program, providing life-saving aid packages containing flour, blankets, and oil to at-risk households throughout many provinces, including Kabul, Sar-e-pul, Faryab, Badakhshan, and Khost.

The Bayat Foundation provided Ramadan assistance in response to COVID-19

As part of its activities to counter the spread of the virus and reduce the negative economic and societal impact, the Bayat Foundation coordinated the distribution of food and essential items across Afghanistan throughout the month of Ramadan.

The packages provided aid to vulnerable families to numerous Afghan provinces, delivering essential items to thousands of displaced workers and their families at a time of unprecedented need.

The Bayat Foundation was founded by Dr. Ehsan Bayat and Mrs. Fatema Bayat

It was established with the mission of creating opportunities for families across Afghanistan. As the founder of the Bayat Group, a parent company of several highly profitable Afghan enterprises in the telecom, media, logistics, industrial infrastructure, and security sectors, Dr. Bayat has implemented at his companies stringent corporate social responsibility policies designed to support sustainable development throughout Afghanistan.

A holdings company, the Bayat Group has subsidiaries including the Ariana Television and Radio Network, Ariana Network Services, Afghan Wireless, and Bayat Energy. With such a large reach, the Bayat Group is uniquely placed to reach communities throughout Afghanistan today.

Through its subsidiaries, the group has helped redefine key sectors of industry, and it is credited with making a significant difference to the Afghan economy. Through its charitable initiatives, the Bayat Group has made a difference in the everyday lives of Afghan citizens.

Afghan Wireless connects millions of Afghan customers at home and abroad. The Ariana Television and Radio Network has helped showcase Afghan culture and arts, providing informative, entertaining, and enlightening programming for viewers across Afghanistan and beyond.

Building on the group’s strong reputation of corporate giving, the Bayat Foundation’s highly effective charitable outreach programs have improved the lives of thousands of Afghans, supporting the nation’s elderly and disadvantaged while simultaneously stimulating national growth via investment in frontier markets, such as gas and oil exploration, development, and production.

The Bayat Foundation is also committed to Afghan children and youth. It invests in medical facilities to ensure healthy births, helps build new schools to provide quality education, and assists in the development of world-class industries and a state-of-the-art communications infrastructure to provide the next generation of Afghans with increased career opportunities.

Among the Bayat Foundation’s considerable achievements over the last 20 years is the construction of 14 hospitals serving over 1.5 million Afghan children and mothers. During the harsh Afghan winter, the Bayat Foundation’s Winter Aid program delivers precious food supplies, warm clothing, and thousands of blankets to families living in Afghanistan’s remotest regions.

The Bayat Foundation is committed to providing continued support to communities throughout Afghanistan, helping the country regain its rightful place as a political, economic, and cultural leader in Central Asia. As Mrs. Fatema Bayat explains, serving Afghans is at the very heart of all of the Bayat Foundation’s activities.

Founded in 2006, the Bayat Foundation strives to improve the lives of millions of Afghans, providing food, clothing, entrepreneurship programs, athletics, orphan care, and much more, delivering support and inspiration to at-risk Afghans.

The Bayat Foundation launched its Family Sponsorship program in 2008

Through the initiative, donors pledge $65 per month to support Afghan families in need. The impact of this modest donation is potentially life-changing. It negates the need for children to beg on the streets, enabling them to attend school, vastly increasing their educational opportunities, and with it, their career prospects and lifetime potential.

The Bayat Foundation has helped lower Afghan maternal and infant mortality rates

Over the past few years, the Bayat Foundation has coordinated the construction of healthcare facilities throughout eight Afghan provinces, providing maternal and newborn care facilities where none existed previously. These 150-bed hospitals serve hundreds of thousands of Afghan women per year, providing life-saving maternity care—for free, in many cases.

Everything You Need to Know about Traditional Afghan Cuisine

Largely based on seasonal produce, dry goods such as wheat, rice, barley, and maize, and dairy products such as milk, whey, and yogurt, Afghan cuisine is often described as a fusion between Indian and Middle Eastern cookery. In this article, we look at a selection of revered Afghan dishes and their place in Afghan history.

Rice Dishes

Rice is the most important cultural component of most Afghan meals, and a great deal of time and effort is expended in creating rice dishes. Wealthy Afghan families typically consume one rice dish each day. In times gone by, royal Afghan households committed much time to the invention and preparation of elaborate rice dishes, as evidenced by the plethora available in Afghanistan today. Family gatherings such as weddings and holiday celebrations typically incorporate several rice dishes, with the reputations of Afghan cooks made and broken by their skill with rice preparation.

There are several different types of Afghan rice recipes. Challow rice, for instance, is traditionally served with qormah, casseroles, and stews. Challow is white rice that is boiled in saltwater before being drained and baked in an oven.

rice

Kabuli palaw, Afghanistan’s national dish, is cooked in the same way as challow, but it is prepared with meat and stock and infused with herbs and spices before being baked. This result is an elaborate dish comprising a variety of flavors, colors, and aromas. Caramelized sugar is often incorporated into the rice, lending the dish a rich brown color. Created for upper-class families of Kabul, Kabuli palaw is topped with carrots, almonds, and raisins before serving.

To make zamarod palaw, spinach is added before the dish is baked, resulting in a rich emerald hue. Meanwhile, narenj palaw is a sweet, elaborate dish, made with chicken, saffron, almonds, pistachios, and orange peel.

Shola is a traditional Afghan dish that calls for sticky, short-grain rice. It is prepared in both sweet and savory versions, with the latter becoming increasingly popular in recent years. Savory shola often features split peas or mashed mung beans, as well as meats such as lamb or beef. The dish is particularly popular during the Afghan wintertime, when it is often served with quroot (a type of dried curd), a glass of plain yogurt, and a fresh vegetable salad. There are many different versions of shola available across Afghanistan today, and the dish is also popular throughout the Middle East, particularly in Iran, where various other ingredients are commonly incorporated in its preparation.

Mastawa, another rice dish traditionally prepared in the winter, incorporates short-grain rice and sun-dried mutton simmered in an aromatic broth infused with onions, garlic, mint, turmeric, and cilantro. Bitter orange peel and hot peppers are added near the end of cooking to make this sticky rice dish fragrant, hearty, and spicy.

Meat Dishes

Qormah is a popular dish throughout Afghanistan, with more than 100 different variations, including:

  • Qormah e nadroo: A lamb or veal dish served in an onion-based sauce, incorporating lotus roots, cilantro, and yogurt.
  • Qormah e lawand: A traditional dish prepared with lamb, chicken, or beef, and cooked with onions, turmeric, yogurt, and cilantro.
  • Qormah e gosht: Translated as “meat qormah,” this dish is a commonly served accompaniment to the palaw rice that is popular at gatherings.
  • Qormah e alou-bokhara wa dalnakhod: A fruitier take on qormah featuring chicken or veal and prepared with onions, lentils, cardamom, and sour plums.
  • Qormah e sabzi: A fusion of lamb and sautéed spinach and greens.
  • Qormah e shalgham: A sweet and sour recipe prepared with lamb, turnips, onions, and sugar.

Mantu is a highly popular native dumpling dish. Since it is time consuming to prepare, it is often reserved for special occasions and large gatherings such as weddings. Dumplings are filled with onions and ground beef or lamb before being steamed. The dish is sometimes served in a tomato sauce topped with a mixture of yogurt, split chickpeas, and garlic. Ashak is another traditional dumpling dish. Originating in Kabul, it is made with leeks, sautéed tomatoes, ground meat, a garlic-yogurt sauce, and red kidney beans.

Kebabs are popular from Europe to the Middle East to India. In Afghanistan, they are served by restaurants as well as street vendors. Every Afghan restaurant has its own unique take on the dish. Traditionally made of lamb, kebabs are often served with naan bread, or sometimes rice, and customers often sprinkle sumac on the dish. The quality of a kebab is said to hinge on the quality of meat it was made from, with pieces of fat from the tail of the sheep often added to lamb skewers to improve the flavor.

Afghan Desserts

Believed to have originated in India, firnee is a traditional dish that is made from cornstarch, milk, and sugar and flavored with rosewater and aromatic spices like cardamom and saffron.

Haft mewa is sweet Afghan soup made from dried fruit and nuts that is traditionally eaten during the Afghan New Year celebrations, when it is often enjoyed at breakfast time.