Afghan cuisine

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Some of the popular Afghan dishes, from left to right: 1. Lamb grilled kebab (seekh kabab); 2. kabuli Palau and salad; 3. Tandoori chicken; and 4. Mantu (dumplings).

Afghan cuisine is largely based upon the nation's chief crops, such as wheat, maize, barley and rice. Accompanying these staples are native fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products such as milk, yogurt and whey. Kabuli Palaw is the national dish of Afghanistan.[1] The nation's culinary specialties reflect its ethnic and geographic diversity.[2] Afghanistan is known for its high quality pomegranates, grapes and sweet football-shaped melons.[3]

Kabul influence on Afghan cuisine

Samples of fresh and dried fruit in Kabul, Afghanistan

An ancient city of art and tradition and the nation’s multicultural capital, Kabul has traditionally offered a wide variety of cooking styles and ingredients. Afghan food items known today were probably first served by urban residents. Most food and trade recipes were traditionally handed down through the generations. Late in the 19th or early in the 20th century,[when?] a collection of formal gastronomy documents was published by the Afghan government. These documents included preparation, food history, cookware fabrication and dining etiquette.

Afghanistan's varied climate allows for an abundance of crops throughout the seasons. Fresh yoghurt, coriander, garlic, onions, spring onions, tomatoes, potatoes and fruit are widely available in all parts of the country. Fruits and vegetables, fresh and dried, form an important part of the Afghan diet, especially in rural areas. Afghanistan produces a variety of fruits, notably grapes, pomegranates, apricots, berries and plums, which have traditionally been Afghanistan's main food exports. Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds, peanuts and pine nuts are popular and plentiful. A variety of oranges, known locally as "malta," are grown in the warm climate of the Nangarhar Province. Nangarhar's temperate climate supports groves for the nation’s consumption of olive oil. The Wardak Province is well known for its apples and apricots, as is Kandahar for its fabled pomegranates. Herbs and spices used in Afghan cuisine include mint, saffron, coriander, cilantro, cardamom and black pepper. Lamb and chicken are the preferred meats. Afghan cuisine emphasizes well-balanced, contrasting tastes and food is neither spicy nor bland.


Known as dastarkhan, the floor spread is an important expression of culture in Afghanistan. Regardless of economic status, creating an adequate dastarkhan is important to any family, especially when hosting guests. A large tablecloth is spread over a traditional rug. Usually a young family member presents the "aftabah wa lagan", a copper basin and elaborate pot filled with water, to each guest, pouring fresh water over the guest's hands. Soap is provided, as well as a drying cloth. The dastarkhan is then filled with breads, accompaniments, relishes, appetizers, main courses, salads, rice, and fruits. Arrangement is important as guests should have easy access to the specialty foods.

Major foods

Naan (bread) from a local baker, which is the most widely consumed bread in Afghanistan
Afghan men eating lunch in Kunar Province
Rice with kofta (meatballs) and corn

Breads and accompaniments

There are four main types of Afghan bread:

  • Naan - literally, bread. Thin, long and oval shaped; mainly a white/whole wheat blend, variously topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nigella seeds or some combination of these. More expensive naan is made with white flour and oil.
  • Obi Non - Uzbek-style bread. Shaped like a disc and thicker than naan and often made with white flour.
  • Chapati - also called sapati or dodi. The main type of bread used with meals in the Pashtun tribal areas.
  • Lavash - very thin bread usually used as a plate for meats and stews.

Accompaniments may include:

  • Torshi - various pickled fruits (e.g. peach, lemon) and vegetables (e.g. eggplant, garlic) mixed with vinegar and spices.
  • Chutney - sauces usually made with vinegar, fresh cilantro, chili peppers and sometimes tomato paste.

Rice dishes

Rice dishes are culturally the most important parts of a meal, and therefore much time and effort is spent creating them. Wealthier families will eat one rice dish per day, and royalty spent much time on rice preparation and invention, as evidenced in the number of rice dishes in their cookbooks[citation needed]. Weddings and family gatherings usually feature several rice dishes, and reputations can be made in the realm of rice preparation[citation needed].

Types of rice dishes


A type of white rice. The rice is first parboiled, then drained and finally baked in an oven with oil, butter and salt added. This method creates a fluffy rice with each grain separated.

Chalaow is served mainly with qormas (korma; stews or casseroles).


Cooked the same as challow, but meat and stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination are blended in before the baking process. This creates elaborate colors, flavors, and aromas from which some rices are named. Caramelized sugar is also sometimes used to give the rice a rich brown color.[citation needed] Examples include:

  • Kabuli Pulao - a national dish.[1] Meat and stock is added, and topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, and pistachios.
  • Yakhni Palaw - meat and stock added. Creates a brown rice.
  • Zamarod Palaw - spinach qorma mixed in before the baking process, hence 'zamarod' or emerald.
  • Bore Palaw - qorm'eh Lawand added. Creates a yellow rice.
  • Bonjan-e-Roomi Palaw - qorm'eh Bonjan-e-Roomi (tomato qorma) added during baking process. Creates red rice.
  • Serkah Palaw - similar to yakhni pulao, but with vinegar and other spices.
  • Shebet Palaw - fresh dill, raisins added during baking process.
  • Narenj Palaw - a sweet and elaborate rice dish made with saffron, orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken.
  • Maash Palaw - a sweet and sour pulao baked with mung beans, apricots, and bulgur wheat. Exclusively vegetarian.
  • Alou Balou Palaw- sweet rice dish with cherries and chicken.


This rice dish is cooked with water and acquires a sticky consistency.[2] It is usually eaten with a qorma, such as Sabzi (spinach) or Shalgham (turnips). With the addition of stock, meat, herbs, and grains, more elaborate dishes are created. Notable dishes include Mastawa, Kecheri Qoroot, and Shola. A sweet rice dish called Shir Birenj (literally milk rice) is often served as dessert.


Korma is a stew or casserole, usually served with chalau rice.[2] Most are onion-based; onions are fried, then meat added, including a variety of fruits, spices, and vegetables, depending on the recipe. The onion is caramelized and creates a richly colored stew. There are over 100 kormas. Below are some examples:

  • Korma Alou-Bokhara wa Dalnakhod - onion-based, with sour plums, lentils, and cardamom. Veal or chicken.
  • Korma Nadroo - onion-based, with yogurt, lotus roots, cilantro, and coriander. Lamb or veal.
  • Korma Lawand - onion-based, with yogurt, turmeric, and cilantro. Chicken, lamb, or beef.
  • Korma Sabzi - sauteed spinach and other greens. Lamb.
  • Korma Shalgham - onion-based, with turnips and sugar; sweet and sour taste. Lamb.


Mantu in a steamer before cooking

Known as khameerbob and often eaten in the form of dumplings. These native dishes are popular, but due to the time-consuming process of creating the dough for the dumplings, they are rarely served at large gatherings such as weddings[citation needed], but for more special occasions at home:

  • Mantu - Dumplings filled with onion and ground beef or lamb. 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 and garlic and split chickpeas. The qoroot-based sauce is made of goat cheese and is also mixed with garlic; a qoroot and yogurt mixture will sometimes be used. The dish is then topped with dried mint and corriander.
  • Ashak - a dish associated with Kabul. Dumplings filled with chives. Ashak is topped with garlic-mint qoroot or a garlic yogurt sauce, sauted tomatoes, red kidney beans 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.[citation needed]

In the form of noodles, pasta is also commonly found in aush, a soup served with several regional variations.


Afghan kebab is most often found in restaurants and outdoor vendor stalls. The most widely used meat is lamb. Recipes differ with every restaurant. Afghan kebab is served with naan, rarely rice, and customers have the option to sprinkle sumac or ghora, dried ground sour grapes, 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 the lamb chop, ribs, kofta (ground beef) and chicken, all of which are found in better restaurants.

Chapli kebab, a specialty of Eastern Afghanistan, is a patty made from beef mince. It is a popular barbecue meal in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The word Chapli comes from the Pashto word Chaprikh, which means flat.[citation needed] It is prepared flat and round, and served with naan. The original recipe of chapli kebab dictates a half meat (or less), half flour mixture, which renders it lighter in taste and less expensive.


Quroot (or Qoroot) is a reconstituted dairy product. It was traditionally a by-product of butter made from sheep or goat milk. The residual buttermilk remaining after churning of the butter is soured further by keeping it at room temperature for a few days, treated with salt, and then boiled. The precipitated casein is filtered through cheesecloth, pressed to remove liquid, and shaped into balls. The product is thus a very sour cottage cheese. Quroot is hard and can be eaten raw. It is typically served with cooked Afghan dishes such as Ashak, Mantu, and Qeshla Qoroot, among others.

Other Afghan food items

A table setting of Afghan food in Kabul
Badenjan (eggplant), usually served for lunch as a light meal or as a side dish. It tastes best with thin bread along with plain yogurt or cold mint added. Shomleh/Shlombeh (a cold drink made of yogurt that is sprinkled with fresh or dried mint).

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Doogh (known by Afghans as Shomleh/Shlombeh) is a cold drink made by mixing water with yogurt and then adding fresh or dried mint. It is the most widely consumed drink in Afghanistan, especially during lunch time in the summer season.

Eating out

Afghans do not usually eat out at restaurants, but some restaurants have booths or a separate dining area for families.[citation needed]

Special occasions

Serving tea and white sugared almonds is a familiar custom during Afghan festivals.[2] Eid-e-Qorban is celebrated at the end of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, when families and friends come visiting each other to drink a cup of tea together and share some nuts, sweets, and sugared almonds called noql.

See also


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  3. melon, Afghan Honeydew | Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co

Further reading

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External links

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