Afghani Cuisine: A Background
A mountainous, landlocked country in south-central Asia, the area we call Afghanistan has been at the crossroads of human history since ancient times. This rugged land lies on the old Silk Road, where goods, spices and treasure were once transported between the classical civilizations of Greece, Rome, India and China. Intrepid travelers — from Turks to Persians to Mongols — all left their mark on the country's exquisite dishes.
Farmers in Afghanistan tend a wide variety of food crops, including rice, barley, wheat, nuts, apricots, pomegranates and melons. Ancient olive groves supply oil for cooking. Fresh herbs and spices flavor well seasoned curries, soups and stews. Chicken, lamb and goat are favored meats. Cooling yogurt is used in sauces and beverages, strained for a simple cheese and dried into balls for long storage.
The foundation for most Afghan meals is rice or bread. Elaborate rice pulaos and challows accompany complex curries and kormas. Naan, chapati and lavash are popular breads. The population of Afghanistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, so most families follow Islamic dietary laws forbidding pork and alcohol. Animals are slaughtered for meat according to halal guidelines.
To prepare for a meal, Afghans first spread a large tablecloth on a clean floor and then place dishes on top. Diners sit on cushions with legs crossed. A ritual handwash precedes the meal. Men eat first, then women and children.
Meals are served communally in Afghanistan with diners helping themselves from shared platters and bowls. Food is taken and eaten with the fingertips of the right hand. The left hand is considered unclean and is generally not used for eating. Curries are skillfully scooped up with a ball of rice or a piece of bread and popped into hungry mouths.