Afghans Do It Better by Sundus Rasheed

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT Yummy mummy and me

It seems ‘Kabuli’ is THE place to eat in Islamabad – Afghan being the hot new in cuisine in the capital these days. Also, Habibi – a mix of Afghan, Central Asian and Middle Eastern is worth a try too and the old Karachi classic BBQ Tonight is now in Lahore and Islamabad too. Gone are the days of the Afghan naan wala, we now have a cool, new breed of Afghans showing the capital what food is all about.

But of course, the best way to experience a cuisine is in people’s homes. And hearts. The Afghan embassy in Islamabad was kind enough to host myself and colleagues from the media – from both Pakistan and Afghanistan attending the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Af-Pak Journalist Exchange Fellowship Program.The Afghan ambassador Mr. Muhammad Umar Daudzai and his staff were gracious hosts. I told him I was doing a story on the growing influence of Afghan culture in Pakistan and he personally took the time to explain each dish on the spread to me. Here goes:
Kabuli pulau

Surprise, surprise – Kabuli pulau is called ‘pulau’ in Kabul. Where does all ALL this flavor come from? Slow cooking the beef and then cooking the rice in that beef broth with cinnamon and cardamon.

Afghani kebab and tikka

As you can see, most of this dish is gone. Skewered,barbecued  tender pieces of chicken and beef are probably the stars of Afghan cuisine. So rich, so simple – you’re never quite sure when you’re full.

Zamarud pulau

What a pretty name for a dish! Zamarud being emerald, of course. This is basically a vegetarian pilaf with spinach, dill and leeks with very simple seasoning. I was told lamb or beef can be added to this – which reminds of an Arab staple at my home – a pilaf made with fried meat, dill and peas, with the same ‘zamarud’ tinge.

Burani

By far my most favorite dish of the night! The humble eggplant/baingan done so well! Grilled  slices of eggplant topped off with a tomato sauce and a garlic yogurt. This is definitely one I will be trying in my kitchen.

Mantu (like Momos)

Remember my love for Nepalese momos? The Afghan-Tajik version of these dumplings is a little more suited to the ‘desi’ palate. These ‘mantus’ are stuffed with raw meat and then steamed. They are usually topped with a garlic yogurt and a tomato and ‘channa dal’ sauce. It’s an interesting little mouthful – lots of different textures and flavors.

Spinach

Simply because, as the Ambassador said, ‘Afghans love spinach.’ Which might explain the ‘fitness’ of Afghan men.  And women, of course. More power to the spinach!

Mutton Stew
Chicken Qorrma

Also on the menu, some Pakistani influences in the form of a mutton stew and chicken qorma.

When I asked to meet the chef, there was some surprise and some consultations before the chef came out to meet me. Such a gentle, old man who seemed obviously flattered (and a bit confused) by my request to see meet him. There wasn’t much conversation to be made and most of that was lost in translation. But thanks to Zalmai Azizy for the help! That’s the best Afghan chef in the region – Ghulam Sakhi Rahmani! Ghulam Sakhi has been cooking for close to thirty years and most recently for the Afghan mission in Islamabad. If they ever let him go, I’m stealing him!
Ghulam Sakhi Rahmani
The kitchen crew at the Afghan embassy

Great food, better conversations and warm Afghan hospitality – I’m really looking forward to more of that in Kabul. Thank you Mr. Daudzai and Mr. Rahmani!

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