Faghat seyr mikonam. For the adventurous eater venturing into Kabul’s street food scene, these three Dari words, which roughly translates to “I’m just looking,” are key. To stroll by Kabul’s food stalls is to run a gauntlet of aggressive vendors, stepping into your path and thrusting samples at you. However, the reward for wading into this chaotic scene is to foray into the varied cuisine of Afghanistan.
Follow Scott Ruddick’s tour of the Kabul food stalls:
To the outside world, Kabul has become synonymous with the strife and conflict afflicting the whole of Afghanistan. Yet beyond the headlines, the capital city is a vibrant community of three million people with a thriving street food scene.
The influx of foreigners and money since the fall of the Taliban has gradually transformed the Kabul restaurant landscape. Enterprising street chefs, tabang wallahs in the local parlance, serve up a variety of local cuisine.
Kabul Food Stall © Scott Ruddick
Kabul’s food stalls are unassuming. They are often no more than a tin roof held up by a rough-hewn wood timber frame covering a cooking area. Electrical connections to run refrigeration are nonexistent and supplies are kept in coolers, lugged back and forth from the homes of the stall staff every day.
The best stalls are found around Shahr-e Naw Park, a large park in central Kabul that is popular with the locals for pick-up soccer matches and Friday bird fights. The stalls are clustered together along the wide sidewalks. In keeping with the business model of successful street food vendors everywhere, each stall will specialize in one or two food types, and build their business by offering a consistent, quality product at a reasonable price.
Mantu vendor and Kabob © Scott Ruddick
Each dish costs between 50 and 100 Afghanis ($1.25 and $2.50 USD). Busy times are lunch, the main meal in Afghanistan, when office workers and laborers are on the prowl for a cheap meal, and again in late afternoon as workers head home, and stop to pick up takeout for the evening meal.
Kabul’s street food stalls are both a cheaper alternative to more expensive sit-down restaurants and a respite from the heavy fare of traditional Afghan household cooking. A typical Afghan meal is centered on rice. Qabeli Palau or basmati rice with chopped carrots and raisins and pieces of meat is often the centerpiece, served with flat bread. While a well-done palau is a wonderful meal, the sheer ubiquitousness of it drives Afghanis and ex pats when they have been in country long enough to seek out different fare. The tabang wallahs are only too pleased to fill this void in the Afghan diet.
Kabob is the preferred takeout food for Kabul’s denizens meaning open-air kabob shops are to be found in every part of Kabul. Kabobs consist of lightly seasoned mutton, lamb, beef or chicken skewered on rough iron spikes then broiled over glowing charcoal. The kabob meat is wrapped in naan, a leavened bread that is baked by being slapped against the inner wall of a clay oven, which is in turn wrapped in old newspaper. The experienced kabob eater knows that naan serves as both a plate and an accompaniment. The rough side of the bread is always placed facing up with the meat piled on top of it. Chunks of the bread are ripped off and used to scoop up the meat. A typical mid-sized kabob stall will serve 110 pounds of meat a week.
Boloni © Scott Ruddick
Other tabang wallahs serve up steaming plates of delicately spiced raviolis. Indigenous to northern Afghanistan, mantu (stuffed with minced meat) and ashok (filled with leeks) are steamed over large open-air pots and served with a tangy yogurt sauce.
Boloni or stuffed pancakes filled with either shaved potato and onion (sabzi) or squash (kadu) are deep-fried in bubbling cauldrons of oil.
The carb-heavy Afghan burger, a recent Kabul concoction, is a favorite with the city’s teenage boys. It is common to see groups of them gathered on street corners, devouring the local meal of a spiced ground beef patty with a smattering of onions, tomato, and lettuce that is wrapped in a pita-like bread along with a side of French fries jammed into the sides.
Shor nakhod or stewed chickpeas are served on large plates with an accompanying mint sauce, which serves as either an accompaniment or a stand-alone meal.
Doogh stall © Scott Ruddick
Whatever your choice of entrée, wash it down with doogh, which is a carbonated yogurt drink seasoned with salt and mint.
A typical Afghan food stall will open late morning, and close around dusk Sunday to Thursday. This schedule is reversed during the religious month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. During this 30-day period, the stalls will open for iftar, the fast-breaking meal that takes place at sunset, and close at around sunrise, when the last meal before the dawn-induced fast begins.
Scott Ruddick is an international development specialist and a freelance writer who focuses on the developing world. Learn more about Scott on his website.
Veterans Day is federal holiday that is observed on November 11 in the United States. Along with Memorial Day, which pays respect to soldiers who died in military service, it honors veterans of the armed forces. The specific date was selected in accordance with the end of the First World War and President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of remembrance.
Veterans Memorial, Washington DC © Gennaro Salamone
To pay respect to those who fought, a group of over 400 independently owned bed and breakfast inns are providing free stays for veterans on the night of November 10. A valid military or Veterans Administration ID is required for each reservation. To find a participating inn, view the list on B&Bs For Vets. Inn keepers who want to be listed for the promotion can contact Kathleen Panek of the Gillum House Bed & Breakfast in West Virginia. To qualify, at least one room must be provided for the night of November 10, free of charge, to any active or retired military person with appropriate ID.
Gennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing an article or photograph for publication.
Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May. It was developed to commemorate American soldiers who past away while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day weekend is an opportunity to visit a host of memorials and cemetaries that are dedicated to the nation’s history. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located at Arlington National Cemetery (Virginia) is the perfect spot to observe this history along with the changing of the guard. It is also near the attractions of Washington D.C.
Follow this photographic journey into the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
Soldier on Guard © Gennaro Salamone
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier pays respect to the remains of unidentified soliders. Tombs of this ilk are found throughout the world. The Tomb at Arlington National Cemetary is guarded 24 hours per day, 365 days per year by specially trained member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry.
Changing of the Guard + Tomb of the Unknown Soldier © Gennaro Salamone
The changing of the guard is popular among tourists. The ceremony itself is highly regimented. It provided visitors with a view of the formality of the armed services along with an idea about the seriousness in which the soldiers take their service in relation to guarding the Tomb.
Graves © Gennaro Salamone
Together with the happening at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, visitors have an chance to walk around Arlington National Cemetary viewing the tombstones and graves of more than 300,000 people dating back to the American Revolution.
Gennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing a travel article or photograph for publication.