Khameerbob: a cooked dough that's sort of a combination
between dumplings and pasta
Naan: thin oval-shaped bread served with most meals; sometimes
topped with seeds
Rice: served as a base in many dishes and is prepared in numerous
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Ashak: dumplings filled with leeks topped with garlic
Kebab: generally seasoned lamb meat served in naan with rice
Mantu: dumplings with onions and beef topped with a tomato
sauce and yogurt
Palao/Pilaf: dozens of varieties exist, but the national
dish is qabili palao, which is a rice-based meat, carrot, pistachio, and
Qorma: onion-based stews, usually with meat; again numerous
When eating in Afghanistan, remember that you are in
a Muslim country and with that comes a couple etiquette rules you must know and
follow. First, dress on the conservatively side (see our
Afghanistan Culture Page for more details). Second, in conservative homes
and even most restaurants, it is not acceptable to eat with a person of the opposite
sex unless it is your child, sibling, or spouse. To many conservative Muslims this
is important so observe the local restaurant's situation and follow their lead.
This may mean that if you are with someone of the opposite sex who is not in your
family (a co-worker for example), you shouldn't eat together.
If you get by those first rules, try to arrive on time for a meal and if eating
in a local's home remove your shoes at the door if others have done so. Greet
the elders first, but men should not touch the hand of a woman (as this is considered
inappropriate to many Afghans), although you should greet and acknowledge everyone.
Let your host seat you and when sitting be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor
or pointed behind you as pointing the soles of your feet at another can be offensive;
you may be asked to sit on the floor around the dastarkhan. Once sitting,
someone should come around with a wash basin so you can wash your hands prior to
Once the food begins to arrive the more special foods will likely be placed near
you as their guest, something you may not notice if you don't know the local
foods. Be sure to try these foods as these are the dishes your host is most proud
of and placing them near you is to ensure you have easy access to them. Your host
will likely insist you eat certain dishes as well, but try to take a small amount
of food at first as you will later be offered more food and you should accept. Also,
many times all dishes are brought out at the same time, but avoid taking desserts
or fruits with your entree as these foods are reserved for after the main meal.
Eat as the locals eat; in some settings this means eating directly with your right
hand (and your right hand only), but in other settings you may be offered dining
utensils (cutlery), in which case eat in the continental style (knife or spoon in
the right hand, fork in the left). If a knife is not present, most locals will hold
the spoon in their right hand and eat primarily from the spoon. No matter which
utensil you hold in which hand, be sure to only bring food to your mouth with the
utensil in your right hand. As you finish your food, and your second helping of
food, leave a bit on your plate to show there was more than enough then place your
fork and knife together in the 5:00 position. You may be offered tea prior to dessert
and tea again prior to fruits, which usually ends a large meal. After everyone gets
up from the table, you should again follow the lead of others and wash your hands
once more, which again may come from a water basin passed around the table or you
may be asked to use a faucet.
Dining in a restaurant with local Afghans is somewhat
unusual as the locals rarely eat out and in most areas there are no restaurants
so dining is always at home. More likely, if meeting a local out, you'll do
so for tea at a teahouse. Either way, there will most likely be no service charge
on your bill so be sure to add about 5% for a tip to the server.
Celebrations & Events
Afghanistan has a huge number of celebrations that are
tied to foods, both religious and secular events. Two of the most important are
religious though. Eid al Fitr is a celebration that occurs immediately
after Ramadan, a religious holiday that requires fasting for 30 days. Eid al Fitr
is celebrated with numerous filling and more expensive dishes eaten, often containing
meat, to celebrate the end of the long fast. However what makes this celebration
even more loved is the heavy use of sweets in the celebration.
The second major religious food celebration in Afghanistan
is Eid e Qurban, which is only celebrated after a pilgrim returns from
haj, the mandatory journey for every able Muslim to go to Mecca. During
this celebration an animal is usually sacrificed, usually a sheep or goat. Additionally,
desserts, nuts, and tea are essential items.
Another event with religious undertones is called nazer, which is an event
to celebrate a religious event or thanks for the safety of a loved one; it is usually
celebrated after a pilgrimage or a holy day. A lamb or calf is usually sacrificed
and the meat, along with naan is distributed to the poor and people passing
Births, wedding, and other events are also celebrated with food. Births are celebrated
over 40 days with differing foods offered on particular days in celebration. Lamb
kebabs are a common dish in these celebrations. Marriage engagements are brought
to fruition with pilau, other main dishes, and numerous sweets. This is
followed with more sweets as well as rice at the wedding itself to symbolize prosperity
The final important celebration tied to foods is the New Year festival, called Nauroz,
which is celebrated on the spring equinox. This celebration is meant to celebrate
the end of the winter and the beginning of new life so fresh produce is commonly
eaten as are other foods. Fruits, rice dishes, and wheat dishes are included in
the celebration; this event is often celebrated outdoors as the country seems to
get out to picnic on this day each year.
In Afghanistan the drink everyone seems drawn to is
tea as the people drink it throughout the day every day. Dugh, rose-flavored
yogurt with salt, is a more traditional drink, but less popular than tea. If you
are seeking something you're more used to, there are plenty of options as soft
drinks, juices, and coffee are available in most cities and even in some less traveled
As a primarily Muslim country, Afghanistan has no alcohol
available and it is illegal to consume in the country.
The tap water in Afghanistan should not be consumed.
Be sure to also avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water.
Salads and fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with
those foods as well.