The foods in Afghanistan reflect the country’s rich cultural history and diverse geography, deeply rooted in centuries-old traditions.
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What is Afghan Cuisine?
The dishes and foods in Afghanistan are often centred around communal dining, emphasising the importance of family and social connections.
Afghan cuisine features a mix of scented spices, meats like lamb and chicken, dumplings, and staple ingredients such as rice, wheat, yoghurt, dried fruit, nuts, and legumes.
Naan bread is a staple accompaniment to most meals.
Furthermore, Afghan cuisine boasts a delicious array of desserts, showcasing the country’s sweet tooth.
What Are The Staple Foods From Afghanistan?
Rice, wheat, and legumes form the basis of many dishes, often accompanied by succulent meats, primarily lamb, chicken, and beef.
One of the defining features of Afghan cuisine is the skilful use of spices, including coriander, cumin, cardamom, and saffron, which lend a distinctive and fragrant flavour profile to the dishes.
Fresh herbs like coriander, mint, and parsley are also commonly used, adding freshness to the cuisine.
Let’s Begin! The Most Popular Foods from Afghanistan
1) Mantu (Manti)
Mantu (or Manti) is one of the most popular foods from Afghanistan. The term “manti” refers to various dumpling dishes found across Central Asia and the Middle East, and in Afghanistan, it is known as “mantu.”
This Afghan dish consists of steamed dumplings filled with seasoned ground meat, commonly beef or lamb, along with onions and assorted spices.
The dumpling dough is thin and delicate, and the filling is delicious.
Mantu, eaten with a side of yoghurt sauce infused with garlic and sometimes a tomato-based sauce, is a memorable culinary experience.
2) Borani Banjan
Yum! Borani Banjan is a popular food in Afghanistan that features fried eggplant slices served with a zingy tomato sauce.
The eggplant is fried until crispy and layered with a savoury sauce made from tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices.
It’s garnished with yoghurt and fresh herbs, making it a delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish in Afghan cuisine.
3) Kabuli Pulao
Kabuli Pulao (or Qabeli Palaw) is the national dish of Afghanistan.
It consists of basmati rice cooked with tender chunks of meat, often lamb or chicken, and an assortment of carrots, raisins, and nuts. The nuts, combined with the sweet flavours of the raisins, give this dish texture and the most beautiful flavour.
Kabuli Pulao is a nationwide favourite, garnished with fried onions and served with yoghurt sauce (like many foods in Afghanistan).
4) Ashak Dumplings
Ashak is a dumpling in Afghan cuisine made from thin, pasta-like sheets of dough.
These sheets are filled with leeks and spices, folded into a triangular shape, and then boiled until tender. Expect these dumplings to have tomato-based sauce, yoghurt, and dried mint over the top.
While this dish sounds similar to Mantu, the fillings and sauces differ. Ashak features a vegetarian filling, while Mantu includes a meat filling seasoned with spices.
We were lucky to be invited into an Afghan home during our visit to Mazar I Sharif; it was one of our most treasured memories of our time in Afghanistan.
Bolani is a traditional Afghan flatbread that resembles a stuffed, savoury pancake. It is made by rolling out thin layers of dough and filling them with different ingredients such as spiced potatoes, leeks, or pumpkin.
The filled dough is then folded and pan-fried until crispy, resulting in a delicious snack or side dish in Afghan cuisine.
And yes, the addition of yoghurt is popular – I highly recommend slathering some on to elevate your experience of this yummy flatbread.
9) Sheer Yakh (Afghan Ice Cream)
Sheer Yakh, sometimes spelled as “Sheer Yakh or Shir Yakh,” is a popular Afghan dessert that translates to “ice cream” in English.
Despite its name, it doesn’t necessarily contain frozen dairy. Instead, it’s a chilled, creamy, and sweet confection made from a combination of ingredients like milk, sugar, and flavourings such as rosewater, cardamom, or saffron.
Sheer Yakh may be garnished with slivered pistachios or dried fruits, adding a delightful texture and contrast to its creamy sweetness.
Enjoying a bowl of Sheer Yakh with our new friends in Mazar I Sharif was one of our favourite memories of our time in the country.
10) Borani Kadoo
Borani Kadoo is one of my favourite vegetarian foods from Afghanistan- a popular Afghan dish made from sautéed and seasoned pumpkin.
The pumpkin is typically cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices, creating a fantastic combination of flavours.
You guessed it, yoghurt is often added to the mixture, making a creamy and savoury result, best enjoyed with Afghan bread or over rice.
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Sambosa, also spelled Samosa, is a popular snack in Afghan cuisine. It consists of thin pastry pockets filled with a savoury mixture, often containing spiced potatoes, peas, lentils, ground meat (such as beef or lamb), and various herbs and spices.
These triangular or cone-shaped pastries are deep-fried until golden and crispy, the perfect snack.
Ayran is a traditional Middle Eastern yoghurt-based beverage popular in many countries, including Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Central Asia.
It is made by diluting yoghurt with water and often seasoned with a pinch of salt.
Ayran is typically served cold and is known for its refreshing and slightly tangy taste. It is a popular accompaniment to meals, especially in warm climates.
Some variations of ayran also include the addition of mint or other herbs for extra flavour.
Shinwari Kebab is a popular dish in Afghan cuisine, associated explicitly with the Pashtun people and the Shinwari tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This tasty kebab is made by marinating large chunks of meat, generally lamb or beef, in a blend of spices, including coriander, cumin, and black pepper.
The marinated meats are threaded on a skewer and grilled, resulting in tender, succulent kebabs with a distinct smoky flavour.
Enjoy Shinwari Kebab with naan and accompaniments like chutney, salad, and yoghurt.
Bamya, also known as “bamia” or “okra,” is a popular vegetable in Afghan cuisine. It refers to dishes prepared using okra pods, which are naturally slimy when cooked.
Find bamya in stews, curries, or grilled dishes in Afghan cooking.
The okra pods are cooked with various ingredients like tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices, creating a tasty, hearty dish served with rice or bread.
Bamya dishes are appreciated for their unique taste and texture, making them a staple in Afghan households.
Kebab in Afghan cuisine refers to skewered and grilled or roasted meat, commonly made from lamb, beef, or chicken.
The meat is marinated with a mixture of spices, including cumin, coriander, and garlic, enhancing its flavour. Afghan kebabs are served with Afghan bread and accompaniments like chutney, yoghurt, and grilled or fresh vegetables and rice.
Kebabs are one of the most popular foods from Afghanistan and other countries, a solid national favourite dish.
Aush in Afghan cooking refers to a hearty noodle soup, usually enjoyed as a main dish.
It features a rich, spiced broth with various vegetables and legumes like lentils or chickpeas and often includes noodles or pasta.
Aush is seasoned with fragrant spices, creating a warming and satisfying soup. Adding yoghurt, fresh herbs, and sometimes a squeeze of lemon takes this soup to another level.
17) Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun is a popular sweet dessert enjoyed in Afghanistan and other countries.
Essentially, the dish is deep-fried dough balls made from milk powder, flour, baking powder, and clarified butter, which get soaked in a sugar syrup infused with rose water, saffron, and cardamom.
These syrup-soaked balls are such a joy to eat! This is one of Afghanistan’s most adored sweet foods, often served warm.
18) Chapli Kebab (Chopan kabob)
It is a specialty of the Pashtun people, who have a significant presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I remember eating something similar on my food tour in Karachi, Pakistan. They call it ‘Bun Kebab’ there.
The name “chapli” means flat in Pashto, which describes the shape of the kebab.
Chapli Kebab (also known as Chopan kabob) mixes ground meat (usually beef or lamb) with various spices, herbs, and sometimes vegetables.
Once the mixture is well combined, it is shaped into flat, round patties and shallow-fried in oil until golden brown and crispy on the outside while remaining juicy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Afghan cuisine and the most popular foods in Afghanistan. Have you tried Afghan food? Share your favourite foods from Afghanistan in the comments below.
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