And the Food Critic’s Alphabet has kicked off with the A for Afghanistan!
Afghanistan: a land that we, unfortunately, mostly know for its political instability, violence, the taliban, and the war that is still being raged there. But Afghanistan has so much more to offer! Afghan culture has been around for more than 2000 years: the world’s oldest oil paintings were found here; Alexander the Great waltzed along the Silk Road into Afghanistan, resulting in a distinctive mix of Buddhist and Ancient Hellenistic art. There is amazing literature, architecture and, of course, cuisine!
Afghan cuisine counts many, many amazing dishes, but rice takes center stage at the dinner table. The rice dishes range from simple, fluffy white rice to heavily spiced grains mixed with herbs, nuts, fruit and meats. The one with orange peel and pistachios is my favourite! Combined with other famous dishes, such as kebabs, beef dumplings and several side dishes, you have a feast fit for any king!
Dissing out proverbs is an important pastime in Afghanistan. Here is one in Dari:
Khoob be push, khoob bukhor, zendagee kotah ast
Dress well, eat well, life is short!
Take this one to heart, people, and treat yourselves some good Afghan food! Seriously, Afghan cuisine is still relatively unknown and highly underrated! Hopefully this post will make you curious enough to try it.
My experience of Afghan cuisine in Montreal
For anyone in Montreal or going soon, here is my experience of Khyber Pass, one of the colourful Afghan restaurants found in Montreal:
Khyber Pass is named after the important Silk Road passage through the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I went out for dinner on a rainy Tuesday night around ten p.m. because I forgot to check the time, being engrossed in a new book. Luckily, the kitchen was still open and the nice waiter gave me enough time to select and enjoy my meal: a heavy noodle and vegetable soup and Afghan beef dumplings in tomato sauce. Accompanied with flat bread, spicy vinegar, garlic-y yoghurt sauce and a cardamom-infused Afghan tea. Sounds good? It tasted delicious!
Even though I only ordered two starters, it was plenty for me. I did not expect that, having starved myself a bit during the day in anticipation for this meal. Lots of restaurants, including this one, also have the great policy of Bring Your Own Beer/Wine which makes eating out much more affordable. Of course I was not aware of this, and hadn’t bought any, so I suffered a (totally delicious) alcohol-free meal. Surrounded by colourful Afghan textiles on the floor, the walls and even from the ceilings, you get a nice authentic vibe from this place.
Dinner entertainment was provided by the group of blond, heavily make-uped Montréalers next to my table. Honestly, compared to hautain and cultured Parisians, these students sounded like a bunch of French pirates who enjoyed an evening back on land: “P-ARH-king”, “très l-OUAI-n”, “tout à LAIR”, “huit he-U-ARH”. I was snickering, trying not to choke on those dumplings, while listening to the loud and enlightening conversation about some handsome grad student (but could also have been a discussion about the appreciation of fine red wine, because their accent was incomprehensible).
The rest of Khyber Pass’ menu is full with other Afghan classics, served in huge portions. For anyone interested in some heavy Afghan food, non-vegetarian, and happy with heavily spiced food and friendly service; this is a good place to indulge. I was told the lamb kebab with palow rice is especially good here. Try it. Next time, I’ll try it too.
Check out the other letters and stories of the Montréal Food Critic’s Alphabet!