Of kabobs, bolani and Afghan jalebi

afghan-naan-store-sanjoy A naan shop in Afghanistan | Sanjoy Ghosh

The smell of kabobs is in the air. Big chunky pieces of lamb or beef, marinated in spices and skewered over hot coals. You just want to take an early lunch break. But Kabul obliges—the lunch break starts at 12.30 pm itself.

Kabobs are the mainstay of Afghan cuisine. In this hardy nation, there hasn't been time to learn decadent skills like our gilawati and kakori kebabs. Afghani kabobs are tough, they are meant for tough people. They are eaten with naan, which again is a robust bread, not the dainty fare that Indian naans are. Naans are best eaten straight off the oven. I once nibbled on a huge rice plate-sized one all afternoon, during a road journey and that too, without any accompaniment. It doesn't need any, though Afghani chai is always welcome. Their tea is green, and sometimes spiced with cardamom.

Then there are the stuffed breads. Bolani is my favourite, stuffed with boiled potatoes. A cousin of our aloo paratha, but distinct from it.

The rice, or birinj as they call it, is best at an Uzbek joint. The Uzbek Palaw is a simple redolent fare, laden with raisins. There's the Kabuli variety, with black kabuli chana in it.

Dessert time? Have Afghan jalebi or a sinful morsel of baklava. Or better still, a bowl of Afghani fruits. Pomegranates, each the size and colour of Burmese ruby. Melons. Peaches. I prefer to wash down my meal with a glass of pomegranate juice. And the best juice is what's being sold by the street vendor who presses it out right before you, all for a few Afghani.  

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