About Afghan Food (and we’re off!)

Dining under duvets

I keep a cold house in the winter. Icicle nose cold. Sure, the frigid air makes me irritable, but usually throwing on another sweater solves that problem. Unless I am getting out of the shower, in which case I just have to grit my teeth and dry off quickly.

Well, imagine my delight when I uncovered this gem of a fact about Afghan culture:

In the depth of winter food is eaten around the sandali, the traditional form of Afghan heating. A sandali consists of a low table covered with a large duvet called a liaf which is also big enough to cover the legs of the occupants, sitting on their cushions or mattresses and supported by large pillows called balesht or poshty. Under the table is a charcoal brazier called a manqal. The charcoal has to be thoroughly burned previously and covered with ashes. (Afghan Food and Cookery, Helen Saberi)

What a cozy atmosphere!

An Afghan Sandali without food.

A few items of cultural significance

  • Saberi tells us that guests are given the honor of sitting at the head of the table (when there is a table – often meals are eaten on mats called disterkhan).
  • Before the meal begins, a ceremonial hand washing occurs with a haftawa-wa-lagan (pitcher of water poured over a basin). This is because, traditionally, utensils are only used for tea and pudding. Everything else must be eaten with the right hand.
  • Up to four people can share one dish, family style.  The entire meal is laid out at once, including dessert and fruits. However, guests know to eat their main course first, followed by dessert,  fruit, and finally hot tea.

Typical foods include Pilau (seasoned basmati rice), qorma (curry), stew, kebobs, or vegatables accompanied by homemade chutney, pickles, and noni Afghani (soft, doughy flatbread).

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See you next time!

Further Reading:

Afghan Food and Cookery, Helen Saberi


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