No one moved an inch.
Afghan music tiptoed softly about the room. Steam rose from our plates.
I knew, as hostess to our dinner party of four, I had to make the first move.
Holding my breath, I dipped my fingers into the slimy eggplant and brought the food to my lips. There was a pause.
“Wow. This is…. good!” I said.
The tension gave way to giggles.
My friends gingerly dug their fingers into their meal. I waited, searching their faces.
One by one, they smiled. “Yes, this is good!”
Skipping silverware is not a simple proposal. Out of consideration for my friends, I had put a few forks by their plates – “just in case”they (or Mr. Picky) weren’t game. Even after everyone began eating with their hands, the challenge remained: not making a complete mess of our plates, our hands, and our faces. Even using a napkin became confusing; our hands just got dirty again.
I can’t get over how much enjoyment I got out of being so uncomfortable.
The awkward experience of using my hand as silverware gave me a fresh dining experience. I kept a running inventory of textures in my head: soft, dry, slippery, crumbly, soupy. Then I matched the texture to the flavors: spicy, sweet, tangy, earthy, garlicky.
Afghanistan certainly was a good start to cooking my way around the world, one meal at a time! I struggle to share a favorite dish. Perhaps the eggplant Burani Bonjon for its smoky, spicy flavors? Or the Noni for being so soft and warm? Or the spinach dip for having one of my favorite ingredients, sweet caramelized onions? Or what about the Kabeli Palau, so hearty and bold?
Certainly, the most unusual dish was the Firnee. This distinctly eastern dessert proudly smacks of cardamom and rose water, both of which were foreign to my palette. I required several bites to get past the illusion that perfume was in my mouth. After the initial shock, however, I began to enjoy how the fragrance permeated the creamy custard.
Ava’s Corner: Ava tried a small piece of the chicken. We were rewarded with a big smile. She actually used her gums to chew the chicken and she happily pushed the new flavors around in her mouth. Then she got to lick the insides of an apricot which, by her blank expression, she found to be “just okay.”