Your choice is clear: kebab or pilau. There is nothing else. That is, food markets have lots of local and imported things: fruits, nuts, chips, Bounty, Diet Coke, and so on. But your lunch and dinner menus are limited to these two items. Which are very tasty, by the way.
In the cities you can easily find chaikhanas, which are just plain restaurants, often with tables, always with waiters. Pilau — rice with meat — and kebab — skewered meat — are cooked at the entrance, on the street, thus you can not miss them. Many establishments have balconies with tables, which is another way to notice them.
A chaikhana is visited in the following manner.
You enter and nod to a guy at the entrance if there is one there. But not to a waiter. The kebab guy deserves a nod, too. If you are not sure this is the place where you can eat, just stop at the door with an uncertain look, and you will be invited inside.
Practically each place has a faucet where you can wash hands before and after the meal. If you do not see it immediately, it is somewhere in the back, and you can inquire about its location with hand signs.
|Cooking kebab at a roadside chaikhana|
Inside you take any free table. If this is a place where people sit on the floor, take any free place there. Again, a clearly uncertain look helps. Then a waiter comes. You tell him, “pilau, chai sabz” or “kebab, chai sabz”. This orders pilau or kebab with a pot of hot green tea and a loaf of nan, unleavened bread. If you have more than one person in your party, show the number of desired sets with fingers.
The chaikhana staff will always treat you with interest and hospitality, so you should not be afraid of language difficulties. The difficulties shall be present because the staff speaks English at the foreign morons' demoneying centers only.
One set costs less than a dollar. You will stuff yourself with it to the top.
Tea is served without sugar by default. If you want sweet tea, say “shakar”. You will get a small dish with hard candies or sugar and a soup spoon. This costs additional five cents.
Tea is brought in small metal pots about 400 ml in volume. It is easy to consume the whole pot alone because the food is oily. However, if you are with a friend, it is better to get one pot first, drink it together, and then get another one. Tea leaves stay in a pot, and tea becomes stronger and stronger, being too bitter at the end of the meal. By getting two pots one after another you avoid this problem.
Black tea is available too. It is called “chai siyah”. But green tea is more culturally suitable. And tastier, too.
If your order of pilau generates questions with the word “gosht” in it, this establishment serves pilau with and without meat. The price is quite different, but it is not important since it is low anyway. Moreover, both types of pilau come from the same pot, but the meatless one has no pieces of meat in it. If you want it with meat, just nod, “Yeah-yeah, gosht, bring it all.” Sometimes in this case meat is served in a separate dish. You can just dump it into rice. If you want it meatless, say “birinj”, which means “rice”.
Pilau is eaten with hands. More exactly, with a right hand since the left one should not touch food. You are allowed to use the left hand to hold bread steady while you tear a piece of it off with the right hand. Advanced persons can do even that single-handedly. In theory, you should get a piece of bread, press some pilau into it, and eat it. In practice, you came here to eat, not to provide free entertainment for the locals, so do not even try. Often you will be issued a spoon without asking, but if not, say “chamcha”, “spoon”.
An order of kebab consists of eight skewers, each having two pieces of mutton and one piece of fat between them. You get a piece of bread, take a skewer in your left hand, hold meat and fat with bread, and pull the skewer out, leaving meat and fat wrapped in bread. Then you eat the thing. Naturally, try to divide your bread into eight pieces, one for each skewer.
In some establishments they put crashed grape seeds on tables. You can sprinkle it on meat as a spice; it has a nice taste.
Pilau is usually cooked in giant volumes and is ready by the time you arrive. Kebabs are cooked when they are ordered, thus you will have to wait about five minutes for this order to come.
Food is served around lunch and dinner time. If you miss it, you miss it — there will be nothing to eat.
Sometimes you are brought a dish with cut raw onions. Eat them. You have to, otherwise a couple of weeks of only rice and meat will end up badly.
I have not seen people eating anything else in a chaikhana. In northern areas there is a soup, “shorba”. It is served as a red-colored veal stock and meat on the side. You are supposed to put pieces of bread into stock and eat them with hands when they soak up.
Breakfast consists of the very same tea and bread with sour cream or thick cream and jam. You can add grapes.
For variety you can buy American military field rations — more about this in the next section.
Restaurants at the foreign morons' demoneying centers serve the same pilau and kebab, adding some little and nice touches. Pilau there can be sprinkled with orange zest, and kebab can be made from chicken, not mutton.
In smaller cities they often do not have tables in chaikhanas. People seat on the floor at a long strip of cloth that acts as a table. Treat it the same way you would a normal table; do not step on it.
Food markets have lots of good quality fruits, which are not as cheap as one would expect, though. Nuts are also sold.
Food stores have tons of usual things like cold drinks, chips, candies, and so on. In Mazar-i-Sharif many goods come from Russia: Pepsi, condensed milk, etc. In Herat — from Iran. Kabul has many American brands, like Bounty and Diet Coke.
Bottled water costs about 50 cents per 1.5 liters. You will buy it a lot. Do not drink tap water anywhere. But tea is safe.
On the Kabul–Kandahar route taxis stop for lunch at an enormously expensive place. Prices are two–tree times bigger there. It looks like they overcharge foreigners on purpose. But you have no choice unless you bring your own lunch.
next: Field Rations
more: Other things
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