Culinary trail of Afghanistan with Chef Fariba

Afghan cuisine, like Mughlai has its origins in Persia, but it is also heavily influenced by Iran, Russia and India. Afghan Chef Fariba Ali Zada from Serene Hotel, Kabul takes us through the traditions and the wonderful dishes   

The tasty Uzbeki Pulaw, a rice dish cooked together with pre-cooked lamb; onion and garlic, zeera (cumin) and Cardamom coating the dish with flavour and aroma, green chillies adding spice, not to forget the most important combination of carrot and raisins that goes into the dish before putting rice and dum-cooked was one  of  the main dishes served, alternated with other Palaws including the national dish Qabuli Palaw. “In Afghanistan we take little less than two-hours to cook the rice, but here we hardly take 15 mins. Our rice is much harder and chewy.” shares the specialty Afghan Chef Fariba Ali Zada. She works at Serene Hotel, Kabul and was on a visit to Hyderabad as a part of cultural exchange. 

Trident Hyderabad hotel hosted the 10-day Afghan Food Festival along-side, a B2B trade event. It was in February, the newly opened Consulate General of I. R. Of Afghanistan, Hyderabad announced a series of events that included the Afghan Food Festival. Consul General Mr Muhammad Suleman Kakar said during his interaction with the press, “We highly value our bilateral relations and remain committed to further expanding political and economic ties between the two brotherly countries.” He said he believed in strengthening the bonds and food was going to be an important part of it, be it the spices, and dry fruits from the country or the amazing culinary culture.

Afghan cuisine, like Mughlai has its origins in Persia, but it is also heavily influenced by Iran, Russia and India.   

Afghan Cuisine

Among the main dishes in a meal from the landlocked country is the Mantu – the dumplings made of maida found all across South Asia in one form or the other; the Afghan version uses filling of meat and onions in equal quantities and served with tomato gravy and sour cream (which is again a commonly used ingredient while serving). Do Pyaaza is a gravy dish that uses half the quantity of onions and meat, extremely delicious, and can be had with naan (the Afghan variety is thick and big and equals at least 5 to 6 Indian naans). Then there are the Kebabs –  the Chapli Kebab, for instance, are thin meat patties grilled to perfection, and the desserts like Sheer Birinj, principally a rice pudding topped with almonds and flavoured with Cardamom and Cinnamon, Phirni, which is not much different from Indian and the Jalebi…yes indeed. Aushak is yet another important and very tasty dish that uses an elaborate method to make and dumplings filled with chives flavoured with dry mint. Pepper is used to spicing up a dish. And dry nuts in addition to garnishing, are served to guests during special occasions.  

I found Indian food to be similar in flavours to Afghan food, except that Indian food is spicy and very spicy,” shares Fariba who simply loved the Hyderabadi biryani and enjoys Indian sweets like Barfi. “We also have our vegetarian dishes like the eggplant dish Burani Bonjon. On new year day Nauruz falls on March 21, among other dishes, we also cook Sabzi Chalaw, made from spinach indicative of the year full of greenery (Good life).”

Chef Fariba used to work in a kitchen with four girls out of which three got married and left work. She represents the empowered, educated working women that represent the future of a country that’s rebuilding its economy and industry. My only condition before marrying was that I will continue to work. My husband agreed. We have two sons, and my sister-in-law and mother-in-law take care of them when I travel. I have been working for 17 years now. And it has not been easy. I had to sacrifice many things. I did not attend my own sister’s engagement. It is unthinkable in our families. I ignored the criticism, did not heed to voices that pulled me down. And here I am,” relates Fariba.

She studied in Pakistan and went back to Islamabad to train as Chef. She travelled alone and as a young girl she faced lot of resistance, but she went ahead, worked at Marriott briefly before shifting to Serene Hotels.

This is the second time she is in India; she visited New Delhi in addition to Hyderabad. “My next aim is to visit Turkey and train in Turkish cuisine,” says the Chef, who does not tire of speaking about Afghan food and the customs and traditions that continue to thrive.

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