Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1991
Extract from Public Eating in Afghanistan
‘The type and standard of chaikhana vary considerably. Some are very basic and serve only tea, either green (Chinese), or black (Indian), but many are quite large, even luxurious – with tables and chairs, and the mud floor covered with the beautiful red traditional carpets and rugs of Afghanistan. Pictures, mirrors and decorations cover the walls. Popular Afghan and Indian taped music is often played. These chaikhana can provide customers with a variety of refreshments and food; some even provide a guest room which is shared by all those travelers planning to spend the night.
Entering the chaikhana one removes one’s shoes according to the Muslim custom. In some chaikhana a small boy (bacha) will bring a haftawa-wa-lagan, a bowl and a pitcher containing water, for the dusty traveler to wash his hands.
In fact I have one vivid memory of arriving at a chaikhana after returning from a particularly exciting but grueling landrover ‘excursion’ to Badakshan in the north of Afghanistan. We arrived at one of the large chaikhana in Kunduz and were led to a small room off the main one. As a foreign woman I could go in. The room was very luxurious and filled with carpets and cushions to sit on. A little boy brought a haftawa-wa-lagan for us to wash our hands and refresh ourselves. What luxury! Feeling much better, and cleaner, we returned to the main chaikhana. They had an impressive menu and we ordered several of the specialities of the region as we were so hungry. They had mantu (a meat and onion filled pasta which is steamed); ashak (a boiled pasta stuffed with gandana and served with quroot and minced meat); an Uzbeki pilau and bonjon-e-burani (fried aubergines with a yoghurt sauce). We tucked in and really enjoyed returning to civilization.’