Posted on Nov 5, 2014

Food on the Move, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1996

The nomads who have criss-crossed the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan for as long as anyone can remember … migrate with their livestock and other worldly belongings from winter to summer camp or vice versa, setting up camp each evening until they reach their destination, often living in extreme and harsh conditions.  They are sometimes called kuchis; the word comes from the Persian word meaning belongings, kuch meaning belonging; it can also mean leaving – leaving one dwelling place for another.

The type of food the nomads each depends a lot on their environment and the time of the year.  It is safe to say, though, that the diet of a nomad, wherever they may be, is usually quite limited and that life is very hard, especially for the women. (The women put up the tents when they set up camp, they make the bread, milk the goats and sheep, make the dairy products, do the cooking and in the evenings spin and weave.)  The staple foods for most nomads are bread and dairy products. The sheep and goats furnish the milk for making butter (maska), cheese (panir), yoghurt (mast), strained yoghurt (chaka), dried yoghurt (quroot), etc.  (Quroot is often the only milk-based food of the Kirghiz in winter.)  They often barter dairy products in exchange for grain and luxury products such as tea, sugar and salt.  Sabrina Michaud, in Caravans to Tartary, says that,‘Tea is worth so much that each camel driver carries it about his person in a beautifully embroidered little bag, which is cautiously produced to put tea in the kettle.  Sugar is so precious that tea is drunk with salt not sugar, and salt is so scarce that it is only used in tea …’ .