There are many differences between Afghan and Western dining etiquette. One should always remove shoes at the door when visiting a home. When dining at someone’s home, guests will be seated on the floor, usually on cushions. Guests should wait for the host to show them where to sit. Food is served on plastic or vinyl tablecloths spread on the floor. If possible, one should sit cross-legged. Otherwise, sit as comfortably as possible. Sitting with legs outstretched or with the feet facing people is considered rude. When guests are present in Afghan homes, males eat separately and typically prior to females and children.
Food is generally served communally with everyone sharing from the same dish. Since food is often eaten directly with the hands, cleanliness is extremely important. A bowl or basin is often provided for hand washing, just prior to meals. The left hand should be used as little as possible and is NOT to be used in a communal bowl. Food is taken with the right hand, but both hands can be used to eat once food is taken from the communal bowl. Food should be taken only from the portion of the communal plate directly in front of you. Food is usually scooped up into a ball at the tip of the fingers, and then eaten. Guests unfamiliar with customs and etiquette should always watch, learn and follow the lead of the host or others familiar with the culture.
Afghan cuisine is influenced by South and Central Asian, Chinese and Iranian cooking. The traditional meal is a rice and meat dish, known as pilau, in which the rice has been cooked with other ingredients, taking on the color and flavor of those ingredients. The rice is usually cooked with meat juices, but sometimes vegetables are substituted. The most famous Afghan pilau is likely Qabuli pilau. There are many variations of this dish, but typically pieces of lamb are covered with a pilau that includes strips of carrots and currants. Another popular Afghan dish is aushak, scallion-filled dumplings with meat sauce and yogurt, sprinkled with mint.
Kabobs are the Afghan equivalent to fast food. Kabobs are made of skewered meat (lamb, mutton, or beef) and vegetables. You will most likely find a kabob shop in any Afghan city or town. A kabob shop will feature several kinds of kabobs, along with bread and possibly vegetables or salad. Muslim dietary rules prevent most Afghans from eating pork. A vegetable soup with bread in it known as shoorwa [SHORE-wah] is also quite common. Afghan bread comes in slabs, or in round flat loaves (not to be confused with Middle Eastern pita bread) that have been baked inside large clay ovens called tandoors.
Because of cattle and sheep herding, dairy products are traditionally an important part of the diet. Yogurt and dairy products are common staples. Snacks may include sugarcane, pudding, nuts, seeds, apples, grapes, apricots or oranges. Curd is also thoroughly drained and then dried in small hard balls for future use in cooking. Boiled curd is often eaten for breakfast. Fresh vegetables and fruit, when available, are also an important part of the diet. Tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, peas and carrots, cucumbers and eggplant are common vegetables.
In rural Afghanistan, regular midday meals are not eaten, but people carry around nuts and dried fruit for energy throughout the day. Urban diets are typically more varied than rural diets, but food and money shortages are severe at times in all areas.