Afghani Food Customs Mark Every Life Milestone


When a child is born, certain Afghan communities observe nearly 10 days of celebrations. Relatives, neighbours and friends begin pouring in once the family shares the news of the birth with them. A steady stream of home-cooked dishes is served to these visitors, including aush (thick noodle soup), ashak (leek and coriander dumplings that are served with two sauces — tomato-garlic with chickpea, and garlic with yoghurt), boulanee/bolani (stuffed flatbread/Afghani potato turnovers), kebabs, pilau and sweets.

                         Image: Afghani Bolani

The important days after the baby’s birth include the third, when the neighbourhood priest comes to bless the infant and whispers the name chosen for it into its ear in the presence of the family members. Another significant day is the 10th, when the mother visits the hamam (public baths) and is fed nourishing foods to build her strength back up. Among the dishes prepared for new mothers are humarch (a warming soup), leetee/leeti (another type of soup that is supposed to be very nourishing for breastfeeding women), kachee (a thick and sweet winter porridge, laden with dairy and dry fruits) and shola-e-olba (sweet sticky rice with methi/fenugreek). 

Forty days after the baby’s birth, roht (sweet cardamom-flavoured flatbread with nigella and sesame seeds) is baked for and distributed among all the members of the family.


Just as a birth brings one’s extended family together, so too do funerals. Again, there are days that have special significance to the customs followed. On both, the first Friday after the demise and 40 days since, prayers are read from the Quran, and all the mourners share a meal together. Apart from such specific occasions, all of one’s deceased ancestors are remembered on  “shab-e-mourdaha”, with halwa prepared by each household and distributed among the less fortunate sections of society.

                               Image: Halwa


Food forms an essential part of the give and take between the bride and groom’s families during a traditional engagement (“shirnee khoree”) ceremony. Along with gifts of clothing and jewellery, the groom’s side will also bring sweets and goash-e-feel to the bride’s home. Goash-e-feel (or elephant ear pastry) is a deep-fried Iranian teatime snack that is also popular in Afghanistan. It is made of a dough comprising eggs, milk, butter and flour, with toppings of chopped pistachios and powdered sugar.

In exchange, the bride’s family arranges the catering for the entire event. This is no small task as the guest list is usually robust, and mountains of food have to be prepared to ensure no one goes hungry. The menu would typically include pilau, qorma, ashak, boulanee as well as desserts such as firni, shola, jellies, pastries and fruit. Cups of piping hot qaimaq chai (Afghani pink milk tea) follow.

                           Image: Firni


A wedding feast is similar to the banquet at an engagement in many ways. Guests usually dine in the interval between the nikah and the arusi. As the arusi begins in the evening, the bride and the groom perform a number of rituals, foremost among them being the sampling of sherbet and malida/maleeda (whole wheat flour dough that is crumbled, sweetened, and flavored with cardamom and dry fruits). The guests then shower nuql/nuqal (sugared almonds) over the newlyweds to wish them good fortune, happiness and prosperity.