As we all know, food is intricately connected with our emotions and memories. Its associations have the power to make us feel all sorts of things whenever it sparks our senses. The smell of tomato soup, for instance, always takes me back to my elementary school cafeteria and my first grade teacher whom I adored; the sight of a homemade apple pie makes me think of family Thanksgivings; and to me, biting into a crisp, sweet slice of watermelon equals summer.
The sensual knowledge of Afghan food used to enhance emotions in A Thousand Splendid Suns was all but lost on me. Since my familiarity with that cuisine didn’t extend much beyond the kebab, I was curious to learn a little more about shalqam, mantu, gaaz, and other delicacies so lovingly described in the book. Just finding out what these dishes were and what they looked like really intensified the story for me (and made me want to seek out the nearest Afghan restaurant!).
Is it just me, or do you have a similar experience when you read the scenes below and are able to connect words to images? What’s your favorite food memory? If you’re familiar with Afghan food, tell us about your favorite dish!
“They made the bread together. Nana showed her how to knead dough, how to kindle the tandoor and slap the flattened dough onto its inner walls.”
(Type of bread = nan, a thin, long, oval-shaped flatbread; tandoor = a clay oven.)
“Nana taught her to sew, too, and to cook rice and all the different toppings: shalqam stew with turnip, spinach sabzi, cauliflower with ginger.”
(Shalqam = Persian turnip; sabzi = combination of fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, tarragon, dill, etc.)
“And so there was Gul Daman’s leader, the village arbab, Habib Khan, a small-headed, bearded man with a large belly who came by once a month or so, tailed by a servant, who carried a chicken, sometimes a pot of kichiri rice, or a basket of dyed eggs for Mariam.”
(Kichiri = a dish made with medium-grain rice like basmati, mixed with onions, mung beans, spices, and minced garlic.)
“[S]he put before him a steaming bowl of daahl and a plate of steaming white rice. This was the first meal she had cooked for him, and Mariam wished she had been in a better state when she made it. She’d still be shaken from the incident at the tandoor as she’d cooked, and all day she had fretted about the daahl’s consistency, its color, worried that he would think she’d stirred in too much ginger or not enough turmeric.”
(Daahl = lentil stew.)
“You’re staying for lunch?” Tariq said. “You have to,” said his mother. “I’m making shorwa.”
(Shorwa = traditional soup served ladled over bread.)
“With unsettling energy, Mammy set about cooking: aush soup with kidney beans and dried dill, kofta, steaming hot mantu drenched with fresh yogurt and topped with mint.”
(Aush = Afghan noodle soup; kofta = meatballs; mantu = steamed dumplings filled with beef or lamb.)
“All around them, women bolted in and out of the kitchen, carried out bowls of qurma, platters of mastawa, loaves of bread, and arranged it all on the sofrah spread on the living-room floor.”
(Qurma = braised meat or vegetables cooked with spices and yogurt; mastawa = short-grain rice with lamb, chickpeas, and yogurt.)
“[Mariam and Laila] sat on folding chairs outside and ate halwa with their fingers from a common bowl.”
(Halwa = melt-in your-mouth dessert of thick consistency that is made from vegetables like red pumpkins, squash, or carrots.)
“Mariam saw two men sitting on leather chairs, rifles and a coffee table between them, sipping black tea and eating from a plate of syrup-coated jalebi, rings sprinkled with powdered sugar. She thought of Aziza, who loved jalebi, and tore her gaze away.”
(Jalebi = swirls of deep fried batter soaked in hot syrup scented with saffron and rosewater.)
If you want to try your hand at cooking some of these enticing dishes, here’s a really wonderful site called “Afghan Cooking Unveiled” to inspire you: http://www.afghancooking.net/ (if you do cook something, please post pictures of your creation on our blog!).
Dr. Martha Bari, Director, First Year Experience