The Afghan stance on meat and being a vegetarian in Afghanistan
Being a vegetarian traveller is sometimes hard, with many countries people (or guides) needing help understanding and accepting. In Afghanistan, meat is essential to the population’s diet, with lamb, mutton and beef ranking among the most popular dishes. It is also important to remember the country’s history and the dynamics of its population; the nation is developing and amongst the poorest in the world, affecting diets.
You can check out our general Food in Afghanistan Guide here, which also includes tips for vegans and vegetarians in Afghanistan.
The Trial of Being a Vegetarian in Afghanistan
After months on the road, especially in Central Asia, where I primarily ate nomadically, I felt I needed more colour in my diet. I missed fresh fruits and vegetables, and quite frankly, I was sick of meat. Thus, en route to Afghanistan, I decided to become a vegetarian. I knew the timing was off, but I didn’t want to wait any longer.
I had been to Afghanistan before and loved the food, but the meals I had previously consumed were very meat-based. Hence, I wasn’t sure what my new diet would consist of because I lacked information and understanding of the concept in the country. Therefore, this blog (you’re welcome!)
What it was like being a Vegetarian in Afghanistan
The first realisation it may be more complicated than I anticipated was on my KAM (Afghan airline) flight en route to Kabul when the servers came around with the offering. “Lamb, mutton, which would you like?” the hostess asks; I naively replied, “Anything vegetarian?” he tilts his head in confusion. I replied, “Yogurt, or can I just have the snacks?” it was clear I had made an embarrassment of myself as he continued to roll the trolley straight past me. To make me feel better, the man beside me says, “You’ll have options, just limited”. It was at this moment I considered giving up. Technically, I could eat meat, but then again, if I wanted to be honest with potential customers, I had to do the hard yards.
Discovering the Vegetarian options in Afghanistan
Upon my late arrival to Kabul, we headed straight out for dinner, and my lovely friend Nawruz said, “Mantu for you, Paris.” this was my favourite traditional dish last time, a dumping filled with meat. Not this time, Nawruz, not this time, “I am a vegetarian now.”, he is as confused as the airline hostess and after explaining why, he begins reading the menu: “How about plain rice or a chicken salad? It is all I can find”. With limited options and an apparent lack of understanding, I agreed but asked for no chicken in the salad; my salad still had chicken once arriving. They apologise and tell me they understand now: “no chicken, that’s meat, so no animals”. I did not want to make a fuss, so I ate around it; it felt like a learning curve for both of us. Make sure you say no animals.
As the week went on and our guides learnt the meaning of being a vegetarian, life got a lot easier; it also allowed me the opportunity to learn about Afghan agriculture and the wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that play a significant role in Afghan culture, even if not usually solo.
Must try vegetarian dishes in Afghanistan
#1 Afghan Bread
Bread in Afghanistan is among the most delicious staples for everyone, especially vegetarians in Afghanistan. It is also an important social ritual and staple of the region. This delicious naan-style bread accompanies every (literally) single meal. It is almost always served fresh and warm. Its unmistakable smell from large traditional ovens or clay tandoors gets the senses going even before your first bite or sight.
If an apple a day keeps the doctor away and you need some snacks for the road, there is no greater than the apple, even if you don’t usually like apples. They were delicious and juicy, which made more sense after discovering the apples originate from Central Asia. Apples are also one of the most widely grown crops, and their most significant exports are to countries like Pakistan and Iran. So if you need an Afghan vegetarian dish, you cannot go wrong here!
One of the best Afghan vegetarian dishes! While this meal was more challenging to find except in homestays and more fancy restaurants, it was delicious. The meal’s main ingredient is spinach, which is very flavoursome with added parsley, cilantro, onions and scallions. You can add lemon, which is always readily available in the region, for extra flavour. This dish is also perfect for you and your tummy on the road!
Everyone knows Mantu is my favourite meal. However, I have ranked vegetarian Mantu fourth because it is difficult to find and requires more preparation time. But hopefully, with this guide, you can tell the guides in advance to have you sorted!
So, what is it? Mantu is a type of dumpling filled with meat but, on this occasion, vegetables. I tried the spinach mantu, with garlic yogurt sauce and paprika. Its savoury flavours in the thin dough are simply spectacular. A must try!
#5 Afghan Eggplant Dip
Last but not least is the Eggplant dip, perfectly paired with #1 Afghan bread. If you travel to Afghanistan, one thing becomes clear – Afghans love eggplants! You can try it in various ways: fried, steamed, boiled, but the dip version is by far the best. It is often accompanied with dill and mint, making this snack wake your taste buds.
Ready to join us on our Afghanistan Tours? We have you vegetarians covered!