Navigating your way around an Afghan kitchen is a fun adventure. Growing up, the kitchen was the heart of our home and where guests would gather, bringing their cup of tea with them as my parents put the finishing touches on the evening meal. My friends would linger over the island, getting life advice and hearing sage wisdom from my parents. And my kid brother's friend from down the street would find any excuse to pop in to the home whenever his favorite chicken dish was being made. It was and continues to be a lively place to gather, and our home was our friends' favorite hangout spot with our open door policy. On most evenings, there was an addition to our family at the dinner table, whether it was one of my siblings or my friends, a friend of the family, or a new community member my parents had learned recently moved to the neighborhood and were welcoming by hosting them for a meal.
We grew up as a bilingual family, Dari/Farsi is one of two official languages spoken in Afghanistan (the second one being Pashto). My parents fluently interchanged between Dari/Farsi and English when speaking to my siblings and I, and so it became second nature for us to think, speak, read, and write in both languages. My mother jokes that in the first half hour after we came home from school, we primarily speak English. In the following half hour, we would begin speaking in half Dari/Farsi and half English, sentences mixing words from both. And that from thereon for the rest of the evening, we would slowly transition into Dari/Farsi until the next morning when school would begin and the language shift would start all over again.
There were staple characters in our homes, the friends who were like family and thus "adopted" or honorary Afghans as we called them. These childhood and college friends would come in and out of our home often, sleeping over in Ramadan and joining us for suhoor, the pre-sunrise meal before the day of fasting. They joined us on family celebrations, lending a hand to setup our home as we hosted a friend's bridal shower or a birthday party. And as such, my mother often referred to them as her children as well, seeing them so frequently in her home alongside my siblings and I that she treated them one and the same as the rest of us. If a friend had arrived at my parents home prior to myself, I would enter finding them in deep conversation with my mother, drying the dishes for her or folding dishcloths to be stored from the laundry basket.
They enjoyed a deep level of comfort in our home, a fundamental component of Afghan culture being the exceptional level of generous hospitality as an unbreakable norm. They were so much a part of our family, that my mother would often forget that they did not speak Dari/Farsi and would begin speaking to them in full Dari/Farsi, until their faces of polite confusion and an interjection from myself would remind her to switch back into English. She'd chuckle and excuse her error, confessing that with her children it feels instinctive to speak in Dari/Farsi without thinking and thus she would repeatedly fall into that with our close friends as well.
The situation became amplified when I was engaged to my now husband, Juma. Juma is Swahili from Kenya by heritage, and thus also grew up in a similar bilingual home interchanging between Swahili and English. His introduction to Dari/Farsi was through me, learning simple phrases and vocabulary over time. My parents immediately embraced him as their son, and in true Sediqe family fashion, began treating him like another one of their children. My mother, the very strict health conscious woman that she is, even graced our dinner table with a large bowl filled with every iteration of KitKat she could find when Juma visited, knowing it was one of his favorite indulgences. And thus, it was also inevitable that towards him more so than any other one of her honorary children, she continues to struggle with remembering to consciously speak in English and not switch to full Dari/Farsi as she instinctively does every time.
And so I write this introductory guide for the benefit of all of my mother's children, the adopted/honorary ones, her biological ones, and the children of other Afghan mothers as well. And to the friends of those Afghans who may not be mothers themselves, but may have picked up their own mother's habits. I confess I am one of those myself-- after years of interjecting and correcting my mother to remember to speak in English, there are some things that I naturally gravitate towards expressing in Dari/Farsi and find myself teaching all my loved ones the translations as I know this habit of mine will not change. There is a love and warmth in expressing some words in Dari/Farsi, and I'm excited to share that warmth and love with my growing community here in this short guide of Kitchen Talk 101.
Key terms related to Afghan cooking & eating
The following terms have been spelled out phonetically in English to assist in learning how to pronounce the terms
No-sh-eh ja-awn: Enjoy/Bon Appetite, I will often write it as noshejaan in text
Ta-sh-a-kurr: thank you
Bi-sh qawb: plate
Naan-eh khushk: bread
Naan-eh sh-ow: dinner
Naan-eh ch-aw-sht: lunch
Chai so-eb: breakfast
Gush-nah ast-um: I’m hungry
Sayr ast-um: I’m full
Sayr shud-um: I have become full
Dast ay-tawn dard nah kun-ah: a phrase used from the people in the province of Herat, where my father is from, to literally mean may your hand not hurt but is figuratively utilized to thank a host for their efforts and delicious meal
Have you had a similar experience in an Afghan home? Are there any other terms you'd like to know to navigate an Afghan kitchen? Let me know in the comments below.