Eating my way through Afghanistan: Bamiyan Brasseries at the Kabul InterContinental [Restaurant Review]

Kabul may not be your regular go-to destination for a relaxing sojourn. But, you are selling this place short if all you can think of when you hear ‘Afghanistan’ is war. And I’m not going to try convince you otherwise. It’s true that security is a concern here, for foreigners and locals alike. But that is not to say that life here is grim. On the contrary; Kabul is bustling with energy and a fair amount of reserved grandeur.

And if there is anything that I learned in the four months that I have spent here, it is that an Afghan, especially the Kabuliis, love their food. While one wouldn’t imagine that eating out would be a popular recreational activity (and it probably isn’t), I was surprised to find a number of local food joints in the city, crowded and, in some cases, with young families.

Kabul not only has restaurants of every cuisine, but also a plethora of local hangouts with the most authentic (and delicious) food from the region.

My life in Kabul has been such a delightful culinary experience, something I simply had to document and share with the with the rest of you.

So, I’m going to start with posting short reviews, with photos, of some of best places to eat, local as well as fancy, in Kabul. I’m going to begin with perhaps one of my favourite fancy treats — Bamiyan Brasseries at the Kabul InterContinental.

The experience begins right from when you drive into the hotel complex. Located on one of the little hills that make up most of Kabul, the location is picturesque; the kind of place to take someone on your first date. Once you get to the top, after the usual number of security searches (4, maybe 5; one gets used to them eventually), the view from the top is simply breathtaking. If you are visiting during daylight, you get treated to the entire west end of the Kabul cityscape, the fast-developing city against the ancient, sometimes snow-clad, mountains. And if you happen to be there for a evening soiree, the beautiful Kabul city lights will take your breath away.

The hotel structure itself is quite the sight. Nearly half a century old, it has stood witness to the frequent political upheaval that left most of the country devastated. And even as the country rebuild itself, over and again, so did this pied-à-terre of Afghan hospitality. Its long history of regalia becomes evident as soon as you enter the lobby lit by at least a hundred chandelier. And as you walk the hallway to Bamiyan Brasserie restaurant, you begin to wish you had dressed a little more princely.

But once inside, you are treated as nothing short of a royalty, irrespective of how you’re dressed (I know, because I once went there early morning for their breakfast buffet dressed in the same clothes I slept in). Meals here are served in buffets, but I can assure you it isn’t the public serving you would expect. An array of local Afghan specialties are laid out against the backdrop of a mock up of the Bayiman Buddhas (illustrating why the restaurant is names such).

Meals must begin with a serving of the traditional Afghan soup — Aush. Made with veggies, meat, and spaghettis, it served with yogurt, and simply a delicious start to a meal. For your main course, you can choose the usual Afghan suspects — the Kabuli pulao, shola, ghosht korma, and several rice dishes. Or you could also pick the lighter servings of Mantoos, my most favourite of Afghan dishes.

But perhaps, what’s best about the Bamiyan Brasseries buffet, is the barbecue; a range of meat, cooked in perhaps 50 different ways. It’s a meat lover’s heaven, nothing less.

This, coupled with the local live music (and sometimes Bollywood!), promise to take you back to the days of Kabul royalties — life on the silk route!

If you get past all that and can still take some more, then you must save for the dessert. A mixed bag of Afghan and global treats, including firni, cakes, and fruits are best washed down with some Afghan green tea.

And all that royal food, ambience, and service will only leave your wallet lighter by 2500 Afs for two. ☺