Photographs courtesy of Zok Pavlovic
On one of our forays around the Kabul area, we travelled to the Fort of the Judge (Qala Khazi), located in Southwestern Kabul Province outside the city. This, to me, is one of the most interesting parts of Kabul area, as it illustrates something which has been occurring around the capital city. Traditional Pashtun strongholds are being sold off to Hazara and Tajiks, who are repurposing the land from agriculture to commercial and residential uses. Kabul has extended its geographical footprint extensively, and what was once farmland or wasteland is now occupied by large building developments, as well as commercial and industrial use.
Because Kabul is located in a series of valleys, we can see the fort, which is in slightly higher ground, from a distance. In fact, we can see the fort from the very beginning of the journey, but it is extremely difficult to pick our way through the uncontrolled expansion and sketchy streets and alleys that meander toward the fort.
Despite our angst in finding a route there, we soon discover that there was no need to worry, as all roads in that part of rural Kabul province converge upon the fort; once you are in the web of roads, it pulls you right into the confines; a brilliantly conceived series of constricted spaces which would force a prospective enemy into perfectly situated fields of fire.
To add to the difficulty of extremely narrow and winding roads, there are some rather steep slopes in front of us, and our car complains and occasionally even stalls on particularly tricky turns and defiles. We occasionally have to back up or pull off of the road to allow a heavy truck to pass coming the other direction.
Once we arrive at the fort, we pull off onto a fallow field and are immediately greeted by the man who lives in the fort with his family. He is extremely friendly, and speaks to us about life in the fort; about crops, and animals and about his family.
His children surround us and flirt with us, and we stand near a cow and calf. While we are there, he insists on feeding us food, and will not take no for an answer. He sends away his beautiful children, who return quickly with a blanket, which they spread upon the ground, while other children come with a basket of freshly baked, warm na’an, a bowl of fresh yoghurt and a small bowl of salt.
We sit upon the ground and dig in to the incredibly delicious food together, while we continue to talk about life. There is minor drama when the calf, who is being weaned, smells her mother’s milk in the yoghurt and begins fighting her halter and mooing piteously. One of the children castigates the calf and she sulks just out of reach of the bowl of yoghurt.
We remark to each other how wonderful the yoghurt and na’an tastes, when I notice that the na’an has a definite greenish tint and tastes of alfalfa. I then look over to the cow and calf, both of which have alfalfa in their feed trough, and it’s then that I noticed that the cow and calf’s dung has been carefully collected, formed into patties and set out to dry. I then look over to the community tandoor oven, and notice the dry patties stacked up outside it.
Thanks to Michener’s book “Caravans” and Dupree’s “Afghanistan”, I manage to put two and two together and realize that we are eating and enjoying “dung na’an” or na’an which has been baked over a dung fire. The exclusively clover diet and careful management of the animal dung leads to a flavored na’an which is delicate and frankly, delicious.
We bid this gentleman and his children farewell, and take away an interesting story about a fabled dish that is much better than one would assume.