A Walk Through Delhi's Mini Kabul

In Lajpat Nagar, Afghan refugees express their longing for a life left behind through food
A Street-food Vendor In Delhi's Mini Kabul
A Street-food Vendor In Delhi's Mini Kabul

For some, food is the language of hope and an attempt to keep holding on to a past one has had to leave behind&ndasha definition I learnt while sitting in an aptly named restaurant, Kabul Delhi, tucked in the narrow lanes of south Delhi's Lajpat Nagar

This area was initially planned for, and allocated to, the refugees from Pakistan in 1947. A few decades later, a part of it (Lajpat Nagar 2) returned to square one&ndashtens of thousands of Afghans fled to India during the cold war, escaping Russia's tormenting invasion. 

In a largely Punjabi colony, Afghans have now found their home. If you walk a few kilometres from the central market and enter one of the gullies, you'll end up in a world unknown and unexpected. The distinction between this area and the rest of Lajpat Nagar is unmissable&ndashhere, women in abayas and men in pathani suits make the crowd, in contrast to the next locality where stores selling Indian wear dot the street. 

Flavours Of A Distant Life 

Earlier, it was tough to call this place home. But as time passed, it was easier to adapt, or do what's the hardest&ndashto accept, says my server as I inquired hesitantly about life here. This is not just a story of just this man but everybody in here and out there. 

Even though the story of how each establishment started here may be rooted in pain, what they serve is ingrained in the memory of how flavours back home. The sublime flavours of Kabuli Uzbek Pilaf (saffron-infused mutton pulao), Qaburghi Kebab (mutton kebabs belonging to the Qandahar region), Kofta Chalao (tender minced- lamb kebabs) only attest to that. 

Street Food In Mini Kabul 

You are bound to find naanwais (naan bakers)slapping Afghani naans in large slanted tandoors at every turn. These are unlike the naans you get in restaurants in other parts of Delhi&ndashthey are thicker, denser, and have a tinge of bread-like sweetness to it. Apart from these, you will also find many stalls selling Afghani burgers&ndashthis is unarguably a showstopper. Although it's named burger, it's more like a wrap packed with veggies, fries, eggs, meat, and sauces. One of these is big enough to keep your appetite and heart full for days. 

Preserving The Past 

Even general stores here remind you of their far, far away world. Although they sell everything other stores in Delhi do, few things&ndashlike chilgoza (pine nuts), khajoor (dates), and Pegah brand's heavy-cream&ndashstill retain their place in the lives and the shelves of the Afghans here. Even the hoardings and signages feature Dari right next to the English translation. 

However, this world is as new for the younger generation of Afghanis as it may be for a first-time visitor. Most of them have only had the chance to understand where they come from based on the stories they've heard from their parents and grandparents. With each generation, this distance between where they're and where they're from only grows. 

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