I grew up in Kandahar city in a predominantly Pashtun region of Afghanistan, during the reign of the last king of Afghanistan, King Mohammed Zahir Shah. That time 1933-73 is considered one of the most advanced periods in Afghanistan’s history. Infrastructure, education, women’s rights all advanced with women also being given the opportunity to vote.
That said, it was traditionally expected that women would cook whilst living in their parents’ house and it was considered obligatory in preparation for marriage. Hosting dinner events were an essential part of our household.
My father being a medical doctor meant that many people knew him and would randomly and unexpectedly visit our house for dinner. I remember my mother gladly accepting the invitations and cooking up a storm for their guests.
I had never met my husband until he came with his parents to my house to ask for my hand in marriage. My father was over the moon, he agreed to the marriage and because I was so close to my father, I willingly said yes.
I had an extravagant wedding, more than 1000 people were in attendance because of my father and father-in-law’s positions in Afghani society.
The dinner gatherings at both houses were massive. Once married, I took the responsibility of entertaining guests and because I had learned how to cook at home, the task of organising dinner gatherings for many people were not that hard.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, my husband and I decided to leave Afghanistan. My mother and a few of my siblings had left for Australia so we were sponsored and left Afghanistan in the hope of a brighter future for our kids.
I’ve dedicated the majority of my life to raising my four children. I wanted them to understand the importance of family and how much it means to stay connected to everyone.
I hosted many dinner gatherings at my house whilst the kids were growing up which I feel played a part in shaping their understanding of the importance of family and of hospitality.
I guess when you’ve gone through so much in life and your major focus and dedication becomes your kids, then watching them grow and become these amazing people – you feel a sense of pride and joy inside.
My daughter Nasreen, is passionate about food and about human rights and sometimes when I look at her, I feel she has the same fire that I had within me.
Narange Palow is a dish I have always loved to make. I inherited it from my mother and her mother. It was a regular feature at their dinner gatherings and became one at mine.
My family and friends still regularly request it all these years later and I suppose it is one of my signature dishes. It brings back so many memories for me of growing up in Afghanistan and of happy memories here in Australia.
I love seeing my children cook it themselves and am so happy to hear Nasreen say that cooking it makes her feel close to her parents, my husband and me. This food gives us all a great sense of continuity.
Editor’s note: this is an edited version of Maryam’s story. Her full story and her recipe for Narange Palow is published on the website www.RecipesForRamadan.com.
Look also for Nasreen’s recipe for Pomegranate Kafta.
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