When we accepted this mission to spend six weeks in Kabul, during Ramadan, we worried about many things. Near the top of the list (after "will the insurgents allow us to buy carpets?" answer: yes) was, "what the hell are we going to eat?"
This summer, we won the trifecta of suck: in quick succession, we spent a week on a compound in Erbil, ten days in an Islamabad guesthouse then recently started six weeks on a compound in Kabul. In places where your movements are restricted --either due to security or culture (girls don't eat out alone in Islamabad) -- food quickly becomes an issue. After ten days eating the guesthouse food in Islamabad, we came home with the greasy ghee meat sweats. That's pretty bad, but not actually the worst thing that can happen to you eating in Islamabad.
The long and short of it: Food can be a real problem on these junkets, particularly if you don't like to eat meat two or three meals a day and appreciate an occasional vegetable.
Unlike Istanbullular, most people in Kabul actually fast during Ramadan, but it's not like we're able to walk down the street to the local teahouse/disease vector and grab a kebab anyway. So, we thought a lot about what we'd be eating while packing. We came up with the Consultant Survival Kit, pictured below.
You'll notice the bottles of rum and vodka with the Holy Plastic Chalices of Nalgene designed to evade (successfully!) bribe-seeking Defenders of Islamic Virtue at the airport. Also, peanut butter, tuna and couscous and Siriacha Vietnamese hot sauce (popularly referred to as Hot Cock). Those are the staples of our diet at home, so thank allah they are easily transportable.
As it turns out, only a couple of those items were mandatory. And, if I have to tell you which ones, you clearly don't read this blog regularly. The unexpected necessary item? The Hot Cock! It turns out that several members of our multi-national crew brought their own all-purpose condiment to make bland food more palatable: the Italian brought olive oil, the Mexican -- a delicious homemade hot-sauce from charred tomatoes. So we share. With several Italians, a Mexican, a Belgian and multiple Americans, we spend a lot of time at dinner talking about things we aren't eating.
But we should complain. Our Afghan cook prepares two meals a day for those of us trapped on the compound and they are quite edible. We suspect that, at one point in his career, he chopped up and served Soviet soldiers, but he knows what a vegetable is and is moderate with the oil. Every day we have a salad and soup with a nice meaty main. Someone taught him how to make chocolate cake and apple pie and he's getting ready to harvest the pears from the tree on the compound for a pear pie. He has taught me how to make a delicious and genuinely spicy green tomato salsa.
Not only that, the "American" supermarket is better than pretty much any in Istanbul. It stocks almost every American processed and junk food you desire, which sometimes we do. Imagine, if you will, that we will be importing food from Kabul to Istanbul, especially Thanksgiving goods. There's also an Italian supermarket which sells real pork and delicious cheese, but sadly, no wine.
After ten days already, we've only been sick once. And they call this a hardship post!