Listen to this audio essay:
A Journey to Afghanistan
By Amy Datiz
Kabir "Wali" Sultani, manager and owner of Kabul, an Afghan BYOB at 106 Chestnut St., remembers when he first envisioned the opening of the restaurant in 1991, "Everyone knows about Indian food and Chinese food and I wanted people to know about Afghanistan and their food."
To capture the essence of his country, Sultani included a wide variety of the foods ranging from the everyday food to the rare, such as brown rice with lamb, raisins and carrots and orange-flavored saffron rice with orange peels and chicken. " We don't eat that every day in Afghanistan, maybe on special occasions," said Sultani. Freshly baked Afghan bread is served with each meal, and there are even vegetarian items. The menu is varied with options such as: mango dough, Turkish Coffee, Kabulis (seasoned chunks of lamb), Bulanees (stuffed turnovers) and Kababs.
Typically, the Afghan meal consists of eating with hands on a specific area on the floor, shoes removed and hands washed with a special pitcher. At Kabul, this idea is featured with the inclusion of a taqh, a raised area where this can be practiced. The taqh is decorated with colorful Afghan rugs and pillows, separated from the other tables for privacy. The restaurant's style and decoration accurately describes Afghan, as Sultani explained, " I did it all myself. This is my culture."
Sultani was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and traveled to the United States in 1989. Shortly after arriving to the United States, in 1991, he established his restaurant in 106 Chestnut Street, becoming the first in the city. Ever since, Kabul has been serving the public, accounting for almost 20 years of great service. In 1999 and 2000, Kabul was awarded the Best of Philly in addition to being Zagat Survey Award Winner from 1999-2001.
After 9/11, circumstances for the Afghan population residing in the United States has changed according to Sultani, however, most of the population is in approval of his business, his customers being mostly Caucasian. "I don't not eat German food because we had a war with Germany. Culture is more than politics," said Katie, a local resident. Other residents, like Cadance, who lives in proximity to Kabul, says "I think it's wonderful exposure to other culture, especially food is a very benign way of exposing people to it." Kabul is widely accepted and visited regularly by a wide public.
Today, there are two Afghan restaurants, Kabul and Ariana, located in Chestnut Street a couple of doors from one another. Both seem to be thriving even as the war in their home country has become America's longest. The work of these hardworking people has lead them to economic stability and their businesses to prosperity.