In the back of a restaurant in Kabul, Waheed, one of the last expert cooks in the “chainaki” recipe, distributes chunks of meat and lamb fat among approximately 200 teapots of different sizes and shapes. At dawn, leaning over the earthen oven where the weathered kettles are lined up, Waheed checks that each one has the correct proportion of meat and fat, as it can vary according to diners’ tastes.
Waheed explains that the chainaki recipe has remained the same for more than 60 years, passed down from generation to generation in his family. He adds salt and lentils to the teapots, then covers them with tomato-colored juice. The fire burns under the pots as they gently boil, covered with a sheet.
After five hours of cooking and the addition of other spices, customers can enjoy this delicious stew for 200 afghanis (about $2.35). Diners praise the taste and quality of the food. Ghulam Usman Tarin, a regular customer for 15 years, says the “chainaki” is delicious and gives him energy throughout the day. The meat used in the dish is local and easy to digest.
Waheed is the only one in his family who knows the secrets of the recipe that has made his dish famous. Over the years, his kitchen has been visited by Afghan television celebrities, politicians, and some foreign tourists. Although Waheed jealously guards the ingredients and does not wish to share them with the press, he has passed on his knowledge to his children. However, none of them show any interest in carrying on the family culinary tradition.
With each passing day, Waheed cuts the kilos of meat he will cook the next day into the kettles, keeping the tradition alive. While acknowledging that his father was an exceptional cook and that no student can match his teacher, Waheed continues to honor his father’s legacy as long as he has the strength to do so. For him, the “chainaki” is more than a dish; it is a memory and a connection to his past.