Monday, October 04, 2021

Kabul Bufe: Afghan Lunch in Budapest

Pilav of our dreams
Hungary, if you read the news these days, is not a nation that is exactly welcoming to immigrants, especially refugees. Viktor Orban made a political career out of demonizing refugees as "migrants" since the 2015 refugee crisis, when thousands of mostly Syrian refugees faced a bottleneck at Budapest's Keleti Train Station. The crisis was handled in the worst possible way by Hungarian officials denying services to the encamped families and then intentionally misleading them about travel onward to Germany. It was not Hungary's proudest hour. The crisis has passed but the sour attitude remains. The government controlled media refer to all emigrants and refugees simply by the perjorative "migrants" - usually adding that they are being sent to Hungary by the demonic financier George Soros, because, you know, he can. The volunteer organization that helped feed the refugees during their brief stay in Budapest was treated as a subversive antigovernmental plot and many of its participants were harrassed out of the country. I was out on the street when thousands frustrated Syrians at Keleti finally decided to take their fate in their own hands and march on foot toward Vienna. As I watched them march towards the Danube bridge leading to Vienna, I actually felt a sadness. I had been hoping for some new neighbors. And now they were marching away, never to return, taking their Syrian culture and cuisine with them. And we are poorer for it. 
You have to look closely for the Kabul Bufe.  Népszínház u. 27,
If you visit Budapest, you will notice that Budapest, unlike most European cities, doesn't seem to have any real immigrant neighborhoods. The unfortunate truth is... people don't emigrate to poor countries. Hungary is not dirt poor, but it can't offer the wages and opportunities that its western neighbors can to families looking to resettle in Europe. And the anti-refugee rhetoric plays into the canard that Hungary is "protecting Europe" and by extension, Christianity, from the hordes of hummus eating, kebab grilling, and fatoush mixing Middle Easterners lining up to take up Evil Master Soros' command to move to the eighth district. The result is... very few immigrants and very little of the advantages that come with growing up in multicultural environments. Like immigrant food. 
The daily double: Kabuli beef pilav, and chicken pilav, both with kidney beans.
Presently, we are facing an unprecedented refugee crisis in Afghanistan. Hungary - a NATO member - was a military participant in the Afghan War since 2003, and it has flown in 540 Afghans who had connections with the Hungarian government and military during the conflict. Hungary already has an Afghan community of around 2000, but unless you stroll along Népszinház utca in Budapest's 8th district you would never know it. Népszinház has become the street which immigrant multiculturalism shines the brightest in Hungary. We bike up Népszinház utca about once a week to stock up at the Troya Turkish Supermarket, which offers a full selection of Turkish products including an onsite butcher selling the best and cheapest lamb in the city (but no longer stocks fresh fish...) . The big magnet along Népszinház utca for us, however, is the Kabul Bufé. This is a tiny hole in the wall lunch spot serving Halal Afghan food  open from 11AM to 10 PM. There are several Middle Eastern luncheterias along Népszinház utca offering the usual felafuls and shwarmas and Iraqi, Pakistani, and even Nigerian food, but we couldn't pass up the Kabul Bufe when we first found it. Now we are addicted
The choice: with or without.
The menu consists of what you see: a choice of two rice pilavs. One is Kabuli Pilav, a brown spicy beef or chicken and rice mix, and the other is usually meatless with some veg and raisins floating around in it, and some mildly spiced creamy chicken stew to spoon on top. There is usually a bean or lentil dhal of some kind to add on the side, my favorite being the kidney beans. And that's it. Both are good: I always order one of both to go, because there is hardly any space to dine inside beside a single table. Also: they are incredibly cheap. A Styrofoam container that can fill two normal people for lunch costs about the same as a Big Mac. Also, as soon as we finish we want more.
Two pilavs... with string beans and spud-filled samosa on the side.

The real fast food of Afghanistan are bolani, supple stuffed flatbreads filled with spiced leeks, potato, or chicken. these are worthy of a meal in themselves, so I usually take a few home, and later dry fry them up in a frying pan for a quick evening meal. The samosas are a bit more substantial than ones you might find in an Indian restaurant: the potato filled ones are some of the best vegetarian food available in Budapest. And again: you can afford them. Several of them. 

One last suggestion: if you see plastic cups with some kind of creamy dessert in the cooler... get them. I have no idea what they call them... and I don't usually eat dessert, but The Queen Who Rules My Existence loves any kind of flan or cream dessert with sweet spices and She loves them. The last one was some kind of creamy mango with cardamom flan... She also took the photos, at least the ones that are in focus...
Two cups of cardamom mango flan next to our usual order.