I know this might be a bit confusing but my work life as a world affairs reporter for SPIEGEL magazine makes me drive on the fast lane from time to time. Yes, I’ve been to Oslo two days ago, and after that in Brussels, yet since this morning I’m back to Kabul, flying in via Frankfurt overnight. It’s my fourth time in this country named Afghanistan and I will try to find out whether the situation here has further deteriorated, well, or not.
You might ask: Come on, are you serious? Do you really want to talk about food while travelling a war-ridden, desperately dodgy country? Well, the answer is: yes. And I tell you why: I’m pretty sure that you have a completely wrong idea of Kabul on your mind, a picturesque panorama of blood, sweat and tears where nobody laughs and food only comes out of UN aid planes. You know, when I first came to a crisis region long ago, there were many things I had to swallow and many things I didn’t understand – but one of the weirdest experiences was exploring the parallel worlds of civil life that seem to persist even in hell: the restaurants where champagne is served while you can hear gunshots outside; the bars where you find well-aged malt whisky at a price per glass higher than the bimonthly wage of a local worker.
These places exist in Baghdad as well as in the West Bank, in Kurdistan, in Bangladesh and they are very prominent in Kabul. It’s an easy calculation: The more international organizations you have, the more nice restaurants will show up and there’s always a crazy Frenchman opening his Café de Paris right in the middle of chaos (such a Café does exist, of course, in Kabul. Had breakfast there once, they serve Crêpes there, decent coffee and light salads for lunch). One of the gravitation centres of Kabul is Bocaccio’s though, a restaurant where blond Russian or Kazakh ladies serve Italian food and wine complete with Carpaccio made of corn-fed beef from the US, Tagliatelle, Pizza and truffled Risotto. At dinner time, the room fills with ministers, ambassadors, journalists, UN guys, intelligence and other security people, they’re drinking Brunello di Montalcino for 300 US$ a bottle and having ice-cold Limoncello as a nice apéritif. That doesn’t match your Kabul picture, does it?
Now here’s the short story of my today’s lunch which I had at Bocaccio’s with a dear friend. I ordered a “tuna steak” which took a while to be prepared – and finally I was served a plate with two pieces of pan-fried flatfish, I suppose it was plaice. That’s the moment when you think: Ok, this is a war zone, you can’t possibly make a scandal here because of food. But still, in order not to be looked down at as a complete food idiot, I said, when the White Russian removed the plates: “Listen, just to mention it, this wasn’t tuna.” Fasten seat belts, ’cause here’s what she said: “Oh, we serve white tuna here. You know, you’re not the first guest who thinks it’s not tuna. But it is tuna. White tuna.”
Have a look yourself, I proudly present to you: the white tuna of Kabul, formerly known as plaice: