Kabul, like Karachi, has only one kind of nightlife – a foodie kind of nightlife. But it can be a little bit more risqué/fun that Karachi. While Karachi asks you to bring your own, Kabul serves its own. Kabul has a decent variety of cuisines being served across the city. Thai, Chinese, Indian, Croatian, Middle Eastern and many more. The next few blog entries will showcase some of Kabul’s best eateries. Here’s the first in my ‘Kabul Eats’ series.
If you look up any travel guide to Kabul, you are bound to come across the name L’Atmosphere - a French restaurant/bar catering mainly to the expat community but locals are served too (there are places where locals are denied entry. Colonial much?). L’Atmosphere has three dining areas – an outdoor area, the bar/pub area with sofas and bar stools and a more formal dining area with tables and chairs.
It is located in the Qalla-e-Fatullah area, about 10 minutes away from the central district of Shar Nau. Don’t let the road to L’Atmo intimidate you – it is under construction and basically a mess right now (think Shireen Jinnah colony or Sohrab Goth 10 years ago). However, no road is too hard for a taxi to get to. Security is a bit more relaxed here – the guards will check your bags and ask a couple of ‘friendly’ questions but cameras are allowed and you will not be asked for identification.
We opted to sit in the bar area which was by far the most popular part of the restaurant – occupied mostly by American and European expats. The menu is surprisingly extensive – with crepes, pizzas, pastas, salads, soups, steaks and desserts. Alcohol is not ‘on the menu’ but it is available – beer, whiskey, rum, vodka and wine.
When dining in Kabul, place your order quickly. The food takes a while to arrive, about 20-25 minutes for the soups and salads and even. We ordered a bunch of starters – fried camembert with cherry jam, chicken salad and French onion soup.
The chicken salad was loaded with a spicy chicken chunks on a bed of ice-berg lettuce, cucumbers and onion and no dressing. Luckily, the chicken was not over-cooked and the vegetables were fresh and crunchy so you don’t really miss out on flavor.
The French onion soup was perfect for the cold Kabul evening. I would have liked a more bodied soup though.
The fried Camembert was a quick reminder that we were in fact still in Kabul. No complaints about the cheese but the sweet, bottled cherry jam gave it all away. The hot cheese on bread still works though.
The Nordic crepes were STUFFED with lots and lots of salmon – a real treat in a landlocked Afghanistan. The crepe itself was light and soft. My company could not wait until I took a picture, hence, half a crepe only in the picture
Pizza has got to be the world’s favorite comfort food. No matter where you come from and where you are eating, pizza is bound to make you feel at home. L’Atmosphere has a range of pizzas – easily categorized by the toppings/meat on them – chicken, beef, cheese and so on. We ordered the chicken. The pizza was fairly large – to be easily shared between two as a main.
After a really ambitious ‘Western meal’ we ended our indulgence with a chocolate crepe and ice-cream.
The entire meal along with drinks (including alcoholic ones) cost about $150 for the four of us. Remember, expat dining in Kabul is expensive as it is limited and exclusive. L'Atmosphere is where the well-heeled expats come to play so you know what to expect.
And a very big thank you to Kabul's finest violin teacher - my friend William Harvey for taking me to L'Atmo (because real expats call it L'Atmo)
AND the biggest thank you of all to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Pakistan and Afghanistan for letting me bring Kabul that much closer to Karachi - as part of the Af-Pak Journalism Fellowship Exchange Program - Understanding the Neighbour.