afghan bread

With winter’s pantry almost empty and the green promise of Persian New Year just days away, it was time for a trip to Fremont’s Little Kabul to stock up on Near/Middle/Far Eastern supplies.

It’s a ritual now.

1. Get up early on a Saturday.

2. Clear out the back of the station wagon to make room for bread.

3. Call fellow eater-travelers to make sure they’re awake.

4. Decide which bridge to cross this time around.

afghan grill

5. Stop first at De Afghanan Kabob House for slabs of potato-filled bolani, each huge round rolled and cooked to order under a battalion of bacon weights. Order juicy lamb chops and chicken kebabs along with a minced chapli patty. Load leftovers into car.

6. Shop at the farmers market for real cilantro, the kind with purple stems and small, sweet leaves and every thick, gnarly root intact. (The leaves become chutney; roots go into the freezer for making Thai curries.) Load produce into car.

afghan cilantro

7. Head to Maiwand Market to watch their halal butchers cut goat after goat in half. Load meat into car.

8. A few steps away, watch the Maiwand bakers gently pat bread dough until each loaf is 3 feet long and 1 foot wide and half an inch thick. Order 4 loaves and watch them go into the oven. Chat with folks in line for 5 minutes. Claim my loaves, wrapped in paper torn from flour bags. Load bread into car.

9. While the bread cools, fanned out in the back of the car, continue shopping.

afghan raisins

Throughout the day, other must-have foods will find their way into my bags — chewy sun-dried mulberries, sabzi herb mix (with mint, cilantro, leek and fenugreek leaves), flowery pussy willow water, gold-green raisins, whole dried limes or flaky butter cookies stuffed with dates. Thus does my pantry fill back up. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be able to enjoy the exquisite flavors of Afghan, Persian and Parsi cooking.

afghan butcher

One corner of Maiwand holds neatly ranked bins filled with dried essentials: chickpeas, aged basmati, walnuts, almonds, sliced orange peel and bright-sour sumac berries. The opposite corner houses a halal butcher. You need a trunkful of lamb or goat? No problem. The butchers will even carry the carcasses to your car for you.

The heart of the market, though, is its bakery. Fresh loaves of nan afghani emerge every five minutes all day long, all week long. While modern deck ovens have replaced the clay tandoor, the bread retains its distinctively long, narrow slipper shape and its finger-rippled surface. A mixture of wheat flour and white flours gives the nan a nutty flavor yet tender bite, a perfect foil for savory kebabs and rich qormas.

afghan dough

The bread freezes beautifully and warms to a crisp in a toaster oven within minutes. Along with a plop of full-fat yogurt or some fresh cheese, that’s about as easy as you can get for breakfast. If I’m in a savory mood, I’ll drizzle the yogurt with cilantro chutney. If I’m feeling sweet, a smear of butter and raspberry jam makes the bread an excellent accompaniment to a cup of afternoon tea.

Or, if I’ve recently returned from a Fremont expedition, I’ll eat the nan with heaping spoonfuls of khashk, a creamy, buttery, faintly caramelized fresh cheese magically thickened from the whey left behind in Middle Eastern cheesemaking. There’s nothing else quite like khashk, and I’ve fallen completely, helplessly in love with it.

maiwand khashk

Maiwand offers a house-made version packed in cartons like ice cream. It’s so good that I eat it straight from the container. There are less perishable, totally acceptable versions in jars, but if it’s your first time, please do go for the homemade carton. And if you’ve made it all the way to Little Kabul, you might as well grab a jar of that lovely cilantro chutney by the register, too.

afghan chutney

The best day to visit Maiwand is on a Saturday, especially during the spring and summer when the Centerville Farmers’ Market across the street is in full swing. The bakers will be mixing, forming and baking bread throughout the day within full view, so you’ll be able to watch up close a centuries-old tradition. On the weekends, expect to stand in line with families buying a week’s worth of bread. A few of the older buyers insist on pinching the corner of each loaf to check its freshness. Some request no seeds; others ask for darker or lighter loaves. Most walk out with a stack of eight or more cradled against their chest.

Surely, contentment is an armful of bread still warm and fragrant from the oven.

afghan bakery

Maiwand Market
37259 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94536
(510) 796-3215

De Afghanan Kabob House
37405 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94536
(510) 745-9599

afghan kebabs

Afghan Bread in Fremont’s Little Kabul 18 March,2009Thy Tran

  • Chef Chris Sturzl, CEC, CCE

    I am soooo envious!!

  • HD

    What a great, passionate post. Thank you.

  • ann

    Thanks for the post, I live in Fremont so this is GREAT!

  • Asma

    I lived in Kabul for 10 great years (long before all the problems that are there now), and I love the food. Is one able to have Nan ordered and sent? I would love to treat friends and family. Thanks.

  • Asma – I’m afraid that the market is not set up for mail order. Also, while the bread freezes well, I’m not sure it’s lovely texture would survive shipping. But do check around where you or your friends/family live. Many cities have Afghan restaurants, and where there’s Afghan food, there will surely be Afghan bread!

  • Black Yogi Bear Limo people like to eat, we will come and eat all your bread very soon. I hope your bread will tasty.

  • Haroon

    That food looks SO delicious.

  • Asma

    Oh how wonderful. I miss Afghanistan very much, but at least we have this and many places in my area too to enjoy the food.


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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