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The Killid Group
The art of cookingWritten by Orang Mukhtar
Saturday, 26 November 2011 10:51
Haji Mohammad Hasan has discovered the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
The 'chef' in a restaurant in Kabul Hasan has made food his passion and livelihood. An expert in Afghan cuisine, he says he has showed off his skills to great appreciation in Peshawar and in Saudi Arabia also.
"I've been a cook for more than 30 years and have made many friends this way," he told Killid in an interview.
Hasan was born in Mazar-e-Sharif. "I was 13 years old when my father made me an apprentice with a hotel owner named Haji Mohammad Yusuf. I was his apprentice for four years."
Hasan says he will never forget a slap he got from Haji Yosouf. "I made a mistake one day, and my teacher slapped me across my face … it pained for a long time but I believe that one slap is the reason for my present success!"
Had Haji Yosouf not been so strict, he may not have learnt the craft so well, he adds. "I would not be known as a great cook, and I would be entangled in many financial problems."
Rags to riches
Now Hasan has the satisfaction of knowing he is a good cook, who earns well, leads a comfortable life, and is able to plan a good future for his children.
His childhood was different.
"Our family was poor. When I started cooking, our life changed and our financial problems slowly vanished."
The art of cooking was the key to his release from penury. "I have not been jobless whether inside the country or outside. I have not had to wait in a square for daily work, or extend my hand (for alms) to anyone."
Forty years old, Hasan spent two years in the military. But he did not do military duties. "The two years passed very easily because I was a cook."
During the Taleban years he found work in Saudi Arabia. "I was offered a job, and appointed in a hotel in Mecca."
He became well known for Kabili (a kind of Afghani pulao). "Many Arabs would praise my food and say that Afghans prepare delicious food, better than any other people in the world."
He was six years in Saudi Arabia. He got married during that time. The money was very good, and it enabled him to get married, he said. "If I were not a cook, probably I would not have been able to get married because it is quite difficult for a poor man (to afford) to get married in Afghanistan."
Haji Hasan has performed the Haj three times. "I could fulfill my religious duty."
Haji Hasan has an observation about being an Afghan among Arabs. "An Arab would come regularly to our hotel. One day he praised my food. I told him I was an Afghan from Mazar-e-Sharif. He turned his face away, and never came back to our hotel again."
He is glad to be living in his own country. "When the situation improved a bit (in Afghanistan) I returned… (If) I laughed loudly in Saudi Arabia everyone got angry with me. In Peshawar the police would harass me thinking I was just a poor Afghan refugee."
Hasan's only regret is that he was not educated. He is determined to give his children the best education.