PESHAWAR: Some 20 years ago, the Kabuli burger found its way to Peshawar’s foodscape—and there was no looking back.

However, the savoury treat that foodies just cannot get enough of is fast disappearing. Those who know how to make the Kabuli burger best—refugees—are being packed off to Afghanistan. Peshawar’s loss is Kabul’s gain as the burger makes its way back to the city it is named after.

Fazal Rehman, 40, is busy cooking fries that will be rolled into the bread. While it may look more like a shawarma, locals prefer to term the dish a burger. The chef started his business some twenty years ago in Board Bazaar, also known as mini Kabul. He said the Kabuli Burger was introduced by him and some other Afghans who launched their business in rented shops.

Rehman currently has eateries in three combined rented shops and pays Rs0.15 million in rent to the landlord. Talking about the origins of the Kabuli Burger, which is considered as special sort of fast food in Afghanistan, Rehman says it was first prepared in his native country and soon spread to other parts of the region, including Peshawar.

“You wouldn’t have these burgers after Eidul Azha,” Rehman smiles as he points towards Kabuli burgers being served to customers on plates. He adds refugees, who make a living by selling this item, are no longer welcome in Pakistan. Rehman doesn’t have any business or property in Afghanistan as Pakistan has been home ever since the age of three. He started off with a small shop and today his sales of Kabuli burgers are worth millions.

“My daily income was used to be over Rs0.1 million,” Rehman says, adding the take home has reduced to Rs30,000 owing to dwindling number of Afghan customers.

Just a few months ago, Rehman claims he used to entertain over a 1,000 customers on a daily basis. Today, hardly 300 to 400 customers visit his shop.  Currently 15 staffers—all Afghans – are working in his eatery. The ranks range from manager to waiters and dish washers. Most get salaries of over Rs12, 000.

With a hint of despondency in his tone, the shop owner says all of them will also lose their jobs and have to move back to Afghanistan where business will have to start from scratch. “Pakistan can allow us to continue our business through special trade visas or permits.” Rehman is extremely perturbed by routine harassment from police who are allegedly demanding bribes. Paying tribute to the sacrifices of the people of Pakistan, Rehman says he salutes the nation’s hospitality and the way people have treated Afghan refugees, particularly in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. However, he complains that the federal government should not have treated refugees so badly at this difficult time.

Key ingredients

The burger consists of fries, a boiled egg, salad and sausages which are rolled into a naan specially prepared for the dish. The naan is prepared from fine flour and is much thinner than normal bread.

Chat masala, black pepper and salt is sprinkled over the fries and then rolled in a newspaper wrapper. Afzal Khan is working as a chef in one of Rehman’s eateries.  The burger is served with tomato chatni, which adds more flavour to an already delectable treat.

Afzal has been in the business for around a decade. Talking to The Express Tribune, he says the Kabuli burger has spread across the province and most of his customers are Pakistani. Alongside the Kabuli burger, another famous food, known as ‘mantoo’, is also a specialty of Afghan chefs and liked by most Peshawarites. However, like the burger, it is only likely to remain for a few more days.  Mantoo is prepared from the same naan used in the Kabuli burger.

However, the flour is prepared like a samosa and filled with mince, cumin, pepper and is served with a topping of a special kind of dahi chatni as well as salad and French fries.

Rahat Shah, a regular customer of the Kabuli burger and Mantoo, says he loves to eat the dishes and hasn’t seen anyone except Afghans being affiliated with the business.

The customer adds he has been regularly visiting these burger shops since 2007 when he was in Islamia College Peshawar. “I have seen some of Pakistanis making the Kabuli Burger, but they can’t compete with the delicious one prepared by Afghans.”

Shah goes on to say that Afghan nationals can prepare various specialties, including Kabuli Pulao, and should be given a special permit to continue their business in Pakistan.