Kabul Kitchens

The kitchen can be a high-pressure place—particularly if the restaurant you’re running happens to be located in Kabul. Salon points the way to a fascinating story published in Women’s eNews about a boomlet of restaurants in Afghanistan owned by female expats.

The drawbacks are many: In order to get foreigners in the door restaurants must hire armed guards and string barbed wire, staples like fresh milk are spottily available, militia goons come to shake owners down. But somehow women like Lalitha Thongngamkam are prospering:

Thongngamkam, a Thai in her 50s, has followed the ‘U.N. crowd’ from one war-torn country to the next, exploiting a frontier niche. Before Kabul there was Kosovo. Before that Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda and East Timor.

In each place she operated a restaurant for as long as the aid workers lasted. When the political situation settles down the competition picks up, the international community moves on and she follows suit.

In 2003 when she set up her restaurant, Lai Thai, it was the only high-security restaurant catering to Kabul’s foreign influx. Soaked in the fragrance of lemon grass and coconut milk, it was an ideal oasis, a perfect sliver of all that the city was not. Tables had to be reserved.

Business is slower now. But she hopes a place she just opened this week inside the NATO military headquarters and another opened inside a second NATO compound in May 2005 will make up for it.

Now that’s enterprising.

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