Art & Culture

Meet Afghanistan’s historic restaurant, Hotel-e Shah Qol

Hotel-e Shah Qol, an ancient and well-known restaurant, is a familiar name to many Kabul residents. For the past eight decades, it has been a cornerstone of the community, serving a diverse clientele that extends beyond the capital city.

Located in the bustling Mandavi market of Kabul, Hotel-e Shah Qol has been a culinary destination not only for locals but also for visitors from other provinces. Over the years, the restaurant’s reputation has become so ingrained in Afghan culture that a popular saying emerged: “This is not the Shah Qol Hotel where you can eat and leave.” This phrase underscores the expectation that one would always find ample food at the restaurant, leaving with a full stomach.

The restaurant’s history dates back 83 years, a legacy carefully maintained by the family of Shah Qol, the original founder. “This restaurant has an 83-year history. Previously, it was located in the public garden. Our food is prepared according to our customers’ preferences,” said Hasan, the current owner. The establishment’s enduring success is a testament to its ability to adapt while maintaining the traditional flavors that patrons love.

Hotel-e Shah Qol’s menu features classic Afghan dishes such as kebabs, dopyaza, and Uzbeki Qabili. However, it is the restaurant’s unique cooking style that truly sets it apart. Mohammad Zia Haiderzada, a chef at Hotel-e Shah Qol, noted, “I have one year of work experience here, but the restaurant has an 80-year history. This is one of Kabul’s famous restaurants.”

Many loyal customers continue to frequent the restaurant, drawn by both its storied past and the quality of its food. “This restaurant has both a long history and good quality food. It prepares tastier food compared to other restaurants,” said Mohammad Ebrahim Hakimi, a Kabul resident. Mohammad Saber, another local patron, added, “It has good quality food; whenever we come, we eat here.”

Despite its popularity, Hotel-e Shah Qol has faced challenges in recent years. The Taliban’s restrictions have led to a decline in the presence of women and girls at the restaurant, and its traditional appearance has also changed. These changes have impacted the atmosphere, but the restaurant’s commitment to high-quality, flavorful food remains steadfast.

The restaurant’s ability to attract a large number of customers daily, even amid such changes, speaks to its deep-rooted significance in Kabul. As one of the few remaining symbols of a bygone era, Hotel-e Shah Qol continues to be a beloved establishment where history, culture and cuisine converge.