Afghanistan's enigmatic food secret

At the centre of one of the Earth's harshest environments, on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, two cookbook authors have found "a profoundly human place".

In May 2016, a cookbook on one of the most remote and enigmatic cultures in the world won the title of Best Cookbook Of The Year at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

This surprising accolade paid tribute to the Pamir region on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, an ominous environment of steep cliffs, deep valleys, remote villages and harsh weather.

It seems an unlikely place to source award-winning recipes - but With Our Own Hands is far more than just a recipe book.

The ambitious project began in 2009, when PhD student Jamila Haider and her co-author, Dutch ethno-botanist Fredrik van Oudenhoven, met while working in Tajikistan.

They instantly discovered a mutual love for the Pamir region and a mutual anxiety for its future.

While working on development projects, both scientists had seen the erosion of Pamiri traditions firsthand, with foreign food being favoured over ancestral recipes and young people leaving the mountains without plans to return.

The day after their first meeting, the two scientists came across an elderly grandmother while exploring the village of Mun in the Ghund Valley of the Tajik Pamirs.

The woman recounted the recipes of her childhood and explained the importance they held for her and the Pamiri people.

These recipes had only ever been passed down orally from generation to generation.

"The woman asked us to write down her recipes. That way, she said, she could leave them for her children and grandchildren," Haider said. "The real need for the book became very clear."

Each of the book's 100 recipes is explored through the eyes of the Pamiri people and the history of their homeland, with spellbinding stories of local legends, opium addiction and Soviet influence.

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