Cafe Culture in Kabul Shows How Afghanistan Is Transforming

Cafe Culture in Kabul Shows How Afghanistan Is Transforming

The two-story Cupcake Coffee Shop has no shortage of customers, here for an array of cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and specialty coffee drinks. Yet the shop, with its open coffee bar and wood-paneled walls, isn’t in Chicago or Manchester, or anywhere else in the Western world: It’s nestled in the heart of Kabul, the war-torn capital of Afghanistan.

Co-owner and manager Mohammad Hussain Gulzara, 23, says he noticed that other Kabul cafes were always crowded and provided a limited menu, so he opened this one over a year ago.

“Things are changing. Places like this is such a good opportunity for us to not just meet friends but also network with new like-minded people,” he said.

Afghanistan has experienced conflict for decades. In between terrorism and the front lines, life goes on, and with it, signs of a new normalcy that includes cafes that have cropped up around Kabul.

Gulzara wasn’t the only one who noticed the need for new eateries. Fueled by local investments and a growing population of young people — 63 percent of the country is under 25 years old — the restaurant industry of Afghanistan is transforming.

Despite security risks, which include attacks from insurgents like the Taliban and the Islamic State group, the growing youth population of Afghanistan has encouraged the opening of stylish cafes and restaurants. Demand for luxury products and services has risen amid exposure to Western cultures through digital media and as a revived middle class travels abroad.

Which brings us to cupcakes: Not common in Kabul, cupcakes have been drawing customers, which has allowed the Cupcake Coffee Shop to open a second branch this year.

At one of the tables, Najiba Yaqubi sat with a crew of friends, taking selfies and pictures of food and coffee.

“After a tough day at work, and with the stress of the daily routines of living in Kabul, we like to come here just to relax, unwind, and spend time with our friends,” she said. Yaqubi, who’s in her 20s, works at a private research organization in Kabul.

Left: Two Afghans sit in the dining area at Cupcake Coffee Shop in Kabul. Right: Najiba Yaqubi, a regular customer at Cupcake Coffee Shop, says she visits the cafe to meet with friends or to unwind after work. Unlike most restaurants in Kabul the cafe is not segregated by gender.

Although civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in 2018, violence has not deterred Yaqubi and her friends.

“Sure, it might seem risky to hang out at such places, but living in Kabul itself comes with a certain level of risk,” she said.

Her attitude is reinforced at the crowded tables here and at other coffee shops across Kabul.

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