Khartoum’s Barbecue Hot Spot

By A.V. Crofts

Published on July 19, 2010

Dressed in a traditional tobe wrap, Hanan Abdullah seasons chunks of goat meat with salt and pepper in her outdoor kitchen at Kandahar, a sprawling collection of barbecue stalls on the outskirts of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. A helper takes the meat and places it on a round perforated-iron grill, which sends the alluring scent of smoke and searing meat into the hot desert air. "I have customers who come from all over the city to eat my food," Abdullah says. Those include me and my American health-worker colleague, Vicki; we've endured a 40-minute drive on Khartoum's legendarily congested roadways to enjoy Kandahar's famous grilled meats. (The market is named after the city in Afghanistan, a joking reference to how painfully far it is from Khartoum's downtown.) Twelve years ago, Abdullah and her family relocated to Khartoum from the central part of Sudan, fleeing drought and civil strife. Arriving with little more than what she could carry, Abdullah set up a small roadside operation selling grilled meat and bread. Over time, she saved enough to erect a tent stall; it is now strategically positioned at the entry of the market, which grew up organically as newcomers opened stalls. For Abdullah and the millions of other Sudanese like her who have come to the city for a better life, grilled meat—goat, sheep, beef, chicken, even camel is adored across Sudan—has been a popular point of entry into the local economy. She now employs a staff of five, including Selwah Hadir, who works the grill; her stall doubles as a home for her workers, who sleep on the cots used as seating for customers by day. While the meat cooks, Abdullah prepares a salad of diced cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, freshly ground peanuts, cloves, curry leaves, and coriander. Moments later, our meal is served on a large metal tray. We perch ourselves on stools and douse the meat with a fiery chile sauce, scooping it all up with fresh-baked bread and chasing it with the cooling salad. We finish off the feast with cardamom-spiced coffee, called jebena. Then, following the lead of customers at other stalls, we recline on cots beneath the shade of a tarp, sated and glad for having made the journey.

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