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Restaurant creates oasis of Afghanistan culture where women are full partners | The Homepage

Updated: Jul 16

Four people stand shoulder-to-shoulder. On either end are two young women with long black hair, and in the middle is a man with black hair and a salt-and-pepper beard, and a woman with long black hair pulled back from her face. All wear black t-shirts and jeans.
The Bakhshi family in Rice ’n Stew. From left: Katayoon, Sohrab, Haida and Kawsar. Photo by Cassandra Harris

Family opened Rice ’n Stew eatery near the corner of Murray and Hazelwood avenues in June

By Cassandra Harris, staff writer

When Haida Bakhshi and her family moved to the United States from their home in Afghanistan in 2018, women in their country had regained a modicum of the freedom they lost under Taliban rule.

Afghanistan women gained the vote in 1919. In 1950, laws mandating men and women be separate, and women veil themselves in public, were abolished. The 1964 constitution focused on women’s rights. But from the ‘70s to the ‘90s when the Taliban took over, those freedoms were taken away.

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, that changed. Ms. Bakhshi stayed in school and attended university, majoring in English literature.

Even so, in 2011 Afghanistan was declared the most dangerous country for women by a survey of experts on gender issues. Afghan women were experiencing frequent violence, intimidation, poverty and lack of healthcare, the report by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation said.

So when Ms. Bakhshi, her husband Sohrab and 7-year-old twins boarded a plane for the United States, she and her daughters took off their hijabs and left that life behind.

Ms. Bakhshi said she never imagined herself being a co-owner of a business, but in June the family opened Rice ’n Stew, a halal restaurant at 4371 Murray Ave. with their daughters Katayoon and Kawsar, now 14 years old. Inside the cozy eatery, they are creating an oasis of Afghan food and culture where the women are full partners.

“As women,” Ms. Bakhshi remembered, “we were nothing. Life in Afghanistan was always dangerous and difficult. Especially these days. An animal has more rights.”

In their first year in the U.S., the twins thought they would move back home soon, but Ms. Bakhshi knew they wouldn’t. She said she misses home because she grew up there and her family and friends are there, but she would not want to live there now.

Under Taliban rule, girls cannot attend sixth grade. In Afghanistan, women are banned from appearing alone in public without a male chaperone and are not allowed to work in public areas except in a few select professions, according to Amnesty International.

‘Everything turned to ashes’

For many years, Mr. Bakhshi was the family’s sole provider. After they immigrated, he split his time between the two countries, spending about half the year in the U.S.

He began working in construction for the U.S. Army Corps in 2001 and continued until 2021 when his project with Operation Enduring Freedom ended, he said. He flew 24 hours to Afghanistan from the United States for work on Aug. 10, 2021, just days before the capital of Kabul came under direct threat on Aug. 13 from the Taliban. On Aug. 15, he flew back to the United States through Qatar.

“Everything turned to ashes out there overnight with the collapse of the government and with the coming of the Taliban, and withdrawal of the U.S. Army and the entire United States out of Afghanistan,” he said.

“We were the last standing subcontractor for the U.S. Army Corps in Afghanistan,” Mr. Bakhshi said. “Our project was active all the way until the 15th of August.”

By the spring of 2022, Mr. Bakhshi wanted to find work, but couldn’t start at the level he wanted to because he lacked experience in the U.S.

It would have taken him 15 years to work his way back up to a managerial role in construction. Instead, he opened a pizza shop on Fifth Avenue, but after six weeks in business, he realized it was not the right path for him.

He left the pizza business and took out a loan. He and Ms. Bakhshi put their heads together and decided to create an affordable fast-food alternative to hamburgers and pizza. Originally, they thought the dishes would be themed around rice, but realized the main feature was stew. So Rice ’n Stew was born.

Ms. Bakhshi created the recipes and plans to add an authentic Afghan catering menu to the restaurant in the coming months.

Katayoon and Kawsar helped with design choices like which pots and pans to use, the flow of the restaurant and kitchen, and the logo design.

‘I feel at home’

Mr. Bakhshi said the family not only wanted to serve delicious food but also employ other Afghans, giving them an opportunity to communicate in their own language at work.

“A lot of people from Afghanistan arrived here after that evacuation,” Mr. Bakhshi said. “They're all human resources one way or another; they're going to work somewhere.”

Two of his employees, Najibullah Nabizada, 32, and Mussa Bawari, 30, have known each other since childhood and fled Afghanistan together on Aug. 15, 2021. Now they work together in the U.S.

Mr. Bakhshi translated from Persian to English for them.

Before coming to the U.S., Mr. Nabizada served in the Afghanistan National Army Aviation Force on a technical crew. Mr. Bawari worked in the kitchen crew on an army base doing quality control. When the military was ordered to either surrender to the Taliban or disarm and come to the nearest military airport, he and Mr. Bawari felt they had no choice but to follow orders.

“Leaving your home is one thing, but when you're leaving your everything, including your wife and children behind just to survive and just to obey the commands of your superiors, it's unexplainable,” Mr. Nabizada said through Mr. Bakhshi. “It can only be felt.”

When Mr. Nabizada came to the U.S. he landed in Virginia with Mr. Bawari. For around three months, he and the other refugees didn’t know where they were being taken until he was finally processed through a resettlement agency in Pittsburgh.

But Mr. Bawari was relocated to Missouri, where he worked for an automotive seating manufacturer. However, in 2023 he rejoined his friend in Pittsburgh and took a job working in food service. Then he found work at Rice ’n Stew.

“It feels like my own business. I feel at home,” Mr. Bawari said. “What we serve here is not only food, it's a tradition.”

When a customer comes into the restaurant, they buy a complete meal. They pick their base rice, choice of stew, salad and an eggless dessert custard called ferrini. The meal also comes with a spicy green chutney on the side.

The restaurant uses only fresh ingredients, Mr. Bakhshi said, including the meat, which is never frozen.

They chose the Murray Avenue location for its affordable rent and the diverse neighborhood.

“If we can make this food good enough to be acceptable by this community, especially in this part of Pittsburgh,” Mr. Bakhshi said. “I believe that taste would serve everyone with satisfaction.”

Rice ’n Stew is a business the family plans to one day retire from.

“I love Pittsburgh,” Mr. Bakhshi said. “It's very similar to where I was born. The nature [in my country] is not as green as Pittsburgh, but it's mountainous, chilly and has snowy winters and green summers.”

Rice ’n Stew is now open Monday through Saturday and can be reached at 412-909-5159. Visit for their menu and online ordering.

Cassandra Harris is a rising junior at Point Park University and a Pittsburgh Media Partnership summer intern at The Homepage.


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