Recipe for suc­cess

Chew­ing the fat with Pak­istan’s BBQ mas­ters

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

The sweet aroma of mut­ton smoke drifts through a maze of crum­bling al­ley­ways, a bar­be­cue tang that for decades has lured meat-eaters from across Pak­istan to the fron­tier city of Pe­shawar.

The an­cient city, cap­i­tal of north­west­ern Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa Prov­ince, has re­tained its rep­u­ta­tion for some of Pak­istan’s tasti­est cui­sine de­spite bear­ing the brunt of the coun­try’s bloody war with mil­i­tancy.

Uni­ver­sity student Mo­ham­mad Fa­had had long heard tales of Pe­shawar’s famed mut­ton.

“Ear­lier we heard of Pe­shawar be­ing a dan­ger­ous place,” he told AFP – but se­cu­rity has im­proved in re­cent years, and he fi­nally made the hours-long jour­ney from the eastern city of La­hore to see if it could live up to the hype.

“We are here just to see what the se­cret to this bar­be­cue is,” he says, ex­cit­edly await­ing his aro­matic por­tion in Na­mak Mandi, or Salt Mar­ket, lo­cated in the heart of Pe­shawar.

The hearty cui­sine comes from gen­er­a­tions-old recipes em­a­nat­ing from the nearby Pash­tun tribal lands along the bor­der with Afghanistan.

It is feted for its sim­plic­ity com­pared with the in­tri­cate cur­ries and spicy dishes from Pak­istan’s eastern plains and south­ern coast.

“Its pop­u­lar­ity is owed to the fact that it is mainly meat-based and that al­ways goes down well across the coun­try,” says Pak­istani cook­book au­thor Su­mayya Us­mani.

The famed Nisar Charsi (hashish smoker) Tikka – named after its owner’s renowned habit – in Na­mak Mandi chalks up its decades of suc­cess to us­ing very lit­tle in the way of spices.

For its bar­be­cue of­fer­ings, tikkas – cuts of meat – are gen­er­ously salted and sand­wiched on skew­ers be­tween cubes of fat for ten­der­ness and taste, and slow-cooked over a wood fire.

Its other famed dish, karahi – or curry stew – is made with slices of mut­ton pan-cooked in heaped chunks of white fat carved from the sheep’s rump, along with spar­ing amounts of green chili and toma­toes.

Both plates are served with stacks of oven-fresh naan and bowls of fresh yo­gurt.

“It is the best food in the en­tire world,” gushes co-owner Nasir Khan, adding that the res­tau­rant sources some of the best meat in the coun­try and serves cus­tomers from across Pak­istan daily along with lo­cal reg­u­lars.

By Khan’s cal­cu­la­tions, the res­tau­rant goes through hun­dreds of kilo­grams of meat a day– or about two dozen sheep – with hun­dreds if not thou­sands served.

Hash and meat

The clien­tele at Nisar’s Charsi and other Salt Mar­ket ea­ter­ies usu­ally ar­rive in large groups, with ex­pe­ri­enced cus­tomers or­der­ing food by the kilo­gram and guid­ing cleaver-wield­ing butch­ers to their pre­ferred cuts, which are then cooked im­me­di­ately.

Pe­shawar’s im­proved se­cu­rity has given busi­ness a boost, Khan said.

“We had a lot of trou­bles and pains,” he admitted, re­mem­ber­ing friends lost dur­ing the years of dev­as­tat­ing bomb­ings and sui­cide at­tacks.

But some cus­tomers said they had been loyal to Pe­shawar’s cui­sine even dur­ing the blood­shed.

“I’ve been com­ing here for more than 20 years now,” said Ham­mad Ali, 35, who trav­eled to Pe­shawar with ith eight other col­leagues from Pak­istan’s cap­i­tal Is­lam­abad mabad for a glut­tonous lunch.

“This taste is unique, e, that’s why we have come all this way.” way ”

Or­ders gen­er­ally take close to an hour to pre­pare, with cus­tomers quaffing tea and oc­ca­sion­ally smok­ing hash ahead of the meal.

“They smoke it openly here,” ex­plained Nisar Charsi’s head chef Mukam Pathan. “When some­one smokes one joint of hash, they eat around two ki­los of meat.”

For those look­ing for a lit­tle less lamb, the city’s renowned chapli ke­bab of­fers an al­ter­na­tive.

The ke­bab is typ­i­cally made of minced beef and a mix of spices kneaded into pat­ties and deep fried on a sim­mer­ing iron skil­let.

Rokhan Ul­lah – owner of Tory Ke­bab House – said the dish is most pop­u­lar on cold, win­ter days that see rav­en­ous cus­tomers flock­ing to its four branches across the city, over­whelm­ing staff and mak­ing or­ders hard to fill.

“They eat it with pas­sion... be­cause one en­joys hot food when the weather is cold,” ex­plained Ul­lah, who plans to ex­pand in ma­jor cities across Pak­istan.

Cus­tomer Muhib Ul­lah has been eat­ing ke­babs three to four days a week for the last decade.

“This is the tasti­est and most fa­mous food in Pe­shawar,” he de­clared.

Hours-long meals

For reg­u­lar bar­be­cue eater Omar Aamir Aziz, it is not just the heap­ing por­tions of meat that at­tract food­ies to Pe­shawari cui­sine, but the cul­ture that has built up around the meal.

Other cities in Pak­istan and abroad have more in the way of en­ter­tain­ment and nightlife op­tions.

But in deeply con­ser­va­tive Pe­shawar, eat­ing out is the pri­mary leisure ac­tiv­ity.

Meals tend to last for hours after the meat has been con­sumed as con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues over steam­ing cups of green tea.

“That’s what we have and that’s our spe­cial­ity,” says Aziz.

Pho­tos: VCG

Pak­istani butcher Nisar Charsi pre­pares meat in his res­tau­rant in Na­mak Mandi in Pe­shawar on De­cem­ber 6, 2018. In­set: Grilled meat at the Nisar Charsi Tikka res­tau­rant in Na­mak Mandi in Pe­shawar.

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