Islamabad-The air in Nadia Coffee shop of Marriott Islamabad was filled with the aroma of Shinwari cuisine on a Friday night. As winter approaches in the capital, it brings with it a change in preference of cuisine. To tantalise the taste buds during the season, Marriott has recently introduced Khyber Night on Fridays. Varieties of halwas replace kulfi faloodas and ras malai’s, whereas nihari, payae and meat karahi’s become the most sought-after main course items.

Sensing the mood, the debutant Khyber Night at Marriott has hit all the right notes. The food connoisseurs who have especially been brought in from Peshawar were seen tossing chappli kebabs in a live show to make the experience an authentic one. Freshly grounded beef pattys were seen sizzling in a big wok. The place was packed to capacity as guests had poured in savour the Pashtun delicacies. Foodies of the capital have recently been enjoying the growth of shinwari eateries which bring a taste of different cultural cuisines of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  

Truck art decor, servers in white starched shalwar kameez with mirrored buttons busting the tables, Peshawari kahwa making rounds in small multicoloured flasks and cups can only be seen at kissa khawani bazar outlets. Meat being served in form of Damphukt, namkeen karahi, goat chops, chappli kebabs and pata tikka were the first picks to be put to test. Dampukht, a shank of lamb meat attached to the bone, had a domino effect.

The moment it was lifted from the food cauldron and put on the plate, it divorced the bone instantly. The tender meat took seconds to melt in the mouth.

“It is cooked overnight on slow heat and in its own fat like most of shinwari dishes,” informed the chef from Peshawar.  

When it comes to Pata tikka, one needs to develop a taste.

These are not regular beef or mutton chunks put on the coal to bbq, instead, a thin layer of the lamb skin fat is wrapped around the pieces of meat and grilled to perfection. It is the fat skin, which melts into the meat to make it tender. Chapli kebab is the staple diet of every Pashtun household. 

Smaller in size, these kebabs complemented the piping hot peshwari naan coming out of the make-shift tandoor.  There can be no two opinions that cuisine from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa requires an acquired taste. Dumba karahi too is cooked in lamb fat which is the very reason it tastes so different from any regular karahi served at restaurants or dhabas. The most amazing thing about the Shinwari cuisine is that it does not involve too many spices.

“We hardly use any tomatoes, garlic or ginger.  Owing to the use of lamb fat, the dish is already heavy on the appetite” informs the chef. Now this is where the Peshawari kahwa casts its magic spell. The beverage is helpful for digestion, that one doesn’t feel any heartburn after consuming such a high-calorie diet.

The typical Peshawari kahwa is brewed on red-hot coals slowly and for a longer period of time. Many believe that the secret to this digestive kahwa lies in the natural spring water of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa whereas others give credit to the herbs with which it is made.

Irrespective of where the credit is due, the bottom line is that it washes away the fat consumed. The Peshawari kahwa is always accompanied by morsels of brown sugar. Khyber Nights have brought KPK to the capital city, creating a perfect infusion of two extremes.

–The writer is a freelance contributor