The food street not only offers its guests delicious local cuisines but also hospitality and warmth
n 2014, the PTI-led provincial government set up the Peshawar Food Street (PFS) with an objective to attract tourists and create business opportunities for local residents. Over 20 points were selected in the Namak Mandi area. These had already been popular for their traditional meat cuisines, especially tikka karahi, pilaf, chapli kebab and roast chicken.
The area offering four signature food items is enclosed by three entry and exit gates to ensure security for the customers. Red carpets have been laid out with scattered pillows and lights hovering over the venue to allow guests to enjoy a traditional setting. Some foodies enjoy food while seated on tables while others prefer to have their tikka squatting on charpoys.
Tourists throng the food point in the city to satiate their taste for traditional cuisines, after taking a trip of Peshawar’s historic sites and streets.
The city district government looks after the street’s affairs including safety, cleanliness and quality of food. Women and families are also entertained. “The hospitality and warmth are the hallmarks of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” remarks Rahmat Khan, a salesman at a food point.
Namak Mandi has been popular for traditional dishes, especially mutton tikka karahi and patay tikkay (barbecue) roasted over charcoal and sprinkled with salt. It is served with raita (yoghurt), salad and naan.
Since it usually takes an hour and half for orders to be served; guests sit on the carpeted floor enjoying their chats as their food is prepared. The scrumptious meals are usually followed by green tea that helps digest the indulgent treat.
Currently, cooked or roasted mutton is sold at around Rs 2,300 per kilogram. However, the total bill may go up to Rs 3,000 depending on what is ordered alongside the main course.
In winters, the food street is packed with families, visitors and students from and around Peshawar city.
Mostly Shinwari tribesmen own the restaurants offering traditional cuisines in the city. But others also run outlets around the city offering food and beverages with a local flavour. Pashtun tribes across the Durand Line share the same culture and traditions, including food and dress.
Dr Ikram, a foodie from Islamabad, says that he and his three friends visited Peshawar Food Street recently to try the local barbecue, which they found delicious. He says that the city’s narrow lanes, especially old houses of Bollywood stars including Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, filled them with nostalgia for the past glory of the historic city.
“The number of visitors has increased over the years. Owing to a secure environment, women also make their way to the street on weekends. Families are seated in separate enclosures,” says Haji Khan Baz, president of the Peshawar Food Street.
Zubair Ali, Peshawar’s district mayor, says that steps are being taken to rent out available space in the Peshawar Food Street to generate revenue, adding that over 400 people could then be accommodated in addition to the around 200 visitors that normally make their way to Namak Mandi every day.
“Along with space, other foods will be added to the food street’s menu. New space will be rented out on subsidised rates to encourage food businesses to generate revenue and to attract more visitors. This will also boost local tourism,” he says.
“Having tikka karahi and green tea, and being able to walk through old bazaars around Peshawar is a real treat. People are hospitable, welcoming and open hearted. This reflects a society that believes in the spirit of diversity,” says Chaudhry Shahzad, a visitor.
Haji Khan Baz, president of the Peshawar Food Street, tells The News on Sunday, that the street is also known for its chapli kebab, pilaf and roast chicken.
“The number of foreign tourists and domestic foodies visiting the street has increased over the years. Given the secure environment, women, too, make their way to the street on weekends. Families and women are seated in separate enclosures,” he says. “These four food items are available in almost every nook and cranny of the city but expert chefs have been hired for preparing the traditional treats in a special manner,” says Baz.
Some also offer online delivery for guests staying in the city hotels and other local residents. But Baz says this service requires extra resources. “The city district government is providing security and ensuring cleanliness at the venue. However, parking is an issue. We have approached the concerned officials to resolve this on a priority basis,” he says.
Craig, a foreign epicurean who wished not to be photographed, says that while he has tried cuisines in several countries around the world, Peshawar’s tikka karahi, especially Nisar’s charsi tikka and pilaf, have won his heart. He and his two friends never miss a weekend to drive from Islamabad to Peshawar to enjoy the food.
Amina Qureshi and Dr Suhail who drove from Lahore to walk through Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Qila Balahisar, Masjid Mahabat Khan and Gor Khatri, ended up at Namak Mandi to taste Peshawar’s favourite food delicacies. “A wonderful walk through the sites of old Peshawar took us into the past. We enjoyed every moment. Peshawar’s food street is simply irresistible; the very smell of barbecue made us hungry. We were also served green tea free of charge.”
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets at @Shinwar-9