What the guidebooks will not tell you about Peshawar’s famous Namak Mandi, or Salt Bazaar, is the easy access to a pinch of hash to go with the traditional meat fare the street is celebrated for. The herbal intoxicant is known to lend an edge to appetite. And what better place to get the juices flowing than Namak Mandi, where you can sink your teeth in all the lamb you could dream of?
It is not for nothing that of all the eateries in this bazaar in the heart of the old city, the Charsi Tikka shop draws customers in droves. The name is a nod to the combination of hash and mutton that has become something of an epicurean delight – much like red wine with meat. But while you would be lucky to find wine or any sort of alcohol in the conservative Northwest Frontier Province, the Spartan rooms in the Namak Mandi restaurants where people sit to eat meat are often smoky with the scent of cannabis.
But to dwell on charas is to distract from the sumptuous delights that the bazaar specialises in. While a pinch certainly helps to sharpen the appetite before an order of the market’s traditional fare, anyone would find themselves drooling over the meat dishes served here without even the unconventional appetizer. From the sizzling tikka karahi – lamb stewed in its juices and fried in fat with a liberal mix of tomatoes, ginger and green chillies – to the barbecued rib chops served with lemon, a gourmet heaven can be found beneath the crumbling rooftops of Namak Mandi.
And if you find you cannot stop eating or feel a little bloated by that large glass of lassi served with the tikka karahi, worry not. There is always a steaming cup of Peshawari kahwa (green tea) handy to ease any glutton’s pain. Packed with a therapeutic punch not unlike that of a dose of Pepto-Bismol, green tea has been used for centuries in these parts to address troubles of indigestion. A delicious cup of cardamom-rich kahwa may be just what is needed to make room for that bowl of kulfa – kulfi served with almond and vermicelli – sold at the stalls of the ancient Kisa Khawani Bazaar, the Story Tellers’ Market, just a few streets away.
But vegetarians, be warned. While you may find the odd vegetable or dal dish at a restaurant here, Peshawar is not known for its love of greens. Those with a craving for chlorophyll are better off buying fresh veggies from the Sabzi Mandi, and cooking at home. And let us not rush to say bon appetit to the traveler who finds himself in this city during the month of Ramadan. The streets sleep then, as all shun physical indulgence in keeping with the spirit of fasting. Expect to be served frowns and not food if you go looking to eat in a public place in Peshawar during the holy month.