Since the dawn of mankind, grilled meat is probably the most widely consumed meal – out of choice or sheer necessity – in most corners of the world.
The art of barbequing meat has evolved over the ages; from place to place, generation to generation and culture to culture.
The subcontinent has a rich tradition of barbequed meat; it is the centrepiece of Shinwari cuisine and the crowning glory of the Punjabi palate. But quintessential desi BBQ has always been associated with holes-in-the-wall; roadside joints that could care less about hygiene and, instead, aim to serve up well-grilled meats marinated in a medley of delectable spices.
Given the popularity of BBQ, it is then no surprise that the gastronomically starved denizens of the capital are turning up in droves to the latest meat lovers’ paradise in Islamabad – BBQ Bazaar.
Located in Jinnah Super Market, on Bhittai Road, the eatery has only been around for a few months. The brainchild of two food-loving businessmen – Ahmad Khan and Ali Gohar – the restaurant has quickly developed a loyal clientele, with customers coming back for more every so often.
The new eatery that elevates desi barbeque from roadside food to gourmet-level could be the next big thing.
The look and feel of BBQ Bazaar, though, is a far cry from most dhabas that are known to serve up lip-smacking barbeque. With its crisp, stylish and almost bourgeois environs and cosy outdoor seating, this a great place for families and large groups of diners who are serious about their love for meat.
When asked ‘Why BBQ?’, Mr Khan put it this way: “BBQ is healthier and people like to go out for it, since it’s not something cooked easily at home.”
While most barbeque places can be split between the Shinwari (Pashtun) or Punjabi-style, Mr Khan claims to have kept a balance between the two.
“We serve saltish non-spicy and spicy barbeque as well, to cater to all taste buds. We brought in specialist chefs for each item from different cities of Pakistan so that anyone, be they from Punjab, KP, GB, AJK, Balochistan or Sindh, everyone’s tastes are catered to,” he says.
The pièce de résistance has to be the trinity of Punjabi-style mutton chops, Shinwari style salty lamb chops and grilled spicy prawns. Served in a style reminiscent of rodízio, the Brazilian all-you-can-eat barbeque spread, the skewers of perfectly-cooked meat are a sight to behold, and taste even better than they look.
Each has their own unique characteristics. The lamb chop is slightly dry, very salty and so well-cooked that marrow enthusiasts can safely chew on the crispy ends of bone.
The spicy mutton chops are a symphony of flavours and textures, capturing perfectly the essence of Punjabi spices and slow-cooking.
The grilled prawns seem to come straight from the Karachi-seafront; the spice and the consistency is at a par with the best that established places such as Karachi’s Barbeque Tonight have to offer.
Tamarind sauce is the perfect condiment for the occasion, and is served in liberal quantities alongside most BBQ items. The signature starter, a variation on namak paray, served with tamarind chutney, get those stomach juices flowing while one waits for the main course.
“Amazing food! Their mutton chops, mutton boti and prawn BBQ are great. Also loved their daal makhani and biryani,” raved long-time Islamabad resident Amina Askari.
Mohammad Kashif, who was on a visit to Islamabad, was fascinated by the ambience of the place. Lamenting how most restaurants focus on cosmetics and not their food, he said: “My experience at BBQ Bazaar is very different. The food is tremendous, especially their mutton chops. They have been cooked with just the right amount of spice, and the sauces compliment the food perfectly,” he added.
On his part, Mr Khan seems content with a decidedly Pakistani identity for his restaurant. Indeed, the restaurant has hardly had any publicity; relying mostly on word of mouth and returning customers since it opened its doors a couple of months ago.
Originally published in Dawn, August 21st, 2017