May 1999, the beginning of summers in Peshawar, my father, Dr.Abdul Wadood, who was the head of Department of Pharmacology, Khyber Medical College at the time took me along to a gathering of his friends at Charsi Tikka in Namak Mandi.
Namak Mandi was chosen by his friends for the get together because of its delicious food. It is located in the near vicinity of Dabgari Gardens, where most of my father’s friends had their clinics. My father was never into clinical medicine so, that day instead of coming from his clinic, we came from home.
I was 11 years old and like every other kid, I was also a big fan of cricket and it was the day when Pakistan faced Australia in the pool matches of the World Cup in England. When we arrived, everyone was already there. I still have a clear picture in my mind of how the sitting was. Everyone was sitting on the carpet in a small room with two tube lights on the opposing walls, with muttaqas in the corners and an old fat “National” television in the upper right corner.
I was more interested in the match than the food, which was not served yet. I had already watched the first half of the match and half of the Australian innings at home, and already knew the game was going to be a nerve wrecking one. Let me add here, that i was visiting Namak Mandi for the first time. Never before had I ever visited this place nor had I tasted its famous food.
About 30-40 mins later, the food was served and the match was in its final 10 overs. About 10kg’s of mutton was ordered for 8 people. 5kg’s of which was dry meat also called Ochay Teekay in Pashto, and 5kg’s of Karahi.
I started off with dry Tikkas, my eyes were stuck to the television screen but as soon as the meat touched my taste buds, my eyes were diverted from the television to the food. I had never in
my life tasted mutton cooked in such a beautiful way. It was a different taste altogether. Salty, meaty, I just can’t define the taste in any words.
The next 30 minutes were one of the most memorable food and cricket moments of my life. I had the best mutton that is served in the country and to top it all Pakistan won that match!
For me, the connection of Namak Mandi with cricket , had its inception on that day. Much has changed in these 17 years, Namak Mandi has changed and so has Pakistani cricket. But two things remain the same, the meat still tastes as good and Shahid Afridi is still in the team.
Namak Mandi lies in the old Peshawar called Sheher, to where I originally belong, the place is quite congested and very populated to be honest. So if you’re heading for Namak mandi, then you have to either go in a smaller vehicle, hire a taxi or go by bus. It’s not that normal sedans can’t go there, but the traffic jams will test your nerves for sure. If by any chance, you’re from Karachi or Lahore, then be my guests, you can go there in whatever vehicle suits you as I am sure you are already used to the never ending lines of traffic jams. People of Islamabad, though, should take my advice a little seriously.
Namak Mandi is like a heaven for mutton lovers, the place has the best variety of Pashtun cuisine, the naked sheep hanging at entrance of every restaurant show that they specialise in everything to do with meat. There is no printed menu in most of the restaurants, you just have to ask for the price of the meat. It is sold per kg.
The food is cooked right in front of you in the open air. And there is no secret recipe to it really, mutton is grilled on coal with just salt added to it, Karahi though is cooked in animal fat, tomatoes, and green chillies. Interestingly, there is no marinating required. The daily consumption from a single restaurant in Namak Mandi alone is 14-15 sheep, costing around 900 Rs per Kg.
A little over one and a half decade has passed since I first visited the Namak Mandi Bazar. This time it wasn’t my father’s friends who had arranged a gathering but my friends, its me who is serving the Pharmacology department and like my father, I’m also not interested in clinical medicine either. And we’re going to be watching the Pakistan Super League to refresh the cricket memories. I don’t have a son, but I will surely take my little daughter along.