An outpost of Pakistan has popped up amid the newly developing downtown of suburban Harrisburg, about 10 minutes past UNC Charlotte out NC 49. Zafran Kabab Palace offers, of course, kababs, plus hearty stews and … barbecue?
Yes, that’s what the tantalizing picture menu on the wall promises: six different “bar-b-que” dishes in the “authentic Nimak Mandi style (of) Peshawar, Pakistan.”
Owner Riaz Khan came to the U.S. from Haripur near the ancient city of Peshawar in 1980. A stint in the Pakistani navy made him “a polished diamond,” he says with pride, and also showed him the delights of California.
Settling in this new land, he drove taxis, delivered pizzas, and did whatever else was necessary to make a life for his growing family. In 2014, they opened the first Zafran restaurant in Pineville, then expanded to the UNC Charlotte area — where many South Asian immigrants work in tech jobs.
So what constitutes “bar-b-que” in Peshawar? Meat (beef, lamb and chicken, but not pork) cooked in a clay-lined tandoori oven. It’s especially popular in Nimak Mandi, the market area of Peshawar.
Riaz Khan’s son Mazhar, at the cash register, recommends the Mixed Grill, a sizzling cast-iron platter heaped with enough meat for two. There are a pair of kababs fresh from the skewer, each with a different chopped meat mixture, both zestily seasoned. You’ll also find big chunks of chicken marinated — using a technique called malai boti — in yogurt and cream. Then the highlight of the platter is chicken thighs prepared tikka style, their crispy skin a glistening red.
The menu at Zafran (the precious spice “saffron” in the Urdu language) offers specialties of other regions, as well. Look for beef nehari, a spicy stew popular in the Pakistani city of Karachi; or cholay bhatura, a vegetarian chickpea dish from Punjab across the border in India.