At Zafran, discover the BBQ of Pakistan

Tom Hanchett

Mixed grill, the signature dish at Zafran, offers an array of meats barbecued Pakistani-style.
Mixed grill, the signature dish at Zafran, offers an array of meats barbecued Pakistani-style.

An outpost of Pakistan has popped up amid the newly developing downtown of suburban Harrisburg, about ten minutes past UNC Charlotte out NC 49. Zafran Kabab Palace offers yes, kababs, plus hearty stews and … barbecue?

Yup, 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 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, chicken, though not pork — cooked in a clay-lined tandoori oven. It’s especially popular in Nimak Mandi, the market area of Peshawar.

Mazhar Ullah Khan and his father Riaz Khan at Zafran Kabab Palace.
Mazhar Ullah Khan and his father Riaz Khan at Zafran Kabab Palace.

Riaz Khan’s son Mazhar, at the cash register, recommends the Mixed Grill, a sizzling cast iron platter heaped with enough meat for two eaters. 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 in yogurt and cream, a technique called malai boti. Highlight of the platter are 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. On weekends, a wide-ranging buffet gives you opportunities to sample.

Signboards inside Zafran show specialties from several different regions of Pakistan.
Signboards inside Zafran show specialties from several different regions of Pakistan.

Zafran Kabab Palace

Tuesday – Sunday  11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Closed Mondays
4250 Main Street, suite 100
Harrisburg, NC  28075
(980) 258 – 0651
http://zafrankababpalace.com/

Zafran Kabab Palace is off NC 49 on Harrisburg’s Main Street, a newly developed area near the community’s Town Hall.
Zafran Kabab Palace is off NC 49 on Harrisburg’s Main Street, a newly developed area near the community’s Town Hall.

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