>> Namak Mandi | Eat the World NYC

02 January 2018

Namak Mandi


This stretch of Queens is usually experienced at 50+ miles per hour flying by on the Long Island Expressway. Namak Mandi understands this and has built a high sign to vie for the attention of passing commuters. It was this that caught my attention a couple months back, and led to an exploration of the name later, as well as an eventual return.

In modern times, Namak Mandi is a bustling neighborhood in central Peshawar. This city is situated in Northern Pakistan, close to the Afghanistan border and the famous Khyber Pass. The name means something like "salt market," which is somewhat of an understatement as the old Namak Mandi was the hub of the entire region's trade in salt.

Now the neighborhood of Namak Mandi is known for many types of market vendors but also for its delicious restaurants that specialize in meat dishes. Among residents, it is the ultimate destination for restaurants specializing in tikkay and karahi.

On the menu of this Auburndale, Queens restaurant is a drawing of Bab-e-Khyber, the stone gate that stands at the entrance to the Khyber Pass and represents the importance of the region's trade. Underneath is the simple promise: "The real taste of Namak Mandi."

Karahis will take a full 45 minutes to prepare, so either order ahead or try some of their delicious samosas ($4.99, above) to control the pre-meal hunger. These freshly fried triangles of ground beef are an excellent deal for four even if the final price is $1 more than the menu showed. The mint chutney should be applied liberally on these and kept for the karahi as well.

Their tea comes pre-brewed with milk, but sugar is served on the side in the form of an entirely full cup. Needless to say, the average customer makes it very sweet.

You may find various karahi dishes, named for the wok-like cooking vessel, in parts of India and Pakistan, but Peshawar prides itself in having the absolute best. Here at Namak Mandi, the special of the house are these Peshawari-style karahis, available in mutton, lamb (khaddi kabab), and chicken. Mutton is the most sought after cuts and the most expensive, a two person mutton karahi (above and below) runs $24.99.

Seated at a restaurant in the thin alleys of Peshawar's Namak Mandi, you would see your chosen animal hanging in the window before selecting, cooking, and eating. Here in Queens, the first two parts of this take place in the kitchen out of sight, with only the faint sounds of the large serving spoon scratching the karahi in the final stages of preparation.

In such a large vessel, the arrival of the two person portion almost seems underwhelming, but the chunks of meat end up being plenty. Order some of their soft naan ($0.99) and dig in with your hands. The meats are all still on the bone, so there is no way to keep your fingers clean even if you tried.

The base of the sauce and seasoning are tomatoes, which give the dish a slightly sour taste. This combines well with the spicy peppers, scallions, and cilantro that are also used. It all ends up being very oily, but in a heavenly way that naan is perfect for scooping.

On this frigid day, we seemed to be the first customers and entered a basically unheated restaurant. The switch was turned on though, and by the time our karahi arrived warm air was starting to circulate and some other customers were coming in for mostly takeout. Our toes were just starting to thaw when it was time to go back outside with our bellies full. Next visits will have to sample the tikka dishes as well, the other most well known food of Peshawar's Namak Mandi.

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Namak Mandi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato