Peshawar is a city where food is only considered food if there is plenty of it, it is well cooked and it is not spicy. The less complicated the better. This would, in part, explain why you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to tikka, mutton chops, karhai. Try Namakmandi and the Charsi Tikka on University Road or Taraskoon Restaurant a bit farther down. But you will be hard pressed to find pizza in Peshawar — there are only two major places that make it.
The very first pizzeria is generally said to be the famous Sultan Golden Pizza House near Army Stadium. It is believed to have been named after (and run by) Sultan Muhammad Khan Golden, the great motorcar and motorcycle stuntman and jumping specialist. Rumour has it, however, that he packed up his pizzeria after 9/11.
This left Peshawar with Pizza Hut at Captain Karnal Sher Khan, Stadium, Shami Road in the cantonment and Chief Burger on Jamrud Road.
Pizza Hut declined to speak to The Express Tribune, but Chief Burger was more than happy to tell its story.
The brains behind this business venture is Muhammad Mumtaz Ilahi. He trained for six years as a chef and administrator at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad and opened Chief Burger in 1984. They started out with just 20 customers. Then, Mumtaz Ilahi persuaded his brother who worked as a chef at a three-star hotel, to come back from the UAE. “I behaved like a big brother and brought my younger brother Babar Hussain Ilahi back to Peshawar to give lessons to our staff at Chief Burger on how to make pizza,” he explained. Babar Hussain came up with five different recipes and within three months, eight of their staffers had learnt how to make them. They added it to the menu in 2001.
This really helped business grow to about 150 customers a day. They were able to expand to four large halls and today they get about 500 diners daily, tended to by a staff of 90 which includes 13 dishwashers, 38 waiters, 14 helpers, and four supervisors.
Demand is so high that Muhammad Tahir, who has given 15 years of life to Chief Burger as a waiter, said he didn’t even have time to stop to breathe. There used to be a time when he could complete his sentences with co-workers, he says by way of example. But now there are nearly always 15 people waiting in line. “We get happy when we receive more and more customers which is a sign of living and not just being alive,” he said before rushing off to get the next order.
While they have 16 different kinds of pizzas, Mumtaz Ilahi says the Pakhtun prefer their chicken tikka one. Some of the choices are pure Italian, such as the Bologna, you’ll get the very American Hawaiian Delight and even the Four Seasons or the Mexican Chilli.
It appears, however, that the exotic don’t necessarily appeal to the K-P palette. “I would say that people here love their own traditional food so much that they want its flavour in their pizza, burgers and even in Chinese and Thai dishes,” Illahi adds. The Chief Burger owner knows that the secret to his success is giving people what they want.
And if you are finding it hard to decide, someone like Tasleem Khan, who has been working at Chief Burger for 12 years as a waiter, is happy to help. “It’s like feeding and serving humanity,” he says. Indeed, food is a serious business.
Quetta’s fastfood joints
A quick look at where you can go:
RV Pizza, Chilton road
Rahat Bakers. Arts School road
Baig Snack Bar, Jinnah Road
Pizza Point, Churmal Road
Dalan bakers Serena road
Palace bakery, Mission road
Dolphin bakery, Jinnah road
Cakes ’n cookies, Archer Road
Jan Broast, Prince Road
Khadim chaat house
Hot ’n spicy, Shahbaz Town
Hot ’n Chili, Shahbaz Town
QFC, Jinnah road
Usmania restaurant, Jinnah road
Noorani, Airport road
Zamzama superstore, Airport road
Student Biryani, Shahwaksha road
Master Biryani, Shahwaksha road
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 22nd, 2013.