I'm hoping to convince you to try the unique combination that Zahida, a Pakistani food counter brings to the Westmarket in Copenhagen, Denmark. ...I believe it's almost worth getting on a plane for!
I was first attracted to this new food business during a weeklong trip to the Danish capital this past June. A Carolinian colleague and I shared a bowl of curry and a beer that proved the diversity available in cosmopolitan Copenhagen and brought with the experience enduring memories of authentic spicy flavours.
The place had opened recently, but the TripAdvisor faithful had pushed it to the very top of the city's overall restaurant rankings: number one out of more than two-thousand entries... Not bad for a contender with only six bar stools and no tables of its own!
A Little Bit of a Man Crush
The food is definitely the star of the Zahida show, but Bobby Affridi is definitely the best MC there is; he's like Steve Martin introducing U2 at the Hollywood Bowl, where the concession stand is serving the best, most tender curried chicken that you've ever tasted. And, as with most of the greatest food that I have tasted around the world, there is a great story that goes with it and it features strongly in Bobby's promotion of the Zahida brand.
Eating alone is not a problem; Bobby will provide more than enough personality to make you feel welcome and you can be assured that the world will be coming to eat with you soon enough.
'Mom' is the Key OR It's all in the Family
In fact, "the Zahida brand" does the business (and more importantly, the name) a disservice, for it's the name of the one person who has inspired this business more than any other: Bobby's mother. Hailed on company's website as: "the soul and heart, the tradition bearers and innovators of Pakistani food culture", 'Pakistani moms', and Bobby's in particular, has brought this subtle, rich, spicy, savoury and innovative cuisine to life for a new generation.
Mother Zahida left Jhelum, a city of more than 140,000 in the Punjab province of Pakistan, 120 kilometres southeast of the capital Islamabad, in the mid-Seventies. Weighed down by only her "optimism, love for authentic home cooking and a bag of home ground spices", she settled in Manchester in the UK. Not quite the multicultural and vibrant commercial and media centre that it is now, Bobby says "the 70s weren’t the easiest times to acquire all the comforts from home," but, somehow, she managed to keep the faith and raise five children, each one a passionate champion of her authentic, home-cooked fare.
The familial links to each one of the dishes make Zahida's menu all the more special and the passion expressed by Bobby as he takes your order and proceeds to treat you like a royal relative or long lost friend is invigorating after a long day sightseeing or working.
The menu also takes pride of place in the design of the food stand. Its bold, contemporary and friendly sans font is like chalk on a classroom blackboard. It sits in the centre of the booth between the counter (front of house) and the kitchen, but it's barely 20 square metres of space. The cosiness of the premises echoes the closeness of the family ties that form the foundation of the business and sit well inside the open, casual and eclectic food the Westmarket serves and the clientele that food and that atmosphere attract.
The Main Event
The very best food of the sub-continent is always a mix of the finest spices and freshest ingredients, expertly combined and (usually) applied to chicken, lamb or goat for extended marination. At Zahida, tenderness is assured by careful preparation and a meat thermometer that makes sure that the meat is just cooked and not at all dried out. This technical approach greatly enhances the authentically traditional, family honed flavours and is more commonly found at the fine dining restaurants that come second, sixth and ninth in the TripAdvisor top ten of Copenhagen.
The simplicity of the meat is then complemented by a hearty vegan Tarka Daal, steamed rice or a plain or garlic Naan bread and topped with spinach and cilantro. You can pick and mix from these accompaniments or just go for the full house.
My friend Paz, the son of a Bradford-Bangladeshi restaurateur, demands that you hand back your cutlery as soon as you sit in any curry house, and this is how Zahida's menu is best enjoyed. Your mouth is simply doing too much, as it tries to convey to your brain all the flavours present, to worry too much about the texture; this is where your fingers compliment your experience. The freshness of the ingredients and the multitude of textures encourage you to grab that next mouthful until your plate is clear.
Beverages for the Occasion
Zahida does the best job of representing Pakistani food, with a British twist, in a great European capital. At this stage, if you've read this far, you might be wondering what Denmark brings to the party and why you should visit Zahida for a curry over one of the many Scandinavian and European restaurants around the city. How about the beer? A lot of curry cultures around the world know that the spicy fare of the sub-continent is at its best when accompanied by an ice-cold lager or pale ale; it's lucky that Bobby has commissioned one of each of his own.
Brewed nearby, to recipes specially devised for the Zahida menu, their fresh flavours excellently complement the rich and spicy food and are much more nuanced than the bland offerings of the international brewing giants.
If you're not partaking in alcohol at the moment there's also authentic Mango Lassi or sodas from the usual suspects.
Bobby and his brothers in arms are ready to welcome you for lunch or dinner, seven days a week, Monday to Saturday 1200 - 2100hrs and 1200 - 1700hrs on Sundays. All nationalities of the world are warmly welcomed like an old friend and Bobbi may be able to greet you and even parle in your own language!
Anyone can love Zahida as much as I do. All you need to do is make that first trip and you will want to return time and again.