PESHAWAR: The walled city is a renowned meat-lover's paradise. From succulent tikka karahi at Namak Mandi to chapli kababs at Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Peshawar’s love affair with meat dishes is an everlasting one, beckoning eternal carnivores.
Near the gates of the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) in Peshawar, however, is an eatery that serves as the outlier. With no chic interior designing, no air conditioning, no windows, and not even any doors, Cherry Berry is not your average restaurant, simply because its enterprise is contained within the metallic frame of a yellow, single-door Suzuki pick-up van.
The owner of this Suzuki van and the thriving joint is Shaukat Khan, who people affectionately call “Shaukatay”. Shaukat, now 50, established this restaurant 17 years ago by setting up a small cart outside the doctor hostel gate at KTH with only two dishes on his menu at the time: the brain masala and fried beans.
The restaurant's popularity gradually gained strength among locals — five to 10 customers a day in 1998. Today, the cart serves approximately 300 people each night from the back of Shaukat’s specially designed Suzuki.
The trademark 'Cherry Berry' dish amusingly gets its name from a local soft drink that Shaukat holds dear. With no cherries or berries, the dish contains sliced boneless chicken cooked in a distinctive curry.
|Shaukat Khan, preparing dinner for his customers in his mobile restaurant. — Photo by author|
The Suzuki, equipped with a stove that is welded at the rear end and a few energy saver light bulbs that are connected to the car battery, surprisingly generates a uniquely homely atmosphere. Shaukat feels this attracts customers from all walks of life, despite long queues and the absence of chairs.
|Customers waiting to receive their food. — Photo by author|
Every night, from 9pm till midnight, a plethora of customers; doctors, engineers, students, and labourers come to dine-in at Cherry Berry, preferring it to other more expensive restaurants in the vicinity. The menu, too, has matured, retaining the classic brain masala, fried channas (chickpeas) and beans and adding two more: qeema and the trademark 'Cherry Berry' dish which, amusingly gets its name from a local soft drink that Shaukat holds dear. With no cherries or berries, the dish contains sliced boneless chicken cooked in a distinctive curry that Shaukat proudly claims is not available anywhere else in the entire metropolis of Peshawar.
|The restaurant's specialty: 'Cherry Berry'. — Photo by author|
It is the quality of food, along with Shaukat’s insistence on affordability and hygiene, that draws people like Muhammad Saleem, a regular customer who operates a shop selling medical supplies nearby. “This is like a mini-Pearl Continental for me,” says Saleem as he picks up his order. “The only thing missing is the fancy showpieces and uniformed waiters”.
Another customer, Dr. Qaiser Yousufzai,who is there to pick up two plates of Cherry Berry for him and his wife, admits that the hygiene and quality of the food means that after his work ends at KTH, he usually prefers to pick up food from Shaukat’s restaurant.
|Patrons dining on the sidewalk. — Photo by author|
Perhaps the biggest fan of Shaukat's fare is a government officer employed at the hydropower department in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Pakher (Salam) Shaukat Lala!” he exclaims as he pulls up to the yellow van. Shaukat says with some pride that this man has been coming to eat at his restaurant since his days at Islamia College Peshawar. “I have driven for more than 20 kilometres and left behind many a restaurant on the way just to be able to get some of Shaukat’s special, fresh food,” says the man as he ordered Cherry Berry and brain masala.
He then turns the other way, smiling, and repeats a request that Shaukat hears every night, “Shaukat Lala, order tayyar hai (is my order ready)?”