As a resident of Karachi, a road trip to Quetta is always fun. Besides the topography en route, the rough, rugged and rocky terrain also gives way to a variety in cuisine, as Balochistan is also the house of the now-famous rustic dish called sajji.
Trust me, any kind of meat that has a metal skewer running through it, and is roasted on a raging open fire and/or hot embers, is not my idea of a good time, for it evokes a strong sense of discomfort deep within my soul. But knowing that I’m not the one with a metal rod running through the length of my body and at the end of a skewer, is somewhat comforting.
Jokes aside, our party of four, including myself and the photographer Zubair Shah, along with our hosts, ended up at Lehri Sajji House (LSH) just off Main Jinnah Road in Quetta on a cold winter’s night. It was some time before we managed to acquire a place to sit inside, so popular is this eatery.
Once indoors, the service was quick and our order of the mutton sajji and chicken sajji arrived before us, steaming hot from the fires, in absolutely no time at all. Served with wholewheat naan, our party dug into the succulent and juicy meat with our bare hands, so tender that it was literally falling off the bone.
If you want to have a taste of sajji, there’s no better place to relish it than at its source of origin, the Lehri Sajji House in Quetta
Unlike in Karachi, sajji in Quetta is seasoned quite minimally with salt, and the raita or chutney served with it make up for any lack of flavour in the tender morsels that go in each mouthfull.
The skin on the chicken sajji is quite crisp and amazing to taste, while the mutton flesh is tender and breaks off easily upon touch. Washing it all down with a fizzy cold drink is certainly a wise choice, for having such copious amounts of protein tends to weigh somewhat heavily upon one’s stomach.
We ordered one whole mutton leg sajji that was cut up before being served to us, and one full chicken sajji, and it was quite a task even for four full-grown men with ravenous appetites to finish. But finish them we did, never mind the fact that the spread lying on the table before us was enough to feed a small country.
Established over half a century ago in 1968 by Amaanullah, LSH is now being run by his son Asadullah who sits behind the counter, while his brother manages the culinary side of things, roasting the sajji and making mutton karrhai, another speciality of theirs. Their father Amaanullah has now retired because of old age finally catching up with him.
Lehri (pronounced locally as Lahirri) is a tribe in Balochistan and it is believed that the dish called sajji is an invention of this very tribe who does it best. LSH has now set up another branch in Quetta, given the number of people flocking to it to relish this traditional dish. But for some reason, old patrons still prefer to visit the original eatery.
I strongly feel that the making of sajji goes back to the very primitive concept of killing a fowl or beast and impaling it on a stick before roasting it on an open fire lit to keep one warm, so there’s nothing fancy shmancy about it.
Over time, sajji has made inroads in other parts of the country as well, and I’ve had delicious sajji at an anonymous little eatery in Islamabad and in Karachi, of course, where multiple eateries pride themselves for serving the best sajji this side of the Balochistan border.
But nothing beats having it in its hometown, the place where sajji was invented in the first place.
The writer is a member of staff and tweets @faisal_quraishi
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 10th, 2022