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Zaiqa is the real deal for Pakistani food

News Food Writer
Published:November 23, 2011, 2:31 PM
Zaiqa owner Masud Qazi, left, and Pakistani chef Abdul Haji roast chicken and kabobs in the tandoor oven imported from London.

When you walk in the door at Zaiqa, you enter a room lined with buffet dishes, and suffused with the smells familiar to Indian food aficionados: cardamom, coriander, browned onions, fresh bread.

Since I walked in knowing next to nothing about Pakistani food, education was the order of the day. Owner Masud Qazi, who I talked to after eating, said there are Pakistani dishes on menus in Western New York, but his is the only traditional Pakistani place. It draws customers from Syracuse to Erie, Pa., plus locals.



(3 out of four pennies)

"A spicy meat-lover's dream"

WHERE: 3054 Delaware Ave. (877-7797)


Zaiqa's dinner buffet features more than 35 dishes, more than half meaty and the rest vegetarian, freshly baked bread and dessert for $10.99, it's hard to resist the urge to go exploring.

After two visits, I'd say Pakistani cuisine, Zaiqa style, is spicier than the average local Indian buffet -- slightly "hotter" and more spices in general. There's more emphasis on meat, too, whether stewed in curry gravies, charcoal-grilled or tandoori-roasted.

There's plenty of dishes with Indian analogs, like the tandoori chicken, marinated in spices and herbs and charred gently in the tandoori oven. There's reshmi kababs, ground meat blended with spices, herbs and chilies before being molded into cylinders and grilled on skewers. There's beef curry, hunks of short rib stewed in a spicy gravy until falling apart.

The differences aren't apparent until you look a little closer.

Here's nihari, big chunks of beef that fall apart under the fork, like Pakistani pot roast. Haleem is a velvety stew of lentils, beef, cilantro and chilies. A third traditional Pakistani favorite, said Qazi, is paye, or stewed lamb shank and foot in a spicy gravy, thick with gelatin.

I tried all three, and adored the nihari, liked the haleem, and decided that full enjoyment of the paye would require more bone-gnawing than I prefer.

A curry dish of chicken meatballs and whole hard-boiled eggs was aromatic and satisfying. The reshmi kababs, made of chicken, with ground green chilies and whole coriander seeds for texture, were moist and flavorful, despite their time on the steam table. Shami kabob, despite looking like a donkey pellet, is a tasty, mild patty of chicken ground with lentils.

Another highlight was the crusty, warm naan sprinkled with sesame seeds and richer for being made with milk and cream instead of water.

The buffet's rice dishes, biryanis and pulaos, were basic but acceptable. The vegetable dishes, like lentils, chick peas, and mixed vegetable curry, were decent, too. The rice pudding, one of four desserts, hit the spot.

How traditional is Zaiqa? Besides using halal meat, in accordance with Muslim practices, the restaurant also offers customers the use of prayer rooms, men separated from women, in an adjoining space.

I tried everything I could fit, in two visits, and still never got to the nonbuffet menu, to the lamb chops ($10.99) and tandoori barair, or quail ($4.99), marinated in mint and cilantro before grilling.

What are those like? I look forward to adding to my education soon.

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