Thousands of miles away from the Indo-Pak border, there exists a Pakistani restaurant where an Indian like me is welcomed with warm smiles, steaming plates of kebabs and friendly conversations. This hole-in-the-wall establishment that goes by the name Zayeqa, was discovered by me the day I had my first hankering for succulent kebabs in Detroit. Having moved from Austin where a Persian restaurant catered to my cravings, I was on the lookout for something just as worthy. Lucky for me, Zayeqa fit the bill perfectly.
It all began one warm summer afternoon as I lay around salivating at the sight of hot shaami kebabs being fried by Kashaf’s ammi in the TV series Zindagi Gulzar Hai. A quick Google search gave me the names of the three most popular Pakistani restaurants in the area. On a whim I picked Zayeqa.
Mellifluous sentences in chaste Urdu poured out of my phone and into my ears as I heard Aunty Z for the first time. I was placing a take-away order for I wanted to sample their wares in my own room. Their signature ‘Chicken Bihari Kebab platter’ was my first order which immediately became a hot favourite.
Tender strips of roasted chicken delicately enrobed in aromatic masalas and served with raw, sliced onions, a wedge of lime, mint chutney and naan fresh out of the tandoor - made for a meal that not just filled me up but also left an indelible mark on my satiated palate. Thus the deal between me and Zayeqa was sealed.
There was no looking back after that first experience. Soon enough, Uncle and Aunty Z started recognising me as that tiny Indian girl with an elephant’s appetite. Uncle Z brims with stories of his singular trip to India. The unbridled excitement that filled him up as he set foot in Delhi, the adventures he had in Amritsar, are precious vignettes he shares with us every time we visit.
Aunty Z is a calm, ever-smiling, matronly figure. Like every other Indian/Pakistani parent, she too oozes pride from every pore when she speaks about her son who is a dentist or her daughter, who is studying to become a doctor.
Uncle Z and Aunty Z share an endearing camaraderie that can only develop when two individuals have faced years of thick and thin events together.
Once you are done savoring the food as well as their comical repartee, they see you off with an affectionate ‘Allah Hafiz beta. Mummy-Papa aayein toh unhe saath leke aana. Hum vegetarian khaana bhi badhiya banaate hain.’ Zayeqa is no longer just another restaurant for me. Within its cramped 6-table premise and amidst its stacks of disposable crockery and cutlery, beats a large, loving heart that does not comprehend man-made differences based on culture, class, race or nationality. It is here that I find food, people, smells and sounds that remind me of home. These people and their ways do not appear different than what I am accustomed to.
Preeti Sharma blogs at http://preetisharma84.blogspot.in/