If you’re a confirmed carnivore and lover of meat in all its wonderful manifestations, from spicy grilled lamb skewers to succulent tandoori chicken, you’re bound to delight in the diverse and meat-centric cuisine of Pakistan. Unlike neighbouring India which is predominately Hindu and therefore a vegetarian culture by-and-large, Pakistan goes all in when it comes to eating animals (provided of course the animals have cloven hooves and are slaughtered in the correct way, as per Islamic edicts).
Although Nottingham’s Pakistani community isn’t as large as say Birmingham’s or Manchester’s, it’s still reasonably well-represented both culturally and gastronomically, especially in the Hyson Green neighbourhood where various Islamic cultures from Kurds to Kashmiris live side-by-side. Here you can find a pretty decent selection of shops selling a dazzling array of electric-coloured mithai to satiate all your sweet cravings, and the usual tandoor and grill specialists like The Khyber Pass and Royal Sweet Centre, both claiming to offer ‘a true taste of Pakistan’.
To experience the full spectrum of Pakistani dishes, including more home-style specialties, it’s worth heading to Desi Express, a small and very popular chain restaurant frequented mainly by British-Pakistanis. In this lively, slightly chaotic institution, customers tend to bring huge appetites prior to ordering a cornucopia of grilled meats cooked on the onomatopoeic takatak grill. The grill selection includes the usual lamb chops, sheek kebab and tandoor-style chicken, as well as all manner of innards and extremities, including brains and testicles (stuff that is conveniently omitted from the restaurant menu, but which can be ordered upon request).
However, it was the celebrated Pakistani classic Nihari was what I was actually here for, and Desi Express seemed to be the only eatery in town where I could once and for all taste this beloved national treasure of slow-cooked lamb shank in thick meaty gravy. As soon as the dish was served up to me, I just knew it had to be good. The lamb meat mounted in a rich sauce with glistening globules of fat, was falling off the bone and looked insanely appetizing. By the end of my feasting, every morsel of tender meat and every drop of delicious sauce was mopped up with every inch the generous hunk of hot naan provided. Salted lassi, a refreshing yoghurt-based similar to Turkish ayran drink, cleansed my pallet nicely and provided a perfectly cool accompaniment to the fiery green chillies in the dish.
But the meal wasn’t over just yet. As I’d been sitting tantalizingly close to the takatak grill throughout the duration of my meal, I’d been inhaling the ethereal fumes of marinated mystery meats and this piqued my curiosity to venture into parts unknown, or so to speak. Moreover, the notion of putting balls in my mouth for the first time (something I recall Bourdain raving about in the Morocco chapter of ‘A Cook’s Tour’) was simply too good to resist…
The young, 20-something waiter looked slightly bemused as I tried to muffle my order of “grilled lamb’s testicles”, in a restaurant rammed with punters sitting cheek-by-jowl, but reluctantly agreed, much to the bemusement of the tough-looking grill cooks proudly manning their station. While surreptitiously exchanging words in Urdu and throwing the odd haughty glance in my direction, the cooks whipped a portion of the lamb’s extremities noisily on a searing hot plate and before long my balls were served to me in a bowl, in a manner of speaking.
Much to the cooks’ collective astonishment, I gleefully scoffed the entire bowl of tender meaty chunks which were served this time in a more delicate ginger-laced sauce which was really flavourful. The balls were awesome – better than I had imagined in fact, and well worth the initial embarrassment of ordering them.
Despite waddling home after the colossal amount of food I’d had at Desi Express, I felt uniquely satisfied, and beaming with the sort of happy smile one displays has after having indulged in such carnivorous excess. And the price was none-too-shabby, either: two mammoth dishes, copious naan and a half jug of lassi all for just under a tenner. Perfect.
113 Radford Rd