Pakistan offers a relatively ancient cuisine in relation to its seemingly short history as a country. Influenced by creations from the royal kitchens of the Mughal emperors who ruled the subcontinent for centuries, as well as both regional cooking styles and those found in neighboring countries, the meat-centric cuisine of Pakistan is a revelation for any lover of Indian cuisine, especially those looking for authenticity.
While many Indian restaurants in South Florida seem to emulate polished fine dining establishments catering to gauras (white folk), with price tags to match, Pakistani eateries are far more bare-bones and offer inexpensive, hearty, and authentically and assertively spiced fare. For those who are new to Pakistani food, Rajpoot Mehfil on weekday evenings offers a perfect buffet-style introduction to this stick-to-your-ribs cuisine.
If one expects to find a conventional style restaurant, Rajpoot Mehfil will offer a bit of a surprise. The restaurant is actually a banquet hall that serves the local South Asian community, as well as worshippers from the nearby mosque. It appears as if when not hosting an event, the space serves as a restaurant while still retaining the banquet hall ambiance. Nevertheless, the seating is comfortable and there is plenty of space so as not to feel cramped.
Non-Pakistani diners are immediately asked two questions: do they like very spicy food, and have they had this type of food before? This is not the type of place for a rookie, and definitely not the restaurant for someone with an aversion to chiles, as authentic Pakistani food is almost unilaterally fiery hot.
Upon being seated, each table is presented with a pitcher of ice water along with a basket piled high with freshly baked naan generously spread with butter that will serve as an eating utensil for the course of the meal. Plain basmati rice is not typically eaten with meals in Pakistan.
The concise buffet lines a table along one wall of the restaurant and includes approximately six chafing dishes with various stews and curries, none of which are labeled, but all of which are gladly explained by one of the staff.
Nihari, a slow-simmered beef shank in an incendiary, but addictive, brown gravy is good here and not terribly rich or salty. A few of the pieces can be a little tougher than traditionally expected, but overall it is well done and made better by the customary garnishes of sliced raw onion, chopped cilantro, julienned ginger, and a squeeze of lime juice.
Chicken karahi - a staple of Pakistani cuisine - offers pieces of bone-in chicken simmered in a vibrant tomato sauce with a good measure of ginger, while a vegetarian dish of spinach and okra has a velvety texture to counter its piquancy.
A standard chicken biryani is good in an expected kind of way: tender chicken, separate and intact grains of rice (very important), and a warm glow from chiles and other spices. A drizzle of cucumber and yogurt raita tames the heat and offers a bit of tanginess. For more adventurous eaters, there is paya, a dish of stewed beef or goat trotters in a thin sauce that is served in larger pieces than at some other eateries or homes.
Dessert can consist of an exemplary kheer, the South Asian answer to rice pudding that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Rajpoot Mehfil’s version is not as cloyingly sweet as others, has just the right viscosity, and with just the right touch of cardamom, it makes for a refreshing end to a very spicy meal. Diners can linger a bit after dessert over cups of hot chai dispensed from an urn and sweetened to each diner’s preference.
Overall, the buffet at Rajpoot Mehfil, which comes out to only $10 per person, is the perfect introduction to the cuisine of Pakistan, as well as a great way to satisfy an aficionado’s cravings.
Rajpoot Mehfil is located at 8580 NW 44th St in Lauderhill, FL 33351. (954) 742-3370