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‘Patta Tikka’: In northwestern Pakistan, lamb liver with fat makes for a hearty meal

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PESHAWAR: Noor Zada Shinwari has his hands full with over half a dozen skewers placed atop a barbecue grill. With squinting eyes, he brings one skewer with the uncooked meat directly above burning hot coal and waits for the lamb liver, wrapped in fat, to cook. 

The smell of fat and meat mixed with salt greets one’s nostrils as they travel on a road from Peshawar to the Pakistan-Afghanistan Torkham border in the northwestern Khyber district. There, one sees at least a dozen shops offering the sumptuous meat dish popularly known as ‘Patta Tikka.’ 

Patta Tikka is a traditional dish of the ethnic Pashtun Shinwari tribe that resides in the eastern and southeastern regions of Afghanistan and the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. 

“Patta” is a Pashto word that translates into “hidden,” and the dish is called Patta Tikka because of the way it is prepared: the liver of a lamb is buried with its fat before it is cooked on hot coal for around 30 minutes. 

And unlike other food items, it doesn’t require ingredients such as masala or chili powder. A dash of salt, and your palatable Patta Tikka is ready to be devoured. 

“This is the liver and fat of lambs, we make Patta Tikka from it,” Shinwari told Arab News as he busily cooked a batch of the lamb meat. “First, we cook the liver half and then wrap it in fat. Both the liver and the fat are of the lamb.” 

Shinwari has been preparing Patta Tikka in the Khyber district for the past 10 years. While the dish is a popular winter food item, it is also relished in summers. 

“People like it more in winter,” Shinwari said. “Otherwise, it is also sold in summer.”

Noor Zada Shinwari, a chef, stands behind a grill as he prepares Patta Tikka in Peshawar, Pakistan on December 21, 2023. (AN Photo)

The fat, though, is hard to digest and the meat gives off a salty taste. The oily dish is a heavy one, and according to Shinwari, one person can’t have too much of it in one sitting. 

“A foodie can try to eat three skewers, otherwise, it is hard to eat more than two,” he said. 

The dish isn’t an expensive one, though. A skewer of Patta Tikka, which contains 9-10 small pieces of lamb liver, costs Rs200 ($0.71). 

The business of Patta Tikka got a boost during the 2000s, causing several shops selling the dish to crop up in the famous Karkhano Market on the Peshawar-Khyber road. 

Hajji Kameen Jan Shinwari used to work in restaurants. He established his restaurant in 2000 which initially employed only three people. 

Jan, who is one of the pioneers of Patta Tikka at Karkhano Market, has grown his restaurant to the extent that it now has around 21 employees. 

“Patta Tikka has been eaten since then [2000], however, people didn’t know about it at that time,” he told Arab News. 

Jan said only people from the northwestern town of Landi Kotal, the Afridis and the Shinwaris (tribes) would eat it at first while others did not like it. 

Now, customers come from far-flung areas to try Patta Tikka. He acknowledged the dish is popular due to its reasonable price. 

Muhammad Ammar Babar, 28, came from District Nowshera in northwestern Pakistan to try Patta Tikka with his friends at Karkhano Market. 

“This place is special for that [Patta Tikka],” Babar told Arab News. “Every place you might visit, they have some kind of specialty. Karkhano is famous for this kind of Patta Tikka.” 

Naveed Ahmad, a customer from Pakistan’s southern city of Hyderabad, couldn’t help but praise the dish. 

“I came here for the first time, and I took this Patta Dana [Tikka] dish for the first time and I enjoyed it very much,” Ahmad told Arab News. 

Patta Tikka is reasonably priced and doesn’t earn Jan big bucks. However, that isn’t why he serves the food item. 

“This [Patta Tikka] doesn’t earn us money but matches its expenses,” he said. “But when we place Patta Tikka, it attracts customers.” 

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