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Middle Eastern Spices Inform at Parsippany's Shahi Restaurant

A Pakistani family serves intriguing cuisine in Lake Hiawatha.

We hadn’t expected to explore Pakistani cuisine (primarily because we didn’t know it existed in Parsippany), but when a restaurant we had planned to investigate was closed one day, Shahi Restaurant on North Beverwyck Road fell under our gaze. Lucky for us.

We walked inside the brightly painted orange space to hear the chatter of young people enjoying their midday meal. Some of the young ladies wore traditional hijabs (Islamic headscarves); one was dressed casually in jeans and without a scarf, like a typical American teenager. Everybody appeared to be having a good time.

Shahi is a pretty simple space with clean, new-looking laminated tables that can comfortably seat four for a meal. In a far corner near the cash register was a television showing a Middle Eastern soap opera. It seemed like any other dramatic serial complete with romance and suspense—only the language and some of the accessories were different.

The Ullah family operates Shahi, features dishes from both Pakistan and India. Unlike traditional Indian restaurants whose owners follow Hindu practice, the Ullahs include beef on the menu because it is not against Muslim law to eat beef. Still, because we can find beef in just about every place we visit, we decided to try something new. We opted for two different lunch platters and enjoyed some very tasty results.

Since goat appeared in several sections throughout the menu and we had only had it once before, this seemed to be a good opportunity to sample the delicacy. Goat curry came out on a large platter with a generous portion of goat meat accompanied by heap of fragrant basmati rice, a fresh salad, an urn of curry sauce (to ladle over the meat and rice) and soft, warm naan,  the requisite Middle Eastern flatbread (for an extra 75 cents—and it was well worth the additional expense).

Speaking of the meat, the goat required some maneuvering. It did not come in chunks like a typical stew. Hunks of meat were still attached to the bone and had to be wrestled off in order to enjoy it. Some sinewy gristle kept the meat in place but when we broke it off or stuck a fork into a couple of loose chunks, it was tender, rich and mildly spiced.

As in Indian restaurants, raita, the cucumber and yogurt condiment, was offered as a way to mellow out the seasonings. We knew there was coriander in the dish but wondered about the rest of it. A few days later, I called the restaurant and spoke to Fawad Ullah, a family member who helped open Shahi four years ago. He referred me to his sister, Mayra, who he described as the restaurant’s chef.

Mayra explained that the meat is from the back of the leg, which is a choice piece. Seasonings include onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chili powder, cumin and salt. She didn’t explain how it was cooked; it seemed to have been braised for several hours under a low heat to tenderize the meat and give the seasonings a chance to intermingle. 

My dining companion ordered a grilled lamb kabob platter, which also was served with basmati rice and salad. To our surprise, the two kabobs were not the usual chunks of lamb familiar from Greek and Turkish recipes—instead the lamb was chopped and rolled into a log and seasoned generously with cilantro, coriander, cumin, chili powder, ginger and garlic. Mayra explained that the extra heat came from red chili pepper, which pleased my companion. (Not so much for me but that’s what makes the world go 'round.) Each platter was $6.99.

This was a serendipitous lunch trip that took us to an intriguing exotic locale. We plan to go back to sample Shahi’s much touted Tandoori hot wings, which were not available during this visit. 

There’s always tomorrow.

Shahi Restaurant 61 N. Beverwyck Road, 973-394-8887. Open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Major credit cards accepted.

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