Imagine a Prague with no Italian pizzerias or Mexican taquerías. No Thai noodles or Indian curries. That was the reality when Zahid Rashid, owner of Shalamar Pakistani and Indian Shop, moved here some twenty-three years ago.
“Wow! Twenty-three years—so you’re able to deal with Czech cuisine,” I commented.
“When a person is young, he adapts immediately,” he replied. “I ate a lot of Maďarský guláš.”
As we chatted over a pot of masala tea, I learned that Mr. Rashid comes from Lahore, Pakistan—a main cultural and economic center in the Punjab province. He came here to study at the University of Economics (VŠE) in 1989 and started out as a translator of Urdu and Punjabi into the Czech language.
In 2002, after the floods devastated his textile shop in Karlín, he decided to try his hand at selling Pakistani and Indian food products. He chose a logical location next to the Pakistani Restaurant Mailsi on Lipanská street.
As I browsed around his shop last week, I was impressed by the sheer quantity of spices. I recognized some of them, like cinnamon and coriander, but not ones like fenugreek or ajwain seeds. Mr. Rashid also stocks two brands of pre-mixed combinations—MDH from India and Shan from Pakistan. So if you’re craving chana masala, for example, just grab the right box, pick up some chick peas, and you’re all set.
I didn’t see a separate Pakistani and Indian section, so I asked him, “How can I tell which are from Pakistan and which from India?”
“Pakistani and northern Indian cuisine has no difference,” he replied. “But of course Indian food is more well-known here.” He also added that both countries use the same basic spices, but that Indian cuisine offers more naturally vegetarian dishes because of the predominant Hindu religion.
We were now well into our second cup of masala when the subject of rice came up, and as someone who grew up on Uncle Ben’s, I listened with fascination.
“Rice is like wine—it tastes better when it’s aged,” Mr. Zahid said. “The best taste is two years old.”
Shalamar carries three different brands of basmati rice—Tilda, Sarim and Shalamar. Tilda is a world famous brand credited with bringing basmati rice to the Western world. Mr. Rashid imports the latter two directly from Pakistan and can personally guarantee the quality, as his father is the exporter.
Basmati rice, in general, is expensive, but if cooked properly, one kilo yields eight portions as opposed to four with other kinds of rice. Proper preparation—including rinsing before cooking and adding the exact amount of cooking water—ensures a fluffy result with separated grains.
On the top shelf, above the sacks of rice, I spotted something called ghee. Mr. Rashid explained that ghee is similar to clarified butter and traditionally made from buffalo milk. One of his favorite dishes is fresh saag (mustard leaves) fried in ghee and garlic. You can find the canned variety in his shop.
On the way to the cash register, my arms loaded with basmati rice, ghee, saag, and tandoori masala, I stumbled over some crates full of vegetables. I only recognized the okra and green chilies, but later learned that the pointy looking thing was a bitter gourd and the round green one a Punjabi tinda. Both can be used in curries, stir-fries or can be stuffed. Shalamar usually receives their fresh veggies every second Tuesday.
By now, only the dregs of the masala tea remained—I had thoroughly enjoyed this touch of hospitality in the depths of Žižkov. Sadly, my culinary tour of Pakistan and India had come to an end, but I looked forward to recreating my journey in the kitchen.
2kg rice: Tilda-250 CZK Sarim-130 CZK Shalamar-120 CZK
Tandoori masala: 33 CZK
Canned saag: 70 CZK
500g ghee: 190 CZK
WHERE: Lipanská 835/3 Žižkov
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: tram stop Lipanská
OPENING HOURS: Mon – Fri 10-19:30 Sat 12-19:30 Sun CLOSED
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