The simple dish of brains masala is one of the single best foods to eat in Peshawar, Pakistan.
The ingredients are simple, and it takes just minutes to make, but the combination and freshness, is of absolute perfection; These fried brains are just mind-blowingly good.
Scroll down, and I am going to share with you the photos and details of this Peshawari street-food specialty.
Warning – Brain Fat and Incredible Flavor
You will be learning to enjoy a lot of food in Pakistan that involve none of the ‘normal parts‘ of any animal you might be familiar with.
From gelatinous goat trotters in Lahore, gloriously hearty bone marrow biryani in Karachi, and the infamous organ mash-up (‘Kata-Kat’), Pakistan is doing some truly amazing things.
These brains easily make the list of one of my favorite single-dish items for the entire trip. This is one dish that actually has everything you could ever want for flavor, all compact and magical, in every wonderful bite.
In Peshawar, Qissa Khawani Bazaar, also known as the ancient “Storytellers Bazaar,” is a market packed with history where traders and merchants used to come to drink tea, and tell stories from their travels. It also happens to be an epicenter for brains masala.
Do not hesitate – order it all
Completely unplanned, we were just strolling around Qissa Khawani Bazaar, when I noticed a plate of the whitish-pink, crinkly cottage-cheesy looking blobs, that could only mean fresh brains.
Sitting cross-legged, a can full of ghee, a colorful assortment of seasonings and spices, laid out on his podium cooking station, there was no way we could resist his fresh brain masala.
As soon as you order, he busts out the unwashed pan (still laced with flavor from the last batch), fires up the stove, and immediately drizzles in some ghee.
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Since the fire is cranked so high, the ghee starts bubbling in seconds, and he tosses in chilies, tomato puree, and a good handful of, in this case buffalo brains.
Using a metal spoon, he clanks the bottom of the pan, mashing, – making sure not to mush them, but scramble them – just like a scrambled egg.
By this time, the aroma being released from the pan will hit your nostrils, and your mouth immediately starts to water.
The good news is though, he fries it so fast, it only takes about 1.5 minutes for the entire process.
Next, some more seasoning – masala powder, salt, chili powder, and handful of chopped coriander.
Followed by a whirling stir and chop at the same time.
Seconds later, he turns off the gas, pours it onto a plate, and seconds after that you can be taking your first bite of instant, piping hot, fresh scrambled brains masala.
Along with the brains masala came tandoori roti and a delicious chutney, which had a tangy tomato and garlicky taste.
The brains were the highlight – delicate and creamy, like nuggets of cottage cheese, and melt in your mouth at the same time. Take that extraordinary texture, and blend it with a spice-riddled tomato-based gravy, and a refreshing touch of fresh chilies and coriander, and you have a recipe for ultimate satisfaction in Peshawar.
Even though it was an impromptu food stop on our full-day food tour of Peshawar, it was one of the best little unplanned snacks ever.
We licked the plate clean.
The post-brains drink is green tea
Something very different across Pakistan from East to West is the tea.
Not only does the landscape change, but so do the people, their language, and even their after-meal preference of beverage. Afghan and Pashtun traditions are more common in Peshawar, and restaurants in this area serve green tea, known as kahwah, as the usual beverage.
When you’re finished eating brains masala, all around Qissa Khawani Bazaar you’ll find tea stalls that look like they haven’t changed in appearance since the ancient Silk Road trade – and the tea kettles look like they are original too. It’s amazing.
When you order, he takes an ancient tea kettle, pours in some water from one of the ancient copper vats, puts the kettle onto the hot plate, and in a matter of seconds it’s boiling. In goes a handful of green tea leaves, followed by a couple pods of cardamom, which he smashes in a mortar.
Locals use this method of tea after food to help with digestion, but its also just a delicious hot drink. Wherever the tradition starts, its a lovely way to end a meat-heavy meal here in Peshawar.
The cardamom infusion is what really makes Peshawari green tea stand out.
Incredible pomegranate juice
In addition to green tea, one of the most memorable beverages I had in Pakistan was from this very fruit cart, which was like an oasis or colorful beautiful fruit on the side of the street.
Again, the stunning cart display, made me cross the street immediately and order a fresh pomegranate juice. They had the pomegranate seeds peeled already, so soon as you order, they toss a couple spoons of the reddest pomegranate seeds you’ve ever seen into the grinder, and out comes the foamiest, frothiest pomegranate juice ever.
It literally was one of the best cups of juice I ever remember having.
Perfectly sweet and sour, tart and crisp.
So when you’re in Peshawar, Pakistan, don’t hesitate to order brains masala, and follow that with hot green tea, and finally a glass of fresh-pressed cold pomegranate juice.
Brains Masala: There are a number of shops right along the main road just inside the Kabuli Gate in Peshawar (google maps)
Hours: 10 am – 4 pm (approximately)
Price: 90 PKR ($0.72) per plate of brains masala, 20 PKR ($0.16) per round of tea, and 200 PKR ($1.60) per glass of pomegranate juice.