“The modern Pakistani food at Zahida is our take on the food we grew up eating,” says Shane Affridi. Two of five kids to south-Asian parents, he and his brother Bobby grew up in Manchester – on a mixture of classic British fare like pies, pasties and fish and chips, and their mother’s Pakistani home cooking. “She would combine these kitchens – keeping the original flavour profile of our favorite Pakistani dishes, but with a western twist.” At Zahida, the pair vividly recall the flavours of their childhood – and are reshaping Copenhagen’s food landscape in the process.

“Like most south-Asian mums, ours uses a cooking method called ‘andanza’. It means ‘rough estimate’. She measures spices by eye, adding ingredients with a flick of the wrist or sleight of hand. Yet every dish tastes just as amazing as last time,” says Shane.

Back then, if the kids wanted KFC, she’d pull the karahi out from under the stove, fill it with oil and within minutes freestyle her own deep-fried chicken, marinated with garlic, chili, dried coriander, cumin, “and a whole host of things we couldn’t pronounce!” says Shane. “Her Sunday roast had all the traditional trimmings – but with a whole tandoori chicken, so deep in colour that your fingers would turn red just by looking at it!”

“This is the approach we take at Zahida. We mix a little East with a little West,” says Bobby. “We wanted to open a place that does something different with traditional flavours, to evolve the cuisine for a new generation. We cook our food the way we want to eat it, the way our mother served it to us.”

Zahida: The modern Pakistani spot shaking up Copenhagen’s food scene

A journey through modern Pakistan

Shane and Bobby started Zahida in a small, now defunct street-food market in 2017. “We had eight seats, five dishes on the menu and zero experience working in a kitchen,” he recalls. But the exhilarating flavours spoke for themselves. The pair quickly built up a name and moved into the bustling city centre – a stone’s throw from the Botanic Gardens and celebrated dining and produce market Torvehallerne – in 2019.

Many of Zahida’s signature dishes, like the Gunpowder Bites and Shrimp Ceviche, were conceived during the last two lockdowns. “We had the time and boundless enthusiasm to push the boundaries of south-Asian food,” explains Shane. Meanwhile, their frequent trips to Karachi help the brothers to keep abreast of food trends in Pakistan’s most populous city.

“These trips inspired our cocktail menu. We serve a Sharabi Lassi with pink candy floss – an alcoholic twist on the everyday mango lassi, with coconut rum and cream liqueur. The Red Fort, named after the iconic 17th-century Mughal palace in India, is served short, with hibiscus-infused vodka, cardamom, cranberry syrup and topped with cava.”

The à la carte menu is comparatively lean, comprising around 20 unique dishes. But the main focus is the six-course tasting menu with matched wine, beer or non-alcoholic drinks. “Our tasting menu takes you on a journey thorough modern Pakistan, with a range of flavours and textures in each course. Every element, from the mustard-seed infused pickled chili in the Aloo Gobi, to the tamarind sauce in the Gunpowder Bites, adds something to the overall dining experience,” says Shane.

He credits Zahida’s current success to its highly decorated head chefs, Sherwin Mariano and Anthony Delos Reyes, who have over 30 years combined experience across Asia and the Middle East, as well as at Copenhagen’s one Michelin-star Asian restaurant. “They’re an absolute pleasure to work with and it’s a real honour to have them on our team,” says Bobby. “They’re responsible for some our most iconic signature dishes such as the Masala Ribeye, Gunpowder Bites, Tempura Soft Shell Crab and our most popular dish, Zahida’s Butter Chicken.”

Zahida: The modern Pakistani spot shaking up Copenhagen’s food scene

“We always wanted to design a beautiful restaurant”

Zahida’s modern-industrial-meets-romantic interior is as vibrant as its cuisine. Pendulous copper lamps in deep turquoise hang from the high ceiling, reflected in a huge New Yorker mirror beneath an arching bough of pink cherry-blossom. Meanwhile, sleek, dark furnishings, cast-iron bars and wood paneling maintain an air of refined elegance. “We always wanted to design a beautiful restaurant – something different to Scandinavian minimalism. Something extra!” says Shane. The effect is thoughtful, bold and playful – “and all sewn together with Pakistani-themed modern art and a homely atmosphere.”

Though Zahida is a relative newcomer, its already moved the goalposts for Pakistani and Indian restaurants in the Nordic’s foodie capital – and has its sights set on the Michelin Guide. “We would love to be featured within two years, and to open a Zahida in Oslo, Stockholm and Aarhus. We’ve had amazing feedback from our northern-Scandinavian guests so far,” says Shane.

His energy is palpable – it’s impossible not to be swept along. Shane and Bobby have created a venue that has that curious, electrifying quality of a place that refuses to conform. What’s the winning formula? Shane says: “Our food philosophy is this… Keep the menu small, keep it original and make sure every dish is an absolute banger!”

Zahida: The modern Pakistani spot shaking up Copenhagen’s food scene

Web: www.zahida.dk
Instagram: @zahidacph

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