In the Yelp era, when seemingly no establishment, good or bad, slips by without notice, Zam Zam Market version 2.0 somehow managed to avoid mainstream detection for about six years. Only a few Yelpers chimed in with five-star reviews for the seldom open Pakistani grocery and “cafe” before now-local Midtown Lunch founder Zach Brooks picked up on the under the radar gem in perhaps his best L.A. suggestion to date, which since led me to make repeated visits.
The Karachi-born owners took over a two-decade-old Halal meat market and grocery in 2005, practically in the shadow of the blue minaret that rises above King Fahad Mosque. A citation from the mosque recognized the contributions of Fahim Siddiqui, who may or may not be the owner. One thing is for sure: the name Zam Zam means “purification” in Arabic, which is kind of ironic considering the well worn signage, walls and floors. Boxed curries and bags of dry spices like clove and star anise rest on shelves in the back of the dimly lit space. Most people grab and go.
Zam Zam is only open from Thursday to Sunday, typically beginning mid afternoon, and their unpredictable menu normally incorporates meats like chicken, goat, lamb and beef. Of course pork is bound to be verboten in a Muslim restaurant near a mosque.
Lean chunks of mildly gamy goat littered the sprawling rice landscape like boulders. The aroma or spice could easily overwhelm some people, since the flavor builds with each bite. In that case, slather on a cooling, yogurt based chutney seasoned with mint, coriander and cranberry seeds. Or opt for a milder dish, either the lamb pilao or casing free beef or chicken kebabs, which reminded me of lule.
Traditionally, Indian chefs stain tandoori chicken red with anatto seed. Often times in the States, it’s the result of a dye. We’re not sure how the Zam Zammers accomplished that dazzling red color, but the flavor was certainly stupendous, with tender, supercharged meat. The chicken came with raw onions and would pair especially well tucked into naan, drizzled with more of that chutney.
Zam Zam’s also been known to sell samosas, but really, on any given visit, don’t expect to find anything in particular. Instead, trust the kitchen and you’re bound to receive generous, boldly flavored results.