PESHAWAR -- Once deserted after sunset, Peshawar now has dozens of new restaurants popping up along popular streets after peace and improved security returned to the city.
"There was a time when all the restaurants on Ring Road would be deserted after sunset," said Baz Gul, manager at a tikka restaurant on Ring Road.
"Now people are staying out late at night since they feel law and order has improved over the past few years," he told Pakistan Forward.
Attacks on police, bombings and kidnappings on Ring Road in 2008 and 2009 discouraged would-be restaurant patrons from going out, he said.
The picture nationwide is much better now after robust military offensives including Operation Zarb-e-Azb, on-going in North Waziristan since June 2014.
Now the restaurant business is one of the most profitable as customers are coming by the thousands, he said.
In the past few months, more than a dozen popular food outlets have opened in Peshawar, attracting families and youth for lunch, tea and even late-night dinners.
Potential customers particularly used to fear nighttime as the period most subject to terrorism and crime.
Families enjoying return of peace
"A number of outlets opened in Peshawar during the last few weeks, which speaks volumes about the peace returning to the provincial capital after a long time," Senior Superintendent of Police Operations for Peshawar Sajjad Khan told Pakistan Forward.
He encouraged locals, especially families, to come out and celebrate the return of peace by visiting the restaurants of their choice.
"Hundreds of families can be seen having dinners at food outlets in the city with smiles back on their faces, which is very encouraging," he said.
University Road, Ring Road and Ghanta Ghar in Peshawar have turned into "food streets", and another one is being developed in Hayatabad.
Hundreds of restaurants on these food streets and in other parts of the city are providing traditional food such as mutton tikka and chappal kebab, in addition to continental, Italian, Chinese, Turkish and Arabic food.
Some of them tripled the number of their branches after an overwhelming response by food lovers.
"We went through the worst years of our life after 2006, when people restricted their movements and remained in their houses after sunset," said Saba Imran, a university student who recently dined with her mother and other family members at a new restaurant on University Road.
The efforts of the government, police and army have had visible results and peace has returned to a great extent, she told Pakistan Forward. "You can see the faces of those coming to these restaurants. They are enjoying the return of peace," she said.
Safe to go out with friends at night
Peshawarites are happy to abandon the bad old days when they stayed indoors after dark, especially in the suburbs.
"There used to be militant attacks on container terminals [in the vicinity of restaurants], on police officers and police cars, and even on public property on Ring Road almost every night," Abdul Majeed, a resident of suburban Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.
Family elders and well-wishers used to warn their loved ones not to go out at night, he said.
"Now [...] we feel it is safe to go out with friends to any food outlet and have a good time for few hours," said Majeed, who ordered mutton tikka at a rooftop restaurant on Grand Trunk Road as local artists played traditional Pashto music.
Ring Road has dozens of new restaurants now, compared to a wave of restaurant closings just a few years ago, he said.
"You can see thousands of people coming out to spend time with their friends over good food in both traditional and modern food outlets," he said.