- 24 Nov - 30 Nov, 2018
THE CHANGING FOODSCAPE OF LAHORE
- 17 Nov - 23 Nov, 2018
Lahore, a city that has witnessed the hierarchies of various cultures throughout history. Influenced by several and captivated by many, the city of gardens is the gem of Punjab. The city, famous for its fashion, music, family traditions, architecture and luxuries, prides itself in one thing the most; its cuisine. With a vast diversity in the cuisine, the Punjabi spices and masalas stand out in the international market. Rightfully too, as foreigners from far and wide come to enjoy the privilege of tasting finger-licking chicken tikka or sensational gosht karahi made in a concave-shaped cooking vessel that resembles a wok.
Lahoris relish eating experience for making every moment as homely and hospitable as possible, they go to many extents. Holding family values true to their heart, they take pride in their traditions and rituals, thus their cuisine isn’t exempted from the list. The people believe that the true essence of food can only be enjoyed by hand with every meal including rotis, naan or parathas which acts as a scoop between the fingers and the gravy. Majority meals can’t be enjoyed without garma garam rotis. Being quite down to earth, they prefer to use the ground as their sitting space, surrounded by loved ones, acknowledging the true meaning of family.
As Virgina Woolf says, “One cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well.” The citizens of Lahore are a true follower of her words. They don’t believe in the concept of vegetarian diet. Every meal is meat oriented and vegetables act as a side dish; be it beef, chicken or fish. Fond of sweets and deserts of all kinds, every party has its round of gulab jamuns and ras malai. The full stop to the meals, is a hot cup of tea. Ranging from doodh patti, Kashmiri chai, green tea, trays laden with hot beverages keep coming in. The Punjabis take their tea very seriously. The addicts drink around five cups a day, diet conscious lot are fond of green tea and a winter special is Kashmiri chai.
INFUSIONS FROM FOREIGN CULTURES
With vast influences from ancient empires and migraters of neighbouring countries, Lahori cuisine has come to its present form. Chefs have made fusions of international dishes to cater to the taste buds. So and so, the table manners also differ among people. Due to nationwide influences, their cuisine has a knack of every part of Pakistan. Not only Pakistan but worldwide as well. Chefs have taken Chinese dishes and made their own versions of it; dishes which can’t even be found in China. Ranging to hot and sour soups, to Chinese chop sticks, Lahoris know their spices. Same case with the Afghani culture, from Afghani karahi to kofta kebab, infusions are loved and appreciated.
THE FAMOUS DISHES
The famous dishes of Lahore include chicken karahi, daal gosht, murgh cholay, murgh musallam (chicken cooked with rice and dry fruits stuffed inside), seekh kebab, shawarma with mix recipe of laborites and Arabs, daleem, halwa poori (a breakfast specialty of Lahore), and nihari.
The most famous is chicken karahi. Served in every party, it is an all-time favourite. The dish is usually eaten with basmati rice. Cooked in onions, garlic and ginger, which is the staple ingredient for most Pakistani dishes, it is then served with coriander leaves and garam masala. Its fragrance can be caught from far, pulling in hungry Lahoris to the table. Rich in flavour, this dish can be found in every other restaurant and acts as a basic dish in most parties.
Another all-time favourite is murgh musallam (whole chicken) is a Mughlai dish originating from the Indian Subcontinent. It consists of a chicken marinated in a ginger-garlic paste, stuffed with boiled eggs and seasoned with spices like saffon, cinnamon, cloves, poppy seeds, cardamom and chili. It is cooked dry or in sauce, and decorated with almonds and silver leaves.
A food street snack available on every corner is gol gappas. It consists of round, hollow puri; also called pani puri, fried crisp and filled with imli pani, tamarind chutney, chilli, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas.
A MODERN TWIST
Modern chefs, wanting to take culinary to the next level have come up with many infusions, much new to the common man, for example cucumber gul gappa. A lip smacking, chatpata snack and a favourite of most food lovers. Children’s eyes shine with excitement at the sight of these round crispy delights full of spicy chickpeas.
There are many restaurants where you can enjoy these delights. From street corner dhabas to high-end restaurants, Lahore has it all.
One of the famous restaurants which are rightfully entitled to its fame is the Cocoo's Den. Founder Iqbal Hassan has had a firsthand experience of the bad stigma inclined with the area he originally belonged to. In the effort of bringing good name to the red light area, Iqbal Hassan renovated the very house where his upbringing took place and converted it into a five-storey restaurant. Its rooftop gives a luxurious view of Badshahi Mosque. Being surrounded by strong Mughal history and rich architecture has its perks. Iqbal Hassan stayed true to his past and worked tirelessly for people to realise that the dancers are just young lasses, stuck in this cycle due to circumstances. He paints the misogyny attached with their lives, illustrating their emotions with every stroke. Even though the public disgraced his efforts as he shed light on a taboo, his efforts with Cooco’s Den soon became internationally recognised. Foreigners come to be inspired with the aroma that comes from its very walls and to enjoy its exquisite food. Iqbal makes sure his restaurant has a strong diversity in his menu. Dishes are in variety, from fish, meat, to special teas. The art gallery gives a roller coaster ride like none other.
Another historically rich eatery is the Haveli Restaurant. Located in Haveli Khalil Khan, which is an architectural landmark, the Haveli offers incomparable and outstanding views of the famous Badshahi Mosque. A true example of how the Lahori heritage can be brought to an international standard, the Haveli stands proudly in Lahore’s famous food street. The current owners, brothers Habib Khan and Tariq Khan, painstakingly bought out the divided portions, reconstructing and renovating every corner to bring a certain vibe to the place. With its wooden balconies and jharokas, the restaurant perfectly displays the rich Mughal heritage of the area. The owner has thoroughly worked to bring the concept of dhabas to a larger and established scale. Their menu is creative with Nutella naans and Thai chowmein.
A COMPARISON WITH KARACHI
Although Lahoris take much pride in their cuisine and table manners, the Karachiites refuse to step back on their dining game. Karachi, being a heavily populated city with many diverse communities, has its own culture values.
Karachi is a trading hub, much more advanced than Lahore. This reflects in their eating habits as well.
Karachiites are more reserved and fast eaters. Used to over-populated sitting spaces and a concept of individuality, the people of Karachi tend to stay among themselves, not used to large social dinners. Whereas, Lahori restaurants are meant for boisterous crowds. Even with the zinda dilli that is a part and parcel of the city, there’s still enough space to manoeuvre and not overhear conversations from across the table. Taking every moment to its full potential, Lahoris enjoy the eating experience none like any other community. Filled with laughter and the sense of home.
For Punjabis every meal is an event. They dress up in their best, pulling out their waist coats and Peshawari chapals, dining till late night with steaming tea in their hands and joy in their hearts. Although Karachi is considered to be a more experimental city than Lahore with options like Okra, Pompeii, Aylanto, Flo and China Kitchen, Lahore has its fair share of eclectic cuisine as well. There’s Udon House for Korean food, Opium for Thai, Cosa Nostra for gourmet Italian food, Dumpukht Lounge for Afghani and Nisa Sultan for Turkish to name a few. Thus, you get much more variety and diversity in Karachi, although prices for each meal is comparatively lower than Lahore. A meal at Kolachi in Karachi will cost about Rs1000 per head, whereas the same at Andaaz or Cuckoo’s will cost about Rs1500 per head; both rooftop restaurants specialising in local cuisine.
AND THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
Lahore in advancement is quite behind. There are less delivery services, only reaching out to certain parts of Lahore. The struggle for advancement in roads and transport still continues.
Nevertheless, Lahore isn’t a place to miss if you plan on seeing strong cultural heritage. The food speaks for itself and attracts many, certain to attract you and your loved ones alike. •
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