Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cold Lahore Nights...... Food De- mystified


Lahore ..... Winter of 2012

The GT Road goes through Khasa, I see my room in the officers mess on the first floor. There is some excitement, curiosity of visiting Lahore.  I have visited all our neighbors, only Pakistan was an unfulfilled task from the corporate point of view. Definitely one big agenda from a personal view point as both my parents had lived in Pakistan… my father was 19 and my mother was 9 when they left Pakistan (with their respective families) during India and Pakistan partition in 1947. My daughter was tense about my visit, so was my mother, wife, father, brother and others were cool but excited.

As I walked through the border, the first utterance of the tall and well built Ranger (equivalent to the Indian Border Security Force) was, Mianji Idhar aa jaiye. (Pakistanis’s from Punjab refer to Indian Muslims as Mianji  not respectfully almost in a derogatory way).

Reeling from the slow painful and dirty border formalities on the Indian side, the cleanliness and efficiency from the Pakistanis  in  handling  of the paper work was almost a surprise. The only thing amiss, very few people in uniforms e.g man introduces himself as the Deputy Superintendent of Customs….. I thought he was a porter or a dubious money changer. That is the veil of deception at the border outpost.

We enter, the driver Patras says call me Peter, works sometimes with our host, a pastor on Sundays and also carries a Government employee card from the Soil survey of Pakistan…… talk about deception. It’s my circumspect attitude to the erstwhile home where my ancestors were unceremoniously driven out with a midnight knock or is it really the way I sound. Too early I have been in Pakistan territory, only a few minutes I should be cool and watch the way. So Peter says,” you have Tata, we have Bata “as we bypass Batanagar in the outskirts of Lahore. Subsequently, noticed Bata  and Hush Puppies have a serious presence in Pakistan.

Is this a food blog or what, it is turning into a comment on the society. As food is part of the fabric called society. Eating  in or Eating out is part of that fabric. So the Hotels we lived in was part Le Meriden new Delhi, part The Ashoka  New Delhi and part The Oberoi Towers in Mumbai put them all in a blender and you have The Pearl Continental, Lahore affectionately called PC  the Governor Of Punjab to the humble Auto Rickshaw driver.

We venture out the first night after drinking Murree Classic Beer from the only distillery in Murree ( a hill station) set in 1861, whilst Dyer Meakin later called Mohan Meakins was set up in 1855 in Kasauli. The beer is full bodied and dark almost like an Ale ( In a can as well as bottle). Like everywhere else I liked the one in a bottle. Followed by a Murree 12 year old single malt…. I have a reservation against single malts a little peaty cannot drink enough of it.

Now the meal a first Lahore meal outdoors (indoors does not count), reached Lakshmi Chowk yes Lakshmi Chowk found a place near BUTTS (Bakers and Sweets set up in 1947), an expanse of street food joints the format is as follows:

A)     Buy your meat (mutton), or Chicken have it cooked in the way you like served in Tasla  made of Iron a large Wok ( Punjabi Curries, more with Tomato and Ginger)

B)      Kababs…. Mutton Tikka, Seekh Kabab and the beef variants, Chicken legs etc etc ( North West  Province)

C)      Tak-a-Tak  Gridle, a large tawa, cooks, Keema, Brain, Kidney, Testicles, Innards all organ meats, Chops, Chicken you name it. With butter tomatoes, masala green chillies. This format , we  understand  from earlier researches comes from Africa. The tak-a-tak is the sound that they make when tossing and turning on the gridle which makes a musical cacophony, which has even inspired  ring tones on the mobile phones.

D)     Large and long fillets of river fish, many in Punjabi fried with chickpea floor in a large karahi. Wok. Soft flaky fish.

In attendance, you have masseurs, singers and musicians while your food cooks. It is man thing pretty much like everything else to please the feudal lord in reality or in his head. The next stop is  usually the t danseuses domain Heera  Mandi.  Even the driver of the 5 star hotel’s politely asked us would we like to go, we politely refused.

On the food at Laxmi chowk we  ate seekh kabab, boti kabab and rotis followed with a brain and kidney tak-a- tak luscious masala, butter, tomatoes light spices. Fantastic taste and experience. Soon, we were craving for something sweet. We walk into the sweet shop, copious amount of various halwas. We see it like it. Hang on ! The Gajar Halwa ( Carrot Pudding) is garnished with sliced boiled eggs. Sweet and candied  stuff with boiled eggs, some other time. Elsewhere, poor man’s meal an Aloo ki tiki ( Potatoe chop with  eggs. We hogged out a fantastic meal for Pakistani Rupees 600 includng tips which is nearly Indian Rs 325. Not bad foran evening out

My Grandfather often started his stories “ when I Was the SHO ( Station House Officer) of the Old Anarkali- Police Station. I had to go to Purani ( Old) Anarkali. We walked from the mouth of the street, streets are clean, business closing down for the day, a bazaar of shoes and slippers, Then the eating joints, we see a very wide street, some very large cauldrons on the street. We then reach a rustic place and then a fancy place and as usual we go to the rustic place with rustic prices. Well the found was ordinary the service was good the format was pretty similar to the previous night. On the way in and out along the bazaar say footwear stores called, Khussa (in rustic Punjabi means slippers)., Also on the way were very large Deghs of Aluminium with Biryani and Paya Curry called Kharodas.

Now, for the last evening called  Cuckoos den……. This is the upmarket street food brought in from vendors and stalls and served piping on acold terrace, heated with gas heaters. The food ordinary, the view magnificient of the Bara Masjid  squeeky clean environs.  The old parts pof the city are also very clean. Good.

So that’s that on the food in Pakistan.

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