Thursday, October 25, 2012

Karachi's Endless Food Scene

The motivation behind this post is the email from Mr. ‘A’ who wants to visit Pakistan mainly to introduce his teenage son to their cultural and culinary roots. In order to facilitate them, I started jotting my favorite eateries around and soon realized that the wish list is actually endless! What else one can expect from a city which has no match when it comes to ethnic and cultural diversity.

Anyways here goes a glimpse of Karachi's food scene:

Javed Nihari: the Best Nihari in the World
Javed's Nihari in Karachi is probably the best nihari in the World!
There are many Nihari houses in Karachi, however, the way Mr. Javed does it is unbeatable. In a city where eateries remain alive well after midnight, he starts selling the royal specialty soon after ‘sunrise’ and stops around 9ish in the evening. Yes, you read it correctly; this is sunrise and not sunset. My grandfather always insisted that Nihari (Nihar = early morning in Arabic!) used to be served as a breakfast/brunch in the Mogul court.Whether you believe it or not, and no matter what time in the day you treat yourself, just feel lucky that you were not born in Delhi around Akbar's era because Mr. Javed was yet to be born!

The live hot Naan is so irresistible that you will definitely end up over-eating. If you are concerned about cholesterol then add the word ‘Sulemani’ while ordering. And if you are willing for a ‘one-off’ compromise, then get “Nali” and/or “Maghaz” added to your plate.

Other Nihari Outlets: Sabri near Radio Pakistan (M. A. Jinnah Road), Waheed at Burns Road, Zahid at Tariq Road, and many others

Range: Rs. 100-300 per person

Zameer Ansari’s BBQ: Gaining Popularity
Friends who live around Bahadarubad talks highly about this BBQ outlet and my recent experiences conform to that. If you are poised to have traditional tikka delicacies and looking for taste and quality both then this place is highly recommended.My favorites are Chicken Malai Boti and Fried Beef Kabab with Paratha.

Range: 300-400

Super Highway: Food Drive
If one can go extra length for good food and unpolluted breeze then the spacious eateries at Karachi-Hyderabad Super Highway have something to offer. Out of many traditionally styled eateries – takhat and gao-takya - I prefer Al-Sajjad, just before the Toll Plaza, for its service and quality of food. Chicken Karhai/Haandi is usually the most ordered menu item at these refectories which itself come in various varieties. I would also recommend timing the journey with the sunset to beat the crowd and keeping warm clothing layers to cope up with the strong winds.

Range: 400-600

Student’s Biryani: For Dummies
Having spicy biryani with a Latvian friend at Student's Biryani

Although I cannot have Biryani other than the one cooked by my mother, Student’s Biryani is highly recommended to those who would like to have an orientation of Sub-Continent's flagship food. Their Gulshan-e-Iqbal outlet is conveniently located in the city center with fast food style seating arrangement in addition to the one located around Saddar. Raita and salad go inevitably with the rice while I would not bother looking at the rest of the menu. Post shopping lunch, or late lunch, is perfect for Biryani while a jori of kheer is almost essential to mitigate the spice effect.

Food Center, especially its Hussainabad franchise, also sells good Biryani, however, with different spices and cooking method than that of Student’s. In addition to these two, there are thousands of vendors, literally speaking, spread around every nook and corner of the city which can even make and deliver bulk quantities at your desired place, be it a beach hut.

Range: 200-400

Noorani Kabab House: Not for the Faint-Stomached
As the name suggests, Noorani is known for its BBQ items, and that too for ages, however, I would go there for a specialty, i.e. Katakat. And if this sounds unfamiliar to you then please don’t think of daring it. Just to give a hint, it is a hard meshed spicy hodgepodge of mutton organs which some people would not even consider edible. People with cholesterol sensitivity and ‘hearing issues’ should also avoid!

The place is almost midway between Tariq Road (bazaar) and Mazar-e-Quaid, and only comes alive after sunset, in case you would like to adjust that in a sightseeing cum shopping schedule.

Range: 300-400

Chulloo Kabab: For a Change
Located deep inside the polluted hustle bustle of Saddar, this outlet sells one of its kind Seekh Kabab which are served with rice, fries, and a boiled tomato! The menu claims that this is Iranian food which some of my experienced friends approve of. However, there is no doubt about the quality and unique taste of Chulloo Kababs. The best part is that the food is very mild in spices, which is actually a rarity in Karachi, and suites to sensitive taste buds. 

Half a furlong away inside the gulley, Iceberg sells excellent homemade ice creams including seasonal fresh fruit flavors and kulfi-falooda. Atrium Mall – which hosts Karachi’s only 3D cinema – and shopping hubs of Zainab Market and Zaib-un-Nisa streets are also at walking distances.

Range: 400-500 (inclusive of a couple of Iceberg scoops)

Sea View: Eateries near the Beach
For refreshing sea breeze, peaceful and tranquil environment, and quality food with endless varieties, a drive to the Southern end of the city would not be futile. From Chicken Karhai to steaks, everyone can find something as per their preferences in one of the many on-the-beach food paradise. Midnight is the peak time so better keep layered warm clothing especially if kids are accompanying. To name a few, Al-Sajjad, Charcoal, and Kolachi have made quite a buzz recently.

Range: 500-1500

Hanifia: Where East and West Meet
Hanifia is probably the oldest fast food vendor in town which has been selling traditional meat varieties in ‘burger’ style. The shredded hunter beef burger/platter, which also comes in the less flavorsome chicken variety, is a treat for meat lovers. Hanifia is equally famous for its luscious chutni dip which has the power to bring out your long held tears no matter how brave you are!

Their main outlet is located around Guru Mandir, near the famous redbrick New Town mosque; however, the Bahadurabad one has better seating arrangements including roadside chairs.

Range: 200-300

Arizona Grill: Steak Specialist
Arizona Grill, located in the middle of an upscale souk on the main Zamzama Street in Clifton, sells great variety of good quality stakes in a typical ambiance. In the evenings, the place is frequented by aficionados from all around. In order to exploit the economy of scope, it also offers almost the same menu in the lunchtime with a ~20% discount.

Range: 800-1500

Yadgar Fish: The Local Seafood
Jamshaid Road’s Yadgar Fish is a busy place in the evening which often gets overwhelmed by those who like to have seafood with traditional spices. The place is also famous for many unconventional menu items, e.g. batair karhai, in addition to fish varieties.

Usually we just stop by the place and order half a kilogram of fried finger fish – which is called mangra and belongs to the shark family – as snacks while keep sitting in the car!

Range: 200-600

Halwa Poori: Dhamthal’s Way
Damthal is one the popular Halwa Poori outlets in Karachi

If somebody has informed you that Karachites wake up late in the ‘afternoon’ on weekends and holidays then you may like to have a visit to Karachi’s most characteristic neighborhood; Federal B. Area. There, Dhamtal – basically a sweet-mart located near Ayesha Manzil intersection – sells the traditional breakfast like anything, and that too right after the sunrise. Disciplined queues – which reach to its peak around afternoon – also hint that the nation is not that disorderly after all! Roadside tables are there to serve ‘true connoisseurs’ flocking from near and far, however, most of the sales come from take-away. While placing your order, don’t forget to ask for a pao or two of delicious halwa. Chola, aalo ki tarkari, and achaar are always included in the price of poori while you need to pay separately for the desert.

In case you would like to make it a family outing then Dilpasand – another sweet mart, located at Board Office intersection of North Nazimabad provides better seating options. Other popular halwa-poori destinations include, ‘but not limited to’, Ideal in Muhammad Ali Society and Boat Basin Food Street at Clifton. Not to mention, almost every block in the central Karachi has its indigenous shop.

Range: 100-200

Chinatown: Karachi’s Chinese Food
I am not sure how would a Sino-visitor would react after having Chinese food here or visiting a Chinese dentist around Empress Market! However, I can tell you that Chinatown Restaurant is the first name which appears in many minds when it comes to Chinese Food in Karachi. The place is located near the notorious Bilawal House in Clifton and you better get a reservation, especially around weekends, to avoid waiting in the lounge. 
Fried Fish at Jade Garden a Chinese Restaurant in Karachi
A friend suggested the nearby Jade Garden and the experience was not bad at all. A handful of Chinese restaurants are also located in the side alleys of Tariq Road out of which I can go to Little China anytime for a bowl of its tearful Schezuan soup.

Range: 400-800

Buffet: Sunday Brunch at Arena
There are many buffets available in town offering an extensive range of cuisines and suit those who would like to have a run through before going to specialty eateries. Personally speaking, I am not a big fan of these buffets except for the one offered by Arena’s Rangooli on Sunday mornings, 12 pm onwards. The restaurant – which is located on Karsaz Road besides the Maritime Museum – also offers daily lunch and dinner buffets while one can also enjoy indoor games – like bowling, ice skating, wall climbing, etc – downstairs.

Lal Qila, Village, and Shan-e-Mughlia are some other popular buffets around Karachi.

Range: 700-1200

Shaadi ka Khana: No Pun Intended
Everyday, and especially around weekends, hundreds of thousands of Karachites attend wedding related gatherings in those omnipresent and overly-decorated wedding halls.  

The only downside is that the meal is not served until the last Aunty and Uncle arrive which can go very close to midnight, when the hall operators are bound to turn off the electricity as per recently promulgated laws!

Range: 500-2000 salami!

Ice Cool: Chaat and Paani Poori
Located right at the entrance of redbrick New Town mosque, near Guru Mandir, Ice Cool is my all time favorite for Chola Chaat and Paani Poori not only because of its consistent taste but also because of the fresh ingredients and good hygiene. Sipping a glass of juice from the freshly skewed sugarcane with a pinch of lemon along make it so wholesome that one can easily avoid a regular meal afterwards. In addition, the place sells a number of great fresh milk shakes and juices out of which I would highly recommend the Chikoo one. For those with the spiritual appetite, the experience can be doubled with a ba-jamaat namaz in the mosque which is not only famous for its beautiful azaan but also due to its traditional hauz for ablution.

Range: 100-300

Street Food
Street food is also inevitable in Karachi. The most selling variety is pathan’s chai paratha which can be found effortlessly. Nagori milk shops sell appetizing lassi and milk varieties on so affordable prices. Arrival of winters brings fresh pomegranate juice at Agha; which has become a virtual brand name across the city for fresh juices and the colorful falooda. Those who would like to make it fresher, fruits and vegetables carts are omnipresent loaded with varieties from all over the country, especially from the mountainous North. For traditional sweets Dilpasand, United King, and Dhaka Sweets are some of the popular names. Pushcarts selling roasted peanuts, corn, etc also make their presence feel especially around shopping areas.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Visiting Karachi’s M. A. Jinnah Road

Karachi Metropolitan Building Corporation Building (now City District Government of Karachi)
I am pretty sure that readers of this blog who belong to Karachi would term this post redundant, as for most of the Karachites, there would be nothing to see at M. A. Jinnah Road except for the urban chaos, noise pollution, and coughing buses. Although almost all of us have passed through this major traffic artery umpteen times but with a different focus, i.e. cross it as soon as possible to avoid getting stuck up in the traffic jam.

On the other hand, Bandar Road – the busiest and the oldest roads of Karachi – hosts several historical structures most of which are remnants of the colonial British era.

On one not-so-fine morning, after dropping Urooba at Civil Hospital for some pedagogic assignment and parking, or actually fitting, my small car in the available space, I decided to stroll through the hectic road rather than waiting outside like a dumbo.

It proved to be a good trade-off; I walked till Memon Masjid passing through the crowded streets and stopping here are and there to have an awkward gaze on the surrounding structures. In fact, the guard of an old building – occupied by Bohris – initially hushed my away but then turned friendly when I told him about my interest in the building structure, rather than anything else! Just to mention, he belonged to the Kutchi Memon Community which is one of the visible groups of the Old City.

While I was taking photographs from my mobile camera some pedestrians thought that I am too crazy! Comments from one of the experienced traders who was sweeping around his shop as a morning ritual suggested that they thought I am a visitor new to the city!

Frankly, inspiration of this wandering came from the near-disappointing day around Penang’s Georgetown during our Oriental Outings last year.

Here go some of the shots I took randomly while walking around:

Karachi Metropolitan Corporation Building:
Street View of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation Building from the Busy M A Jinnah Road
Another View of the KMC Building
Jehangir Kothari Building:
Jehangir Kothari Building
Jehangir Kothari Building: A Closer Look
Exterior of Jehangir Kothari Building
Other Side of the Jehangir Kothari Building
Memon Masjid:
Defying All the Odds: the Tall Standing Minaret of Memon Mosque
Domes of Memon Masjid are Barely Visible
Some More Shots:
Denso Hall
Relic: Mercantile Cooperative Bank
Habib Bank Plaza Peeking from one of the M A Jinnah Road Gullies
A Colorful Bus Crossing a Historical Building
Without Comments!
For photographs, I used the built-in camera of my cell phone which has got pretty ordinary specifications, however, it was the inevitable matrix of electrical wiring coupled with the one-off untrimmed trees which made it more challenging.

For those who are interested in such sightseeing it would be wiser to go there on Sundays or before 9 in the morning on a weekday to avoid inhaling the toxic petroleum smoke. Friday prayers, around Noon, at Memon Masjid would also be a good sight to understand city’s culture.

The stroll can be clubbed with Wazir Mansion which I plan to visit in the coming days. It would not be surprising for a typical Karachite that this would be my first visit to Quaid’s birthplace!

Other Trips Around Karachi
Ranikot: the World's Largest Fort! 
Chowkundi Tomb and Haleji Lake 
Makli, Shahjahan Mosque, and Banbore 
Gidani Ship Breaking Yard
The Great Canyon: Makran Coastal Highway