Can’t stop eating Kababs!

So what’s new, as any of my friends or family would say. I always tell people that whenever I visit the sub-continent, magically my metabolism quadruples. I am not sure, maybe it has something to do with the heat, general pace of life, but I can just eat all the time, and the damage to the contours is minimal. Nothing to do with a ‘Delhi Belly’, never had that problem, been blessed with a cast iron constitution

Coming back to this story, as I was happily munching away those delicious bun kababs, oblivious to me, the phone kept ringing. I finally went down to pay, at the same time booked a taxi. Suddenly noted a few missed calls from my friend, let’s call her Reshma. I called her back, and she complained that I hadn’t called her all day and was not answering the phone either, which got her worried. She was conjuring up images of me lost or something worse. Assured her about my well being, and told her where I was. Reshma had never tried those bun kababs, hence got some as a takeaway for her and family.

This time I got an Uber, because it was rush hour and no Careem cabs were available. The cab driver, when I was about to get off, told me he wanted to be paid in cash. I told him it was not possible because the payments get debited on the card. He gave me a lot of grief, finally I decided it wasn’t worth it, and ended up paying him the fare in cash too (the amount was negligible as you can imagine), I was in any case going to tip him. I told Reshma about it and she told me he was just being difficult, and may have realised I was not local. Anyway, I noted that, but made sure not to get an Uber again.

I met Reshma’s family and chatted with her mum about Sindhi food and food she grew-up eating. Meanwhile their cook was getting dinner ready, but I was very keen to explore some more of Karachi’s food that day. So, after eating some dahi badas ( lentil doughnuts in yoghurt), which were delicious, some potato patties, Reshma and I took off. She gave me a choice between this fancy-ish place recommended by all and sundry, called Kolachi – famous for their ‘karahis’ and beautiful views, or Ghaffar Kabab House. Kolachi is also the old name for Karachi when it was still a tiny fishing village until the 18th century, in case you didn’t know. Of course, I went for Ghaffar Kabab House and got a taxi back to, where ? P.E.C.H.S again, but a different part!

Reshma’s mum didn’t look very pleased with our plan, as it was already getting to 9 PM, but stopped short of saying anything to her in my presence. I am quite sure she got a drubbing after.

Upon reaching, we had to get off a bit ahead and walk through a barricade, manned by police, local security, not sure. But sights such as this are not uncommon in Pakistan, army, police, ‘security’ is all over. After successfully clearing the barricade, we made our way ahead.

As we approached, the sight, sound and heady aroma, wafting from the kababs roasting on hot coals, enveloped my vision and senses, and was momentarily transported back home to the gullies and by-lanes of Mohammed Ali Road in Mumbai.

Ghaffar Kabab House is one of the most popular kabab joints in Karachi. Like many such places in Pakistan, the best in the trade trace their lineage to the royal kitchens of Delhi and Lucknow.

They have two shops facing the street, one is for takeaway and the other ( as you can see in the video), is for eating in. I took a good look at all the kababs, and then the dining area.

The ground floor was completely packed with men, as expected, although I would have been happy to sit there and eat, had there been no other option. They led us upstairs to their family room, which seemed more convivial with lots of families, and at least one only women’s group. Yay!! Finally some representation, I thought to myself.

We sat down, and placed the order, one of each : a dhaga kabab ( that ‘dhaga’ or thread is surely a Karachi addition to a kabab that is similar to a gilawati/ tunday kabab from Lucknow – the melt-in-the mouth meat is held together by a thread), bihari boti, chicken seekh, chicken malai boti, mutton seekh kabab. But the dish I was eagerly waiting to eat for a long time was, ‘magaz nihari’ ( magaz= goat brain and nihari is shank, in this case it was beef), and it surpassed all expectations. I am a sucker for a good ‘nihari’ and this one came with a fresh off the goat whole brain, and I was in ‘meat-heaven’.

My favourites kababs were the mutton seekh kabab and dhaga kabab . Eat with multiple rounds of the kulcha ( flat bread), and dollops of the spicy chutney. I ordered another round of the seekh kabab, in the interest of disclosure :-), but got the chicken kababs as a doggy bag. Gosh, after three consecutive meals, just couldn’t move.

By the time we left it was past 11 PM, but the place was still buzzing. Keen to eat ‘paan’ ( betel leaf eaten with areca nut and some spices like green cardamom and clove), we found a shop just across. ‘Paan’ is an acquired taste, but in my opinion it’s the best digestive for heavy meaty food ( if no alcohol is available). Pakistan is a dry country, remember. There is an exception though, alcohol sales are permitted, to non-Muslims and foreigners, to be consumed within the four walls of their homes, or in certain designated five star hotels. The most most surprising discovery was learning about a local distillery called http://murreebrewery.com.

Well, that was the end of day 1, packed with lots of new experiences and learnings. On that note, I fell into deep slumber almost immediately upon return.

As I am writing this, can confirm those were the best kababs I eat in Pakistan.

Quest for the best Bun Kabab

Nursery Super Burger Bun Kabab Karachi, Pakistan

After a few hours of rest, I was pondering what to do next. It was almost noon per my body clock, and was feeling ravenous. I had heard a lot about Karachi streetfood, especially its iconic snack the ‘Bun Kabab’. There are a few purveyors here in London, but was very keen to try ‘the real Mccoy’.

I had done a fair bit of research on the best places to eat with local foodies and friends, people who actually live in Karachi. My approach to eating street food is, has to be off the street i.e sold by an ambulant vendor or hole in the wall place, usually a few rickety tables and chairs to sit, if that at all. Based on that research, decided to go to Nursery Super Burgers in P.E.C.H.S area of Karachi. It was a bit far from D.H.A phase 5 where I was staying, because like all big cities, and the biggest in Pakistan to boot, the traffic is a nightmare.

I checked with my friends there, if it were normal for solo women to turn-up alone to eat, or hang around in public spaces generally dominated by men. While most acknowledged that it was not customary, no one dissuaded me from doing so, as long as I felt comfortable with the idea. My plan was to travel around solo for the better part of three weeks or so, and what could be better than hitting the ground running on the first day itself. Mind you, this wasn’t the first time I was travelling solo, have done so multiple times before.

With that thought in mind, I booked a Careem. It came within 5 minutes or so, I hopped into it, and immediately started chatting with the cab driver (first tried Sindhi in vain, then switched to Urdu), who didn’t for a moment suspect me not being Pakistani. Told him I was from Hyderabad, a city in Central Sindh. He decided to act as my guide and started telling me about some sites we passed along the way. He, like so many in Karachi, hailed from a family of immigrants from the United Provinces ( U.P) in India, who came after the partition of 1947.

The shop is in a crowded area of Central Karachi, also home to the city’s most popular market – Tariq road. As the the cab left the main road and entered the area, I looked around to take in the surroundings, but nothing felt unfamiliar. This could well have been Bhuleshwar or Crawford Market in South Mumbai, with its crowded narrow streets, almost no place for a car to pass or let alone a footpath, narrow multi-storey apartments, many in a state of disrepair, it was an uncanny feeling . I wanted to take a video of the route leading up to the shop, but it was my first day in the city and was focussed on watching the map, to make sure I was being taken to my destination. The driver was very chatty and seemed honest, but didn’t wish to be naive.

Upon reaching, I gave a hard look around and then at the shop. As expected, it was bustling, with mostly men queuing up. I noted one woman with her son, who quickly got a takeaway and was off. I had various thoughts going through my mind then, and asked myself : if I were in Mumbai, would I be so hesitant? did I feel unsafe? No! With that in mind, I got off the cab, and walked over. Nursery Super Burger is a big hit on the food blogger circuit, both local and international, hence no strangers to people interviewing them. The team were so busy, but very patiently answered all my questions, as you can see in the video. Of course, when the food got ready, I was led upstairs to their tiny mezzanine to eat. Think I had done enough to encroach into their ‘public space’ 🙂 .

The bun kabab, as I discovered during my conversation with the team, started life as as a vegetarian/vegan snack. The classic bun kabab is the ‘Dal anda Bun Kabab’ ( dal being chana lentils and the anda is the egg), and for those going vegan or not wanting the egg, it tastes just as well without it.

A patty between a bun or sliced bread also used to be a common streetfood snack in pre-partion Sindh, especially spiced potato patty, ( patatejitikki) or mincemeat ( kheemejitikki), and even what was called a ‘dal sandwich’, lentils stuffed between two slices of bread or a bun. Not entirely sure, but there maybe a connection there too. The range probably got bigger with the addition of this ‘chana lentil’ patty.

In many ways I found a similarity between the quintessential Mumbai streetfood the ‘Vada Pav’ also a patty in a bun (a Portuguese bread, not sweet though), albeit potato coated in gram flour (made from roasted chana lentils) batter and deep fried. Both were roughly invented about the same time too, the ‘Vada Pav’ I believe was invented in the late 60s, and the Nursery Super Burger team told me they are one of the oldest and exist since the early 70s.

I am not a food historian, but I do make an endeavour to research its history, in fact that’s been the most interesting part of my foray into this realm. I interviewed a few people from the pre-partition era, and those who grew-up and continue to call Karachi home, on when they first came across this ‘patty in a bun’. With that as a background, here is what I think. ‘Dal anda bun Kabab’ was probably invented roughly about the same time as the ‘ Vada Pav’, and for the same reasons : provide a means of employment; to cater to the fast pace and busy lifestyles of a bustling metropolis; a snack that people could eat on the go. Given the flavours of the ‘Dal anda Kabab’ are so similar to a ‘Shami Kabab’ sans the meat, it may well have been a snack created by the immigrants from Bihar, U.P or Bhopal? ( I just discovered recently they have a similarly named snack in Bhopal, must go visit whenever I can, after this lockdown).

Over time, access to meat became cheaper and people’s tastes also evolved, food from the Khyber Pakhtunwa region (Pakhtun) is all the rage across Pakistan nowadays, hence the ‘Beef Chapli’ ( the beef patty), or ‘Chicken Patty’. The two vegetarian ones are the potato patty, and dal anda patty.

Now, because I wanted to taste everything, I ordered the classic dal anda, the beef patty ( chapli) , the potato ( alu) patty and I also had one only chana lentil patty sans the egg. Ok, don’t judge me, I was hungry, and wasn’t sure when I would get to eat it again. The video I took, featured above, captures it all, do watch it.

My favourite was the dal anda sans the anda, the spicing and texture was so delicious, I was wondering why it needed to be dipped in an egg, but what do I know, to each their own. The bun itself I didn’t care much for, was a tad sweet for my palate, but the spicy chutneys balanced the sweetness, and I obviously had dollops of that. I absolutely loved the Nursery Super Burger ‘Dal Bun Kabab’, highly recommend if there’s time for you to only eat one. #karachi #bunkabab #pakistanifood # streetfood #sindhigustoeatspakistan #sindhigustoinpakistan #sindh #dalandakabab #Nurserysuperburger

N.B: I was in Pakistan from Feb2020-Mar2020, and returned just before the Covid19 lockdown.