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), ‘dal sandwich’, lentils stuffed between two slices of bread or a bun, and in Hyderabad, Sindh some forms of lentil pattice. 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). Although, a friend’s mum, her family is from Nasarpur in Sindh, told me chana dal kababs and tikkis were regular fare in their home. Now, who knows, maybe traditional Sindhi food did have a role to play. And some enterprising person decided to revive their family recipe.

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.