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In last month’s feature, we told you about the various expressions and manifestations of art in Lahore. This month, we will be celebrating and commemorating all food connoisseurs. So, be ready with your forks, spoons and hands, and let’s delve into Pakistan’s City of Food.
For Lahoris, food has always been an integral part of all celebrations, and it is used to express a wide range of emotions – it is used to reconnect with friends and family, a mode of getting to know a new person better and as a way to show love and affection for loved ones. The way to a Lahori’s heart is definitely through the stomach.
This article faces the risk of turning into a novel if we delve into the technical classifications of Lahori food. Thus, we will painfully limit ourselves to two categories; the traditional and original cuisines of Lahore, and the more recent contemporary restaurant and café business.
With regards to Lahore’s traditional cuisines, the first thing that comes to mind are the Gawalmandi and Fort Road Food Streets, which offer a massive variety (even calling it massive is an understatement), of every food that can be thought of. From Taka Tak, Harissa, Paar Pottae, Tikka, Chargha, Biryani to desserts like Tuuthyaan, Kheer, Kulfi and Falooda. Gawalmandi Food Street is the original, and Fort Road Street is more recent, housing some modern eateries and restaurants. Patrons sit on long tables and benches laid out on the street itself, outside the lined up stall-like eateries.
Thick curry mixture of kidney, heart and/or brain of sheep or goat fried with spices and herbs on a large flat frying pan
Kashmiri dish of Mutton ground into a paste with rice or wheat, and green lentil.
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Grilled marinated pieces of meat
Deep-fried chicken marinated in spices mixed with yoghurt
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Gol gappas and Spicy Chaats
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A typical plan-of-action at the Food Street with family starts with the sizzling Paar Pottae, Tandoori Naan and Raita followed by spicy Golgappas, sweet Falooda and the unparalleled badami Kashmiri chai!
All of this, nestled amidst heavenly architecture of havelis and rooftop views of the rustic old Lahore, and the view of the Badshahi Masjid and the Shahi Qila.
Androon Shehar (Inner City) is filled with other major eateries that provide selections of the dishes described above. The Karahi Tikka eateries on Mcleod Road are famous, as are Bhaiyya Kebabs in Model Town and Liberty Market. Lahoris are big on breakfast, and love our halwa puri, channay and nihari. And, finally, the star of Lahore – the Lahori lassi, which kills you and sends you straight to heaven. It is on the same streets that one also finds interesting local takes on foods such as burgers, rolls, sweet corn, doughnuts, sandwiches, hot dogs, potato fries, shakes and drinks.
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Moving away from the Inner City, and into Lahore’s housing colonies, even Defence, Gulberg and Model Town house street food, albeit a less traditional one. In these housing colonies, families and friends enjoy street food in the comfort of their vehicles. The street food here ranges from paratha rolls, shawarmas, barbequed meat, biryani. Places like H-Block in Defence are home to restaurants and roadside stalls, and are popular food hubs. Some of our favourites include Hot n Spicy, Tandoor and the famous Jaidi.
As all trends have their reigning rule, in Lahore it was a tsunami of caffeine addiction and, to accommodate this flood of coffee addicts, a plethora of cafes at every nook and cranny – The Coffee Tea and Company, Arcadian Café, Cinnabon, Espresso to name a few. These cafes serve coffee as well as bakery items, sandwiches, burgers and Western foods.
Lahore is very sympathetic to its junk-food loving youngsters, and so, all the famous (or infamous) worldwide franchise brands are fighting a tug-of-war in Lahore – Kentucky Fried Chicken. McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Hardees, Dominos, Burger King, and our favourite, Burger Hub.
Be not mistaken, though. Lahoris appreciate finesse and fine-dining just as much as they love their junk. Contemporary restaurants have sprung up by the dozens all over Lahore. A drive down M.M.Alam Road shows restaurants of all shapes, sizes and styles serving Italian pastas and pizzas, Mexican quesadillas, American steak, Chinese dumplings, Thai soup, Western salads and fusion of every permutation and combination.
And finally, there is no desert that is not available in Lahore. Parlours serving frozen yoghurt, ice cream, cupcakes and cakes are plenty. Hotspot, Marble Stones and Butlers Chocolate Café are favourites. In fact, baking deserts has fast gained popularity as a choice of home business for many women in Lahore.
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In Lahore, food is more than just fare. It is culture, it is love, it is relationships. It is a language, a mode of communication and a binding glue. No visit to Lahore can be complete without succumbing to the food culture here. It is part of the identity of Lahore, and part of the identity of every Lahori.