You Must Try These Winter Snacks When Visiting Pakistan in December
Winter in Pakistan varies depending on which city or province you are based in. For Karachiites, winter is limited to a few chilly days when the Quetta breezes blow, and this time is usually called Decemberistan, when expats come back and balls and dances, weddings and sangeets are the name of the game. In Islamabad, chilly days and ice-cold nights hold sway and the crisp winter sunlight lets you enjoy a few pleasant hours in the afternoon before you once again retreat indoors. Peshawar is chilly, windy and yet at the same time, breathtakingly beautiful. Quetta almost seems like a world away, with dropping temperatures and ice-cold winds. But no matter where you are, whether Multan or Faisalabad, Bhawalpur or Gilgit, there are some perfect winter snacks, which are in and of themselves uniquely Pakistani and absolutely cannot be missed!
1. Mewa (Dry Fruit)
Let’s start off with the quintessential winter snack: Mewa, or dry fruit. From peanuts to pine-nuts and pistachios, cashew nuts to almonds and walnuts, kishmish, figs, et al, dry fruit is something everyone enjoys, and something our country is famous for! You know winter has come when you can see the dry-fruit thelay waalas standing at the local markets and markazes, with their lanterns lit, soft tendrils of smoke slowly rising above them, with a few people standing around, warming their hands, and snacking on dry fruit. One of my favourite dry fruits are freshly-roasted peanuts, and I love standing at the thelay waala, watching him “bhuno” or dry-roast the peanuts, and then hand them over in a soft paper bag. Whether you are in Lahore or Islamabad, Quetta or Hunza, you’ll find dry fruit everywhere!
Now, I’m not a big fan of shakarkundi, steamed or otherwise. My sisters, however, were full of praise for this winter snack, so off I went, on one chilly evening in Islamabad, to locate the said snack. Upon locating a stall, I ordered two servings of steamed shakarkundi, with masala. The sweet potatoes had been left to grill next to a coal fire, after which the seller carefully peeled and chopped them, and then sprinkled masala on top. I dove right in, and was pleasantly surprised! That lovely, fluffy sweet spud, with the chatt patta spicy masala on top was spectacular. Want to improve on perfection? Have a cup of warm chai with it! Which leads me onto…
This is the new guy on the block for me. I hadn’t really seen this chai being sold in Karachi, but it seems to be quite popular in Islamabad. It’s quite a show to watch! Lovely little earthenware cups are heated in a tandoor (brick oven), while the spicy sweet tea is cooked separately in a pot, and then reheated on an open stove, which makes it nice and frothy. The cups are taken from the tandoor, nice and hot and then the tea is poured in. It’s lovely holding those cups as they keep your hands nice and warm, while the tea is an interesting mix of cinnamon – black tea with a slight smoky aftertaste thanks to the tandoor. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (lol) but do go and try it!
Tandoori Chai is available at F-11 Markaz in Islamabad and Bukhari Commercial Chai shops in Karachi.
One of your traditional Punjabi winter meals, sarson ka saag is actually a mixture of mustard and baathu greens, with some people even including spinach as well. These are cooked down into a thick green saalan (gravy), which is served with butter and achar (pickles), and eaten with makai ki roti, also known as desi cornbread! This is very much an acquired taste, and you either love it or hate it. As a Punjabi, I fall into the former category, but there are many who just eat the makai ki roti as is. Rich, hearty and bursting with flavour!
Sarson ka Saag is available at Cafeela Restaurant in Karachi and Jinnah market Islamabad.
Don’t get me wrong, gulab jamun is not exactly a seasonal dessert. You can have it any time, day or night, in the depths of winter or the scorching heat of summer. However, there is something special about eating it in winter. Imagine a nice, fat, juicy gulab jamun, dripping with hot “sheera” (sugar syrup). Cut into it with a spoon and watch the steam rise up. That rich, decadent hot spoonful of jamun is the stuff of dreams. Don’t believe me? Try it. I dare you.
Now, if you don’t agree with me regarding the categorization of gulab jamun as a winter snack, I hope we can agree on gaajar ka halwa! This is the pinnacle of winter snacks and has to be indulged in at least once, or, in my case, on a near-daily basis. A delicious, decadent halwa made from grated carrots, milk, ghee (clarified butter), sugar, cardamom and dry fruit of your choice, it is truly phenomenal. The depth of flavour, the soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture, it all comes together to create something truly special.
FUCHSIA’s taste test reveals that the best store-bought Gaajar ka halva in Karachi can be bought at United King Bakery. Otherwise, ask your mothers to make it at home, nothing like home-cooked flavours!