I am writing this week’s piece savouring the hospitality of Lahore, the city where I was born, educated and then married. I have just uncharacteristically gorged myself on a Lahori breakfast topped off comprehensively with a big sized glass of ‘adh rirka’ – a lassi made from fresh creamy yogurt, milk, water with an optional ‘pera’ thrown in for good measure. I am happily satisfied and grateful that some of my childhood food spots still exist in spite of the fact that Lahore has become a concrete jungle, belying its reputation as the City of Gardens. It is in this happy and well sated frame of mind that I am dedicating this week’s piece to eating spots of a city that evokes nostalgic memories.

‘Naimat Kada’ was located outside Lohari Gate and rated as one of Lahore’s best ‘nose bags’. I first sampled its menu as a teenager accompanied by my late father, in the early nineteen sixties. I found the place neat, organized, efficient and above all very friendly. The man who took our order for two plates of ‘korma’ and ‘roti’ was a one man news channel, who updated us on the latest ‘gossip’ in an unbelievably short time. Our order arrived promptly, in stark contrast to even swanky restaurants of today - hooking me hopelessly. I visited the place many times, whenever I visited Punjab’s capital city, after adopting a career and found that a new generation of managers had successively diluted both the service and the flavour. Nonetheless, I can still recall the taste of the ‘korma’ and have never been able to find any other spot at home or abroad that can compete with that meal.

Delhi Muslim Hotel was located at the Lohari Gate end of Anarkali Bazaar. It was again my father, who took me there for lunch, while my mother was engaged in her shopping spree (which normally took a long time). I remember the occasion distinctly because this great establishment has residential rooms on the floors above the eating area and at one time or another, these rooms were home to some celebrated men of letters and verse. This was so because the rent was affordable, the food excellent and the owner of the place a patron of the arts. In any case, the presence of these celebrities provided him with great marketing leverage. While it was the ‘korma’ that showcased ‘Naimat Kada’, the entire menu of Delhi Muslim, Hotel indicated its chef’s passion and expertise.

Sami Dehalvi was a diminutive character, who migrated to Lahore in 1947 and set up his Nihari outlet in a side street leading off from Anarkali, known as ‘Paisa Akhbar’. The locality was so named because a popular pre independence newspaper costing that much, was once printed there. Sami’s patrons queued up at dawn to obtain this fiery delicacy as anyone arriving at even 8 am was bound to return empty handed. Sami sat cross legged on a cushion dishing out his ‘Nehari’ like a tribal chieftain, from a ‘deg’ that was embedded in a mud plastered stove. Whether myth or fact, it was said that the unique and addictive flavour of the recipe stemmed from the practice of cooking the fresh batch in the left over stuff from the previous day, because the embedded cooking pot could not be cleaned and rinsed - being immovable. Sadly enough Sami’s demise and his descendants’ lack of interest to continue making Nihari, deprived Lahoris of a mouthwatering traditional menu item.

We usually parked our car on Temple Road near Safanwala Chowk and footed our way to Nazuli Bazaar in the heart of Mozang. Our destination was one of Lahore’s most popular fried fish outlets that attracted a throng of customers. The fish was coated in chick pea flour and fried in mustard oil. The owner was a middle aged man, who had a penchant for customer discipline. Anyone, irrespective of social status, who tried to break the ‘first come first serve’ rule was promptly told not to do so or ‘buzz off’. I do not know if this particular eatery still exists, but if it does then my advice to fellow fish lovers is to sample its fare at least once.

Paucity of space has forced me to bring only three of Lahore’s popular eating spots into the limelight, but there were others that could be ranked equal to the ones mentioned in this week’s piece. These included the Cheny’s Lunch Home with its amazing omelettes and toast, the Pak Tea House (now gratefully restored), the ‘Kulcha Lonchra’ duo in ‘Chauhatta Mufti Baqar’ inside ‘Mochi Gate’, the ‘Chikar Cholay’ at Ganga Ram Hospital intersection and others that I may not even know. What I do know is that the food served here was and will remain part of a unique Lahori culinary culture that needs to be preserved.