I once wrote a column about Lahori Street Food, giving honorable mention to names like ‘Katlamma’ (a desi cousin of the Italian Pizza), ‘Pathooras’ and ‘Bayson ke Laddoo’. I still cherish childhood memories of the famous ‘Mela Chiraghan’ (the Festival of Lights) at Shalimar Gardens and the spicy aroma of the first item in the aforementioned list as it was lifted out of smoking oil filled woks. Exigencies of a hectic professional career and other things kept me away from my native city, but did not dim the memory of its culinary delights. It was sometime after I had said good bye to my job and had taken up writing as a full time vocation that I embarked on a quest to rediscover the delicacies of better times. What triggered this quest was a marriage reception in Islamabad, where to my utter surprise, I found hot ‘pathooras’ being doled out to guests by the dozen. I gorged myself on the stuff and was duly rewarded, when the elderly man in-charge of this particular food station gave me his phone number in Lahore.
A month later, I happened to be in the Punjab Capital and lost no time in contacting the ‘pathoora person.’ I asked him if and where ‘katlammas’ were still being made. Risking my better half’s displeasure, I headed out into the chaotic Lahori traffic for my tryst with the elusive red piece of spicy rolled dough. It took me some time plus raised blood pressure, to reach the shrine of the great and revered Saint Data Sahib and locate first one, and then the second establishment. While I had rediscovered what I was looking for, I found that sanitary conditions in and around the eating outlets were abominable, deterring me from making any purchases. I returned home dejected – a condition aggravated by the ‘serves you right’ looks from my wife.
A few days ago, a colleague of mine in the office walked up to me with the news that he and his family had dined last evening on ‘pathooras’ and ‘katlamma’ and that too, in Islamabad. I put my reputation on the line once more, announcing to my near and dear ones that I was heading out once more in search of my mouth watering treat and they were more than welcome to join me. As expected, I set out alone for the indicated spot and all but shouted “Eureka!” on discovering that my colleague was indeed right, for there, right in front of my eyes was a stall making the lentil filled pathoora and the red katlamma.
In no time, my inner Lahori took over and I found myself being seduced into an eating orgy that consisted alternately of wolfing down the two items on the menu. I also found myself drawn to the young man, his father and another gentleman, who was being referred to as ‘Taaya’ (a term meaning father’s elder brother), and the four of us were soon in light hearted conversation, which only true bred Lahoris are apt to do.
The most interesting part of the experience was my interaction with ‘Taaya Ashfaq,’ formerly of Safanwala Chowk Lahore, and his team. When I had eaten my fill and got a substantial amount packed as ‘take-away’, I asked for the bill, which amounted to around two thousand five hundred rupees. I couldn’t believe my ears, when the trio from the City of Gardens refused to accept the money. No amount of entreaties or threats could budge my three friends from their unique Lahori magnanimity. The whole episode left me humbled and grateful and no less proud of the fact that I was born and bred in a city that is without any iota of doubt, the heart of Pakistan.

The writer is a historian.