I have just returned to my house after a day-long trip to Abbottabad marked by an unforgettable culinary experience starring a spicy fritter made from chickpea flour and known in this part of the world as a pakora. This food or snack depending on which side of the poverty line one is standing, has adorned the tables of palaces and hovels alike. Its versatility can be judged from the fact that it comes in different textures and flavours.

Pakoras can be salty or sweet depending on your taste. They can be fried or baked and even grilled. The basic pakora recipe is, perhaps, as old as history. It consists of adding water to chickpea flour, hand-stirring it to a consistent mixture and spicing it with crushed chillies and salt to taste. This mixture is then dolloped into hot oil and fried. The simple pakora can be made more interesting and colourful by the addition of meat cuts, vegetables, boiled eggs, cheese, mushrooms - just about anything.

A plateful of this delicious item can be eaten as it is, if one is an ardent follower of the protein based weight reduction programme or it can be thoroughly enjoyed with freshly made nans. In fact, for those of my readers who have never savoured a nan pakora meal, my advice is to get one right away.

This spicy golden misshapen lump of pure ecstasy has always held my family in its merciless grip. From my grandfather to my grandchildren, everyone from the clan has looked and will continue looking for the most insignificant of opportunities to heat some oil, mix some batter and get going. This aberration takes an alarming turn during the monsoon season, when dark rain clouds aggravates this hereditary condition into something that can only be classified as ‘pakora mania’.

I have tried pakoras from all over the country, starting from the sand-ridden khoka near Hasilpur to the famous establishment at Ichra Mor in Lahore. But one pakora vendor that outdid all of them was my friend at Sarai Alamgir, as he sat cross-legged on a takht dropping blobs of his special mixture into a massive wok, while a crowd of prospective buyers stood by patiently. There was no shoving and pushing at this spot, as any display of impatience was normally rewarded with a raised metal ladle pointing the way down the road. Since I was a regular visitor to this place, I was sometimes given deferential treatment by being offered a cane mora or stool. It was there that I usually picked up news, public pulse and interesting gossip that became the subject of my early attempts at column writing.

As stated above, I had considered Sarai Alamgir as the ultimate pakora spot in my books, but I was constrained to revise my opinion today. The discovery of an establishment that leaves all others behind was nothing less than coming upon a new species of flora or fauna.

This magical place is located in Sarai Sualeh, a small community that lies three kilometres ahead of Haripur on the Karokaram Highway. It turned out that the owner and head pakora chef had spent a long time in Turkey, where he created quite a stir by his peculiar culinary skills. On returning to his native land after making some money, he opened a pakora business in the bazaar and named it Turki Pakora, as a token of love and gratitude for a brotherly nation that had given him much. He also adorned this premises with a signboard that showed Pakistani and Turkish flags.

The Turki Pakora appears to be like any other similar spot, except for the rush of cars that stop by to sample his product. It is the combination platter personally produced by the individual that captures customers forcing them to revisit the place again and again. This platter consists of four different types of pakoras arranged in a fair-sized terracotta dish and topped with mixed pickle and fried green chillies. A steaming hot dip-like sauce accompanies this platter to complete the presentation. These pakoras if taken in isolation may taste like any other of their kind sold elsewhere, but when eaten in combination with the pickles, the fried chillies and the sauce, they take on an ‘out of this world’ flavour. Top this with chilled mineral water from the freezer and you have a perfect roadside meal that is not heavy on your pocket.

So dear readers, next when you take a drive towards the cool environs of Kaka Abbott’s valley, do slow down at Sarai Sualeh (for if you don’t, you might miss the spot!) and then tarry a while at the greatest pakora restaurant that you will ever see.

n    The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is     the study of History.