To claim that Lahore is a foodie’s haven would be clichéd, yet a massive understatement. Be it fine dining at a five star restaurant, or eating at a traditional ‘dhaba’, it’s safe to say, we’ve got it all in abundance. Although, many hold the renowned Food Street, located in the realms of old Lahore, as the epitome of the latter, it is but a pond of water in an ocean of culinary greatness (albeit a mouthwatering pond!).

Model Town is known for a plethora of unique entities, the foremost being home to the residence of a certain scandalous political figure, and of course... food! You have not lived fully, until you have devoured ‘Bhaiya ke kebab’ after a hectic day at work, or salivated impatiently, as you queued up for shawarma at one of the vendors at Bank Square, sweating profusely all the while, yet adamant upon satiating your hunger.

Situated amidst one of the more developed areas of Model Town, the old, beaten up apartments housing these not-so-famous ‘dhabbas’, appear as if a divine power placed a piece of ‘barfi’ delicately in the center of a freshly baked brownie from Gloria Jeans - an anomaly in essence. The ancient apartment blocks next to the NesPak residential area are home to an army of bachelors and students alike, who rely on these countless miniature restaurants, a.k.a. ‘dhabas’, for their cheap, daily meals. Most of these dhabas are identified immediately by their rusting iron tables and plastic chairs which spill out onto the roads, waiters who rap the menu as fast as Eminem, and of course, divine, spicy delicacies which are easy on your wallet. The acrid taste of burning coal as you sip from the freezing metal glasses completes the experience, leaving behind a ‘lassi-stache’ as a vague reminder of the meal just cherished. Then, there is the deafening noise from the fellow customers; loud, animated conversations amongst excited teenagers etch a vivid sketch of the daily struggles and milestones of these young adults onto your mind. You get an irreplaceable feeling of belonging. People from across the city assemble together, with all with their stories and hardships, yet not a single soul displays a trace of melancholy. They are one. They are content.

‘Shahi Murgh Channey’ is the place which puts this area on the map, being the main attraction for both, resident in the vicinity as well as food lovers throughout Lahore. There are drugs which are less addicting than their chickpea gravy, served with crisp, toasty ‘naan’: a simple yet complete meal which packs quite a kick. With the continuous traffic roaring past, and a light breeze blowing against your sweating face, there is no better way to spend an early summer day than to digging into this delicacy, paying no regard to your dignity as you wolf down the last crumbs off the metal cutlery. Not licking your fingers after the ordeal is considered a crime. A piece of free advice from personal experiences do not leave without tipping, even if you are in mortal peril. Your waiter is destined to trace your car down, and make you hand over his well-deserved Rs. 20. Beware. You have been warned!

Not a ‘channa’ lover? No problem. You’ve got plenty from choose from. ‘Malawi Paratha Kebab’ is another dhabba which specializes in spicy, snack food as well as exquisite BBQ, served in disposable plates, for economical rather than environmental reasons. But then again, not many environmentalists can prepare a tikka as spot on as our friends at this dhabba. ‘Muqadas Biryani Restaurant’, awaits you literally a few steps away. It serves nearly a hundred people at a time and is the place to go to for everything else. Be it the customary biryani, spicy karahi or good ol’ daal, they have surely got it all. You can also enjoy one of the best ‘Dahi Bharrey’ in town, just across the road, as a sort of a palate cleanser after your culinary adventure has culminated. While you’re at it, why not play snooker beneath the stars?

However, outstandingly below par hygiene and sanitation do not make our outing too much of an awe inspiring sight. The narrow streets, on which the ‘dhabas’ are situated, are engulfed in toxic fumes from the stoves, cigarettes and sheeshas alike. Moreover, only the stone hearted can overlook the young children forced to work as waiters, spending their childhood engaged in tedious, strenuous work as your children enjoy the food their own age-fellows had to work fifteen hours a day to prepare, that too for a meagre wage - Rs. 8000 per month according to my enquiries.

Nevertheless, if there is an iota of love for food embedded in your heart, this pocket-sized version of Food Street is bound to get your taste buds itching for more.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.