There was a carefree time, when as a young man, who had just taken up a career, I used to catch the morning PIA flight from Multan to Lahore on Sundays and having spent a few hours in the city of my birth return by the night train to be on duty Monday morning. This return trip was nothing short of a culinary adventure during the cold months. As ‘Tezrao’ (for this was what the train was named) stopped at Sahiwal (Montgomery of my child hood days), I always got out on the wind swept cold platform waiting for the sight of a familiar figure and his sing-song call. I had perhaps become a regular sight at this particular stop, for the man carrying a large thermos (of the old type) would make a beeline for me. The thermos top would be unscrewed and my favorite comfort food handed over to me – two hot (in the temperature sense) hard boiled eggs sprinkled with salt and black pepper. Eating this wonderful snack spread a comforting warmth, fortifying me for the rest of the journey.

It was during this period of my life that I spent a few years in Balochistan’s capital city Quetta were winter temperatures hover around eleven below zero. It was an old Balochi friend, who offered to take me out to dinner for an experience that (according to him) I would never forget. It was with much misgivings that I said yes. We drove down a street in the city to a dingy looking place that said ‘Lal Kababi’. My query, whether ‘Lal’ was the color of the kebabs or the name of the proprietor, did nothing to please the swarthy man sitting cross legged, behind a mix of steaming pots and charcoal barbeque at the entrance.

We climbed up a rickety wooden staircase leading into a narrow room with two rows of cubicles divided by an aisle. Something incomprehensible passed between my host and the grimy looking waiter. Fifteen minutes later, two king sized steaming bowls of meat in what looked like broth braced with green chilies, were placed before us, to be followed by piping hot ‘rotis’. A tantalising aroma arose from the bowls and as I dipped my ‘roti’ in the broth and put it in my mouth, I forgot the freezing weather and everything else around me, except the most wonderful and delicious meal in the world that now lay before me. This was my first exposure to ‘joints’ made from the succulent parts of the ‘dumba’ or sheep. My passion for eating ‘joints’ and all other broiled ‘dumba’ meat dishes spiced only with salt and pepper, continues unabated as there can be nothing better than this, to warm up the soul in chilly weather.

Then came the time to raise a family and the need to travel by road as the numbers in my home grew. It was on our annual summer trip to the hills that I suddenly braked the car to a stop in the middle of Sarai Alamgir. What compelled me to do so was the sight of a raised wooden platform with tiers of ‘pakoras’ and a tandoor on one side. I walked up to the stall and ignoring the flies, ordered one kilogram of the spicy, deep fried delicacy and some freshly baked ‘naans’. Amid feeble protests from my better half, I parked the car short of the Jehlum River Bridge, only to begin a torrid love affair with food that could put the best restaurant to shame. I now tell all my friends that God gave us the hot ‘pakora’ so that we could savor the true joys of winter.

Our ‘pakora’ has had so much of an impact that a close relative has opened a revolutionary restaurant in the Federal Capital. This establishment prepares and serves ‘pakoras’ of different flavors from across the world. A ‘pakora’ helped another friend in tying the knot, when a young woman slipped and fell, dropping a batch of this king of snacks she had just bought. A young man not only helped her up, but offered her his own serving. It turned out that both individuals came from families that knew each other. The story ended with a wedding and the fact that they are living happily thereafter – thanks to a ‘garma garam’ snack.