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August 17 2016

Karachi - Burns Road: The Holy Grail for foodies

The waiter picked up my Naan. He saw my quizzical expression and said,

“It’s not hot anymore. I am getting you a fresh one.”

Then he comes back and asks in a solicitous whisper if I am enjoying myself. With such courtliness, how could I not?

This Michelin star service was not at an exorbitantly priced restaurant. No, the setting of this delightful exchange was Waheed Nihari at Karachi’s Burns Road a.k.a. food paradise.

Ernest Hemingway called Paris a moveable feast – in the same vein, Karachi is an immovable feast and Burns Road the location.

The food capital of Pakistan is reputed to be Lahore. I beg to differ.

Lahore has her temptations but Karachi’s place in gastronomic heaven is firm with her culinary repertoire running the gamut from Paye to Pizza and Ravioli to Rabri.

To enlighten those who have not embarked on the food pilgrimage or haven’t gone outside their comfort zone, Burns Road is a street in the heart of the old part of Karachi and is famous for its traditional (read mouth-watering) food items such as Nihari, Haleem, Kebabs, fried fish and desserts such as Rabri and traditional drinks such as Lassi.

If you take the road from the Urdu Bazaar and turn to the traffic light at the far end, you’ll enter the Holy Grail for foodies. During the day the road looks like any other main road with buses spewing smoke and pedestrians choking the sidewalks. But come night and the street metamorphoses into a cornucopia of savoury and sweet, awash in garish neon signs advertising the delectable offerings of each eating place.

It is serious eating here, with no fancy presentations or garnishes, just honest, good food that lures the eater into a bacchanal of gluttony. My first experience was no light hearted affair but a complete immersion in the victuals on offer.

While perusing the various places, even the most casual observer will notice the predominance of restaurants that hark back to the city of Delhi. You can hear the echoes of Chandi Chowk and Nizammuddin and, in fact, I found more than a passing resemblance between a Nihari place here and the famous Karim restaurant in Delhi.

According to senior denizens of the area, many people who migrated from Delhi to Karachi preferred to live on Burns Road.

Kulfi, ice cream, Faluda, and sweet milk are all on offer and awfully good too, but it’s the Rabri that brings in the customers. I was told that the maker has been making the same creamy stuff for over thirty years with no intention of stopping soon.

After sampling Karhai, Nihari, Sajji or Haleem many want to pass over the rich desserts and move on to something refreshing to wash down the good stuff. The Punjab Lassi House has been doing that for over a quarter of a century. The Lassi slips down your throat, singing the songs of the Punjab and erasing the after effects of spicy food.

In summer, it is a godsend and banishes the heat demons just as effectively. Sweet, salty or churned with a crumbling Perha sweetmeat, the Lassi here is the benchmark for the rest, the highpoint of any dairy drink.

Burns Road’s position as the dowager empress of the food world is firmly entrenched. There are other places in different parts of Karachi and the country which have great food and firm clientele. But if there is one spot that throws down the gauntlet and stands apart, it’s this magical street of sumptuous, succulent treats.

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