I’ve been living and working in New York for a little over a year now and while there’s no shortage of desis and desi food here, there are some things I miss back home that you just can’t replicate anywhere else. Sure there’s home cooked food and the usual big guns like biryani/nihari and haleem etc. But here are some of the smaller, more peculiar personal favorites of mine. Feel free to chime in with your own.
1. Milano Pizza from Ginoginelles
By all accounts, this pizza is a cultural travesty, a big steaming turd flung in the face of thousands of years of Italian culture and cuisine and yet, I love it unconditionally. It’s baked on a crust that is basically thick crusty naan and caked with a cement like layer of gooey desi mozzarella cheese. The tomato sauce is minimal but that’s just so that we can cut out the middleman and get straight to the meat. They really do splurge on the sliced sausage and salami. I do not know what goes into that salami nor do I care to. Also what’s up with desi hot dogs? I’ve scoured the globe looking for a beef frankfurter that tastes as good but I haven’t. Probably due to the fact that everywhere else they have restrictions on what you can put into a sausage, so for all I know, the amazing secret desi ingredient could be rat balls and I wouldn’t care. Ok maybe I would. But only if it was rat balls.
All I know is that salty, meaty combination, together with green peppers and black olives is a big, decadent party in my mouth.
And I still want it, even though I happened to get a glimpse of the kitchen in which it was being made on Khayaban-E-Mujahid. It looked like a filthy sex dungeon, where a sweaty hairy man, who appeared to be wearing only half a shalwar kameez was manhandling the dough.
I have provoked violent reactions when I tell people this is my favorite pizza , especially since I’m living in New York, the supposed pizza capital of the world. But the heart wants what the heart wants and it wants that big disk of cement cheese stuffed with meat in my belly right now.
2. Kebabs from Noorani Kebab House
Back in the day when I used to play in a band, we were recording our songs in a studio near Allah Walli Chowrangi. I do not have fond memories of that time because the guy who was renting out the studio to us stole our money and left his wife and kid to run away with a girl in Bangladesh, before she dumped him and he went into hiding (a story which should probably have its own blog post). I do however have fond memories of Noorani Kebab House, which was right by the place, and served the most incredible seekh kebabs I’ve ever had in my life. Served with a golden paratha and a murky dark chutney, that taste was pure bliss.
The trouble with most seekh kebabs is that barbecue places in Karachi tend to overcook them, making them slightly rubbery, but not the ones at Noorani. They were firm, but fell apart easily, juicy and tender, perfectly complementing the crispiness of the paratha. This wondrous harmony however, did not extend to my colonic regions, which burned with the might of a thousand flames as I pooped my life away a few hours later. I realize now that the juicy and tender texture of the kebabs was because they were probably undercooked. But don’t be bothered by these trivial matters of hygiene. Hands down, they’re they best kebabs in the city. Just reserve a few hours on the can later, keep a strip of Imodium handy and listen to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire on repeat.
3. Jan’s Broast
Now I know that Karachi Broast gets all the glory when it comes to broast chicken in Karachi but I assure you, Jan’s crispy golden goodness kicks KB’s ass. It’s softer on the inside and not as dry on the outside. Plus the Jan’s broast owners have big bushy beards, which means they are holier than those godless bastards at KB. Oh and unlike the asinine pieces of PAPER that KB gives you to wipe your hands, Jan’s actually gives you proper tissue paper, that’s right REAL Rose Petal. (I realize I may have compromised my already dubious street cred with this, but what are we, animals? There must be Rose Petal.)
4. The Kebab Rolls from Silver Spoon
You’ve got to venture deep into the heart of Tariq Road to find this place, which holds the honor of being the first kebab roll place in the country and in my opinion, still the best. Apparently the modern kebab rolls as we know them aren’t even a Pakistani invention but the creation of a gentleman from Bangladesh who came to Karachi and set up Silver Spoon in the late 70s.
Since that time, Khadda Market has taken over the kebab roll scene and I’ll admit, it’s just easier to eat there and they taste pretty good if you want to stay in Defence. But if you haven’t eaten at Silver Spoon, you don’t know what a real kebab roll is supposed to taste like.
While the Red Apples and A1 snacks slather their kebab rolls in grease and too much chutney, the Silver Spoon kebab roll is drier, simpler and restrained. The taste is more subtle, but since it is less greasy, you can actually taste the beautiful charred flavor of the kebab. And the paratha isn’t too crispy either, its softer and thicker but it still has a bite to it. And the best part are the onions, which are put in there raw and dry so they retain their crunch and flavor, unsullied by watery chutney or oil. These guys somehow manage to apply the spice without making it soggy or drippy. That might not be for everyone, but I highly recommend it.
Recently, possibly caving in to the competition from the Khadda market kebab rolls, Silver Spoon started making greasier kebab rolls which ruined it completely. Luckily, they still keep the original, amazing versions on hand but to get them, you just have to ask for the “low-fat” option. Not even kidding. I realize that “low-fat kebab roll” is an oxymoron and perhaps an insult against the kebab loving humans everywhere. But trust me, when you go there, ask for the “low fat”option. You’ll never go to Red Apple or A1 again. Also there was a rumor that one of the owners of those places recently got caught by the police for soliciting an underage prostitute who was running an operation out of the house where she worked as a cleaning lady. (Yep, that needs it’s own post too.)