Lack of parking space, no visible security and – most damningly of all – the absence of classic Lahori dishes has left visitors and business owners underwhelmed at the new Food Street in the historic Walled City.
The new Food Street is home to 27 restaurants, most of them serving barbecue and a few serving Chinese cuisine, and opened in January. A restaurant owner who sold nihari at Gowalmandi and runs a barbecue restaurant at Fort Road said there were no local traditional foods available at the new Food Street.
“There are no shops selling their own specialties,” he said. “Punjabi dishes like saag and makki ki roti (mustard leaf with corn tortillas) or just sajji (barbecued goat) which made the old food street special simply aren’t here. This place may be novel for its location, but offers nothing special in terms of food.”
He said the food stalls selling traditional snacks made the old street a novelty. “But here, they are all pushed in one quiet corner,” he added.
Amelie Couer, a German who twice visited Food Street with friends, said it lacked authenticity. “It’s just a bunch of restaurants lining the street,” she said. “Most food streets across the world have visitors walking, buying traditional food while interacting with the locals. The way chairs and tables are laid out by the restaurants limit interaction with other people. You don’t see the residents of Heera Mandi.”
“There are no traditional eateries here,” said Ahmad Cheema, who runs Andaaz, a nearby restaurant overlooking the Badshahi Masjid. He said that the new food street had not affected his business. “Our clientele is very high-end. Most of the Food Street targets the lower to middle classes. Our customers are not interested in Food Street,” he said. Abrar Hussain, manager of the Cuckoo’s Den restaurant, agreed that there was a lack of traditional eateries at the new Food Street, but added that the new development had probably brought more business to the restaurant than taken away from it. “Some people were reluctant to visit Cuckoo’s before because of the nearby red light district. The new development makes it less threatening to them,” he said.
The designated parking lot set up on the road between Badshai Masjid and Food Street is insufficient, as is evident from the cars seen parked on the pavements of Fort Road.
Andaaz Hussain, who runs Zaiqa, estimated that 500 to 600 people visit Food Street on weekdays and about 1,500 on weekends.
Food Street Administrator Habib Ullah Khan said there was not much he could do about traffic since there was no space in the Walled City. “The best we can do is get a traffic warden to monitor traffic here,” he said.
The increase in vehicle traffic is also a big concern for the residents of Fort Road. “This road used to be deserted and now there are cars on the pavement,” said Waseem Abbas, a resident.
Mohammad Riaz, his brother who lives nearby, said that noise levels had also gone up and sometimes it was hard to get to sleep at night. However, he added, the development of Food Street had raised property prices in the area, which would benefit all residents.
No walk-through gates or barriers have been set up in and around Food Street and no guards are visible.
“We need walk-through gates and security guards,” said Hussain of Cuckoo’s Den. “The Rangers office is right next to Iqbal’s tomb and they have received several threats. It makes visitors and hoteliers vulnerable too.” Usman Butt, who owns Tawa restaurant, said sometimes the waiters quarrel when trying to seat customers. “We need some security arrangement to keep things under control,” he said.
Habibullah Khan said each restaurant was charged a fee which covered maintenance and security costs.
He said building owners running their own restaurants must pay 12.5 per cent of their profits to the city government, while those renting property for their restaurants must pay 15 per cent. He said that the government planned to recover the cost of building the Food Street (Rs70 million) this way.
Khan said that plain-clothed policemen were deployed at the Food Street, but walk-through gates would send the wrong message. “We do not want to scare people away,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2012.