I found a little bit of Pakistan in Hong Kong!
I have been an expat for three years now and I still can’t get over it.
My husband assimilates much better than I do. He is able to adjust to change in a way that is silent and not at all messy. He talks about the new place, adjusts to his new time zone and continues to talk about surroundings in a happy-go-lucky sort of a way.
His wife writes angry blogs and rants to fellow neighbours about the lack of dhaniya (coriander) and goes off in search of curry leaves to a place where no woman has gone before.
Okay, that last part was slightly exaggerated, women go everywhere in Hong Kong, but all the other information provided is a hundred percent accurate.
I am one of those idiots who can’t let go of their childhood and every time I smell cardamoms it reminds me of my maternal grandfather’s little steel paandan from where we used to steal the sweet, silver-warq coated betel nuts. I cling to the familiar and relentless search for ways to adjust by keeping the old memories alive.
So the first question I ask my husband before we are about to move to a new place is:
"desi food hai?"
(Will we get Pakistani food there?)
It’s fairly easy to gain access to desi cuisines and ingredients in the Middle East, where Pakistanis hold up half the sky. Ex-pats living in the United Kingdom and the United States are also just as comfortable.
And now, thanks to the massive changes brought about by globalisation, you can mistake identifying a photo like this …
This isn’t Mini Market in Lahore or Gizri in Karachi.
This is Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, China.
This little wet market down Peking Road is a glimpse of a world that seems impossible to exist on an otherwise busy, glassy street. Peking Road itself is filled with perfectly tall, designer-labelled, LCD-advertisements filled malls and hotels.
Take a turn down Haiphong Road and that’s a new dimension altogether.
The wet market begins in a quiet, unobtrusive way. It seems as if it does not want to get in the way of the busy, glamorous, air-conditioned lives of the malls and hotels. It begins under a shed, with small open kitchens, a handful of small stools; plastic tables are occupied by the young, old, busy and the idle. Hot water flows in the background as broccoli leaves brush along your elbow and the smell of boiled rice wafts directly into your nostrils.
This is where we begin our olfactory journey into the quest for desi mutton. Deep in the heart of this wet market sit meat and vegetable vendors who are happily dressed as if it is Chakwal and Mianwali and not Hong freakin’ Kong. They offer fresh Pakistani produce and thank you with a polite smile. To hear them speak in Punjabi amongst themselves is a reminder of how far away from home you really are.
Then there are the Chung King Mansions where you must stop to buy spices to cook all that fresh Pakistani mutton. Readymade masalas, desi herbal drinks, red onions, garam masala, you name it and it’s there. Even Urdu Digests, for those of you who are unable to let go of your guilty pleasures.
The food there is not fit to be eaten in a fancy ballroom gown- the roads are narrow and eager brown-skinned men huddle around you, in their attempt to sell a fake Birkin or even a genuine calling card.
But there is that distinct smell of biryani, chicken tikka, puri and parathas complimented with Urdu, Hindi, and Malayalam chatter. There is that occasional white tourist, the tall Mozambiquean, the half-asleep Bengali, the friendly Chinese woman peddling 10 dollar rings.
It doesn’t matter where in the world you may be.
It doesn’t matter how immensely French, Italian or Chinese cuisine tantalise your taste buds.
It really doesn’t matter.
Pakistan will always be my home.
PHOTOS: MAHWASH BADAR
Read more by Mahwash here or follow her on Twitter @MhwshB