LAHORE: The advent of winter signals 'festival season' in Pakistan. It’s different for everyone: some will have multiple weddings to attend, others – namely the young ones – are just glad they don’t have to get up for school in the chilly mornings. Many will be hosting for their phupo’s son’s friend’s grandmother because she’s visiting from America and obviously, has nowhere else to stay.
But one thing that is common to all Pakistani celebrations is food. No matter which part of the country you reside in, there is simply no occasion – happy or sad – that is complete without a plate of biryani and coke. Or if you’re feeling a little less ‘desi,’ some Fettucine Alfredo will do.
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Lahore, in particular, seems to have gotten this right. After a long and hot summer, the city was sparkling red and gold this past weekend, thanks to the Coca Cola Food and Music Festival which attracted over 12,000 foodies from across the region. Lahoris got to relish three days of madness and joy, along with delicious food. And what’s more, they were also treated to a special performance by one of Pakistan’s leading bands, Strings.
As soon as the festival was announced, I knew I just had to go. And apparently, most of Lahore was on the same page as me. An enthusiasm for life is a gift from God for us Lahoris and we did everything we could to get to the festival, including spending hours in jam-packed traffic, parking our cars 30 minutes away from the venue, trekking on the roads and waiting in the longest of queues… We did it all and we did it happily.
While I standing in the queue, I could hear Ali Sethi being called up on to the stage and that definitely added to the crowd’s excitement. But finally, after a long wait, I was able to enter and the first thing I noticed was the spectrum of colours that had lit up the golf course. Ali happened to be performing his famous track Maula at that moment and I was lost in admiration.
Coke Fest was definitely a sight to behold! I was witnessing the biggest event held in Lahore in a very long time. I got to witness chefs working their magic through cooking demonstrations, all the while enjoying other fun-filled activities. And not to mention, the incredible line-up of musicians really got atmosphere rolling.
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The venue was beaming with beautiful, happy faces of families enjoying the food and music and dancing their hearts out. Nearly everyone was holding a bubble waffle or an ice cream or some chaat while walking around.
With around 85 food stalls, there were a huge variety of foods to pick from and it was very obvious that many people were having difficulty choosing what to eat. On one side, there were home-based restaurants owned and run by enterprising women from Lahore. Coke Fest acknowledges that there is nothing quite like a home cooked meal and so, celebrates home-based chefs, bringing with them a range of their multi-generational secret family recipes, soul food and unique flavours. On the other side, there were some bigger, more established eateries – all competing in good spirits to cater to the people.
One of the good things about festivals like Coke Fest is that not only do amateur chefs get a chance to display their culinary skills but the bigger restaurant owners are present to communicate with customers directly as well.
The diverse panel of chefs offered special menus, discounts, and great meal deals. Although there was a lot of promotional activities taking place for people of all age groups, the deal that caught everyone’s eyes was Johnny n Juggnu’s, where they could pay whatever they saw fit for their order. Other popular stalls were Arif Tikka, Bamboo Union, California Pizza, Burgers and Dragon Chinese.
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The selection of cuisines for Coke Fest was curated based on the reviews and feedback of the members of popular food portal Foodies ‘R Us, which include some of Pakistan’s most passionate and authentic foodies.
Lahoris have been waiting for such an elaborate event for a while now, following the ban on concerts and the unpredictable law and order situations. And although there were many private events that took place during this ban, they were of course very limited in regards to the guest list.
Therefore, Coke Fest created ripples of excitement throughout the city. Where else could you eat your favourite food and slashed prices and interact with your favourite celebrities on a more personal level too? The musical line-up included Asim Azhar, Overload, Khumariyan, Quardrum, Ali Sethi, Nabeel Shaukat and the most awaited of them all, Strings.
Although the public came out to celebrate all three days of the event, it was the day that Strings performed which truly touched us all. As they took the stage to perform, the happiness that engulfed the crowd was priceless. There was a definite connection between the performers and the audience, as the latter sang along to favourites such as Dhaan, Dur to Main Tau Dekhoon Gaa and Chhaaye Chhaaye.
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Those who have followed Strings’ music and growth over the years can relate to this mania. But I must say that it was pretty surprising to see even the younger ones in the crowd swaying and dancing to their music. It was obvious that both the band and the audience were having the time of their lives.
With so much vigor, fun and high spirits in the air, Coke Fest was most definitely the event of the year. All I can say is that you can always expect the unexpected from the people of the city. And moments like these really make me believe there is no other place in the world like my Lahore.
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