KARACHI: It was well past sunset and the crowd around Faheem’s shop was only growing. “Bhai, give me a dozen luqmian and half a kilogramme of chilli pakoras,” shouted a customer. “Give me a kilogramme of dumm kebabs,” shouted another over his shoulder. They jostled and elbowed their way forward. Some claimed that they only wanted “four samosas and harees” so they were served first. Either way, by sunset, all of them would savour Hyderabadi food at iftari.
It was rush hour, at the food street in Hyderabad Colony and there was no time to waste. Their hands moving with years of practice, workers stood in a line before each food item, taking orders and filling up brown paper bags on the weighing scales at top speed. Others were busy frying samosas and pakoras in a huge wok while some assisted yet more customers as they mulled over their choices from an array of pickles and chutneys.
People whose palettes are familiar with the taste Hyderabadi food can find their way to Hyderabad Colony blindfolded. You can approach the neighbourhood from Martin Quarters or from the Jail chowrangi flyover.
While pickles, fried delicacies and steamed kebabs are all popular. The speciality that pulls in customers is the harees, say shopkeepers. It is an Indo-Arab recipe prepared with beef and wheat. Other exclusive items are khubani ka meetha, a dessert made from dried apricots, a square pastry filled with minced meat called luqmi, and seasoned murabba, a mix of jam and marmalade. The double ka meetha, is a signature Hyderabadi variation of Delhi’s shahi tukray, and is exclusive to the pickle street. Bagharay bengan and katchay gosht ki biryani are also directly from Hyderabad Deccan. There are also other items such as samosas, pakoras, fried rolls, crackers and dried sea food.
The katchay gosht ki biryani looks like your average biryani with orange and yellow rice. However the recipe calls for the meat to be half-cooked and then tenderised by steaming the dish. Mohammad Rizwan stood busy packing spoonfuls of the mix into plastic bags. In his 35 years of experience, he has needed no marketing strategy apart from a table-sized pan from which he doles out the aromatic rice.
“Hyderabadi food is all about the sours and spices,” said Mohsin, speaking as his hands continued to work at the Munna Bhai shop. “We take pride in the variety of spices we use in our food.”
The small community migrated to the neighbourhood from Hyderabad and established the street. Each shop has a history. They all expanded from small closeted stands to elaborate shops. Imran Jafar, a worker, told The Express Tribune about how business began as a means to provide for the small Hyderabadi community that settled there after Partition. “This was not supposed to be a food street,” he said. “There were shops of clothes, shoes, household items and bangles on the same street.” Gradually the food gained so much popularity that all the other businesses subsided.
Tahir’s brightly lit store with shelves lined with jars of pickles and chutneys from floor to ceiling was once a small stand where his grandmother used to sell her homemade recipes. “Three generations have passed since then, but we have maintained the quality of our products,” he said proudly. He has also begun exporting goods.
Faheem, the owner of Chatkharay House, said that they have trained their cooks and helping hands. Each dish is supervised and tasted to match requirements. He feels the food is a matter of pride, the street has given Hyderabadis an identity, “You talk to any cab or rickshaw driver in Karachi and they will know where ‘Achar gali’ is,” he said happily. “People visit from Islamabad and Lahore.”
For the customers, the pleasant subtlety and refinement of the food is mouth-watering. Mohammad Ghani has been shopping here for 20 years and feels that the street has managed to preserve Hyderabadi taste. “Their food tastes just like it used to in my childhood,” he reminisced. “It’s like it has been brought fresh from Hyderabad Deccan.”
Even born and bred Karachi wallahs like Khurram Iqbal have acquired a taste for the strong flavours. He had brought his wife and daughter all the way from North Nazimabad to buy chutney for iftari with his wife and daughter as has for the last 15 years. “We don’t even care if we don’t get home before iftari,” he said excitedly. “The sooner you eat Hyderabadi food, the better.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2011.