Southall: your Tariq Road away from home

A stroll along Southall Broadway is the key to unlocking anything your desi heart desires

Urooba Rasool April 16, 2024


When your whole life has been spent as an expat, "home" shrinks to wherever the dinner table is every night - and we Pakistanis have no shortage of dinner tables flung all across the globe. We have seeped out into the Gulf, spread into the UK, hopped across to North America, and are even prepared to stick it out in the punishing winters of Scandinavian outposts.

Here in the south of the UK, where the local food is as exciting as dishwater and the fashion as delightful as an overpriced brown shawl, Southall is the place that will reset your desi heart back to factory settings. Once you step off that train station, you are plunged into the alternate world that is Southall Broadway. Or, as I like to call it, Tariq Road 2.0

Need designer clothes? It’s got them all.

A stone’s throw from Heathrow Airport in West London, Southall has been proudly repelling Caucasians since the 1970s by carving a niche for itself as Little India or Little Punjab. Do not let the name repel you, the Karachiite, too. Perhaps you have birthed a teenage boy who spent your last Karachi trip eyeing every kurta shop in the city as if it were a bucket of vomit. No need to wait until you visit Karachi next year so he can do it all over again! Southall has it all! You perhaps may come a little faint at the staggering price label of the Southall branch of Pakistani brands - until you whip out your phone to look up the conversion rate, and note that it is just as eye-watering as any kurta in any brand in Dolmen Mall.

Of course, you might be the breed of shopper who objects to parting with insane sums of money for clothes that will go out of fashion in five minutes or that your child will outgrow in five seconds. In that case, take a peruse through the palatial shopping establishment calling itself ‘Shopping Palace’ - almost identical to Shadman Arcade on Tariq Road - where you can buy slippers, plain kurtis, or shiny wedding outfits for an amount that won’t cause you to clutch your heart in agony. With shops like Riwaaz Boutique, Jaan London, Omega Beauty, J., Pyara Collection, Kids Pride (with no apostrophe, a paradoxically gratifying sight), you are sure to find anything you require.

Or perhaps, you have urgent mehndi needs, and have no idea how to translate intricate YouTube designs into something that isn’t brown sludge. Every year around Eid, dotted along Southall Broadway is an army of enterprising mehndi ladies armed with a cone and a plastic lawn chair. With hawk-like vision, toiling away in the dim light of street lamps overhead, they transform your hands into a thing of beauty within minutes, leaving you free to amble over to gingerly pick with your fingertips a kulfi from a stall just up yonder.

Look no further to quell any craving

The heart of any foodie belongs to street food, and it is here that Southall leaves other pristine, sanitised establishments in the dust. Home to Jalebi Junction, a million pani puris, and an eternal stream of chaat, this is the place where your taste buds will forget they ever got on a plane at Jinnah terminal. As if reading your mind, a kulfi expert will call you over in Urdu and swear to you that he has THREE flavours - pista, malai and mango - and quell your craving in seconds. Before you have even removed your wrapper, you will walk along and discover three more kulfi carts within spitting distance of each other selling the same items.

Just past the kulfi guys will be an array of food carts flogging pani puri, chaat, and samosas, with people queuing up as though they are waiting for Taylor Swift tickets. Although if you would rather eat on actual tables and chairs with a roof over your head, you have Giftos Lahore Karahi, Spice Village (which will gravely inform you that it is the best Pakistani restaurant in London), Wok and Karahi, Kulcha Express, Karak Chaii, and Rita’s Chilli Chaat to choose from. Whatever it is, know this: the food you get here is on par with the magnificent offerings of the KU dhaba, and when it comes to street food, there can be no higher compliment.

The only real differences between Southall and Tariq Road are the clothes of its loyal patrons. With the UK almost permanently shrouded under a cold blanket of greyness, those beating a path down Southall Broadway are wrapped in coats, instead of sweat-soaked kurtis. And with zero parking, there is no danger of a rickshaw running over your foot as he squeezes through. But never fear! With motorists vainly searching for parking down side roads, you can still get the authentic Karachi experience! Much like their Karachi brethren, Southall drivers, too, drive with their eyes closed, leaving you safe in the knowledge that on a trip to Southall, your Tariq Road experience will be complete, as long as you can bear to do it without the diesel fumes of Karachi.

Have something to add to the story? Share it in the comments.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ