Healthy eating: Organic activity

With the Khaalis Food Market, Lahoris are on the right track to healthy eating and sourcing fresh, local produce.


From foraging for food to buying it off a shelf, our food sourcing habits have evolved considerably over time. The more we strive to consume conscientiously, the closer we get to an optimal food sourcing solution — a farmer’s market. And Lahore has already embraced this prospect of farm-fresh, wholesome food choices.

At a farmer’s market, one is not only ensured locally grown produce but also a chance to interact directly with farmers and get firsthand knowledge about food. You can be sure that the vegetables in your stew have been sourced from a nearby farm and have spent less time in transportation, refrigeration and storage. And with nutrition still intact, they allow you to enjoy the maximum flavour and pursue a healthy living dream for yourself and your family.

With the Khaalis Food Market, Lahoris are on the right track to healthy eating and sourcing fresh, local produce. PHOTOS: MALIK SHAFIQ, NUZHAT SAADIA SIDDIQUI AND MIR ANISUDDIN

The Khaalis Food Market, initiated by entrepreneurs and business partners Rizwan Naeem and Asma Shah provides you with just that. At this food market you will come across a wide selection of essentials, from organic to farm-processed foods, all under one roof. The powerful combination of Naeem’s love for food and Shah’s concerns for her family’s diet has gradually captured the imagination of most Lahoris, especially the high-income class.

The freewheeling market caters to a segment of society that wants healthier food options. It is also a social venture that, according to Naeem, was designed to inculcate a sense of community and bring together people who value health food and like knowing where all the ingredients are sourced from. “Being a vendor at Khaalis is a fantastic experience,” says food blogger Insha Bukhari. “Because I’m primarily a food blogger, setting up The Pantry [stall] by Hunger & Haw Hai, exclusively for Khaalis Food Markets [was] a great way to meet readers and food fanatics [and] give them a taste of the food they see in the pictures.”

With the Khaalis Food Market, Lahoris are on the right track to healthy eating and sourcing fresh, local produce. PHOTOS: MALIK SHAFIQ, NUZHAT SAADIA SIDDIQUI AND MIR ANISUDDIN

So far three Khaalis events have been organised, each at a new location, with steadily increasing levels of interest, vendor participation and patronage. “Khaalis Food Market is a practical way to return to some of the ‘old-time goodness’ when we didn’t have to worry about chemicals, waste, additives, preservatives and other artificial things [in] food,” says Naeem. At their recent event, nearly 45 vendors gathered at the grounds of The New School Beaconhouse in Defence, Lahore, with stalls displaying organic produce that ranged from home-grown vegetables, fruits and herbs to unconventional ostrich and rabbit meat and exotic dips and salads.

The overall variety of products was interesting enough to keep food enthusiasts amused and skeptics at bay. “I didn’t think it would be so fragrant and fresh. [The] best part is, I get to buy the whole plant, which will keep thriving,” says Seher, a young medical student who bought nearly half the potted, fresh basil plants from a stall owing to her love for Italian cuisine. Another enthusiast was raving about the fresh figs and jalapenos she bought at their previous event. The Ostrich Company stall, selling fresh and frozen ostrich meat products, was particularly crowded with visitors sampling their burgers that were priced at a conservative Rs250. A rugby player, Umer, candidly admits that despite joking about the ostrich meat stall at the first Khaalis event, he was now convinced that it is the best alternative to traditional red meat due to its high protein content.

The market provides food connoisseurs with hard-to-find ingredients in Pakistan such as fresh figs, cherry tomatoes, avocadoes, kale, rocket, jalapenos, banana peppers, fresh mushrooms, celery, organic honey and fresh cheeses to name a few. Although these items come at a price, Naeem quite confidently claims that none of those products are overpriced. Since the vendors are mostly small-scale farmers whose seasonal produce is personally tended to and comparatively healthier than canned options, the items are priced accordingly. And unlike the fluctuation in prices in other markets, these vendors tend to maintain a fixed price for customer convenience. A jar of honey is priced at Rs800 and desi ghee is available for Rs700 per kg, and although this may seem steep, it is an amount worth paying for food that is traceable, organic and indeed delicious.

With the Khaalis Food Market, Lahoris are on the right track to healthy eating and sourcing fresh, local produce. PHOTOS: MALIK SHAFIQ, NUZHAT SAADIA SIDDIQUI AND MIR ANISUDDIN

With supply chain being one of the major obstacles in his business, his team has to keep in constant touch with more than a hundred vendors who participate in the market to keep track of the product’s availability. Progressively, Naeem hopes to reach out to other income classes as well.

Since the organic food movement is still in its infancy stage in Lahore, it needs constant nurturing. Not all the vendors at Khaalis events sell 100 per cent organic produce, although their aim is to go completely organic in the future and open up a permanent store — an idea inspired by the Whole Foods Market, an American chain known for its natural products. “All vendors are selling ‘next to organic’ stuff. In Pakistan no one can afford the international certification of these items to be 100 per cent organic,” Naeem adds. Even though all items are not entirely organic, they all must meet strict quality control standards to be sold at the market.

Encouraged by their resounding success in Lahore and determined to promote conscious consumption countrywide, the Khaalis team is now all set to bowl over Islamabad with its organic goodness.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 27th, 2013.


Nuzhat S. Siddiqi | 9 years ago | Reply Hi Sameer - Thank you for your comment. I agree, the article should and must've carried Asma Shah's perspective as well. I did interview her but deadlines are deadlines and the interview happened at the very last minute. I will, however, be putting my whole article which will feature Ms Shah's full comments. Do read that!
sameer | 9 years ago | Reply I went to this Khalis food market and I think its a great initiative and an ideal place to purchase all those produce that are not readily available in the market. Well done. However, I think this article is lopsided because all the statements from Mr. Naeem and nothing from Ms. Shah-- would want to know both perspectives. Better reporting next time please.
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