KARACHI / LAHORE / ISLAMABAD / RAWALPINDI / PESHAWAR: If you are a food lover like most people in the country are, you probably divide the year according to the scrumptious delicacies that each season brings. This means that you probably know it is that time of the year again when haleem frenzy is gripping the whole city.
Haleem originates from Barkas in Hyderabad, India, where it reached in the 17th century on horseback with some Chaush soldiers coming in from Yemen. You may well have seen a few cauldrons over burning clogs of wood in your neighbourhood. Yes, that delightful aroma is of the haleem, which is gently simmering to perfect golden-brown tastiness inside that cauldron. Inspired by the haleem-frenzy in town, The Express Tribune takes a look at the restaurants that you can count on throughout the year to satisfy your haleem-pangs.
Mazedar Haleem franchise is one of the oldest in the business. It has two branches: one in Samnabad, Federal B Area, and the other on Burnes Road. Run as a family establishment by the owner, Hanif Khan, and his two sons, it is one of the most popular places for haleem.
True to its name, Mazedar Haleem has no parallel when it comes to taste. The lentils, barley and meat had been properly ground and given enough time to cook to a paste-like consistency. The thick, sinewy texture added to the pleasures of the Central Asian delight. The meat, albeit, had not been ground too fine. When this was pointed out to the branch manager, Siraj Rashid, he claimed they leave some of the meat as shreds so the customers know they were not being taken for a ride.
Over the years, Mazedar Haleem joints have emerged as the best choice for connoisseurs. Their success can be gauged from the fact that each of their branches sells approximately 500 to 600 kgs each day. This includes dine-ins, takeaways as well as those tin containers that you can travel with. Rashid claims their packed tins, which are ISO certified, are a major hit among customers.
So what makes these guys so much better than their competitors on the same street? Rashid believes it is the consistency in quality. Each day, the ingredients such as lentils, barley, wheat and other vegetables for garnishing are brought in fresh from the Sabzi Mandi and wholesale shops. The meat comes from their own animals, which they slaughter as needed at the Samanabad branch. The haleem for both the outlets is prepared at this branch and is transported to Burnes Road each day. The owners ensure that the product they serve is fresh every day. The leftovers are either distributed among the staff or are given to shrines. At Rs70 per plate, or Rs280 per kilogramme, this haleem is definitely a must-have for all food lovers.
RATINGS: QUALITY 5, QUANTITY 5, PRICE 5, HYGIENE 5, FRESHNESS 4
Much like Lahore, Peshawar is also another city that does not get too excited about haleem. “Haleem is too spicy for the people of Peshawar,” pointed out Rais Khan of Rais Restaurant in University Town. There are some places that have cropped up to cater to the small market.
Haleem Ghar has, in fact, opened five branches. Sajjad Khan, the Hashtnagri branch manager, said they flew a special cook from Islamabad along with all the required spices as Peshawar doesn’t have such cooks. This claim is something the Muharram haleem specialists and those in Chowk Nisar Khan may disagree with.
“We haven’t experimented with it; to experiment you need to understand the food…this is a new experiment to begin with,” said Khan. With some supporting acts on the menu, the star remains chicken or beef haleem. “Every day we sell around five cauldrons of haleem across the city.” Haleem Ghar also operates out of Gulbahar, University Town, Warsak Road and Peshawar Cantonment. Being as generous as possible with haleem in a non-native setting, it can be said the best thing about their chicken haleem was its freshness. The pulses were cooked well, giving it the (almost) correct gelatinous texture without it being lumpy or artificial. However, the ratio of spice to meat/grains was not even close to perfect and the colour a bit too yellow.
RATINGS: QUALITY 2.5, QUANTITY 3, PRICE 2, HYGIENE 3, FRESHNESS 4
Karachi Haleem on Burnes Road is located just a couple of minutes away from Mazedar Haleem – their biggest competitor in the city. There is usually a long line of people standing in front of the token counter – in order to get your haleem, eat in or take out, you have to pay at the counter and collect a token. Once the token is in your hand you can take it up to the family seating area and ask your waiter to get it or collect it yourself from the man in front of the restaurant.
Your haleem will be placed on a wide white plastic plate in front of you within seconds with a tray full of fresh garnish – lemon, ginger, green chillies, fried onions and a small jar of chaat masala. Presentation wise, the haleem looked amazing. However, that first bite ruined everything. The meat felt stringy and the dish had an overall bland taste. After dumping three spoons full of chaat masala did the haleem actually develop a bit of flavour.
For Rs70 a plate, Karachi Haleem is not a place I would go to again unless, of course, there was a desperate haleem shortage in the city.
RATINGS: QUALITY 2, QUANTITY 3.5, PRICE 4, HYGIENE 4, FRESHNESS 3
Kozi Haleem shop in Kartarpura is considered one of the best Haleem places in Rawalpindi.
“We are busy from dawn to dusk at the shop,” claimed the owner, Zahid Hussain, who has been running the food joint for the last five years. “It’s the peculiar and unique taste of the Haleem that attracts people,” he said, adding that they have branches all over Pakistan and their head office is located in Garhi Shahu Lahore. A plate of haleem at this joint will cost you Rs60 but the serving is enough for two people. The double plate is for Rs100 and four people can easily eat it. Kozi Haleem is also offering a 50 per cent discount during Muharram. Their main kitchen is located on Chungi No 22, Rawalpindi, where the haleem is prepared and then distributed to their 28 different outlets in the twin cities.
Hussain went on to share the secret of their success which, he claims, is the freshness of their haleem. “We boil it in Ghee and then keep it on low flame throughout the day so it stays fresh,” he said. They add broken wheat, barley and special spices to give it a special taste. Kozi also takes large orders for weddings and other ceremonies.
RATINGS: QUALITY 4, QUANTITY 5, PRICE 5, HYGIENE 3,
Lahore does not offer too many options for haleem lovers as the people here prefer hareesa, which is a meatier version of haleem. But for the diehard haleem lovers, Koozi Haleem offers a scrumptious choice. Koozi Haleem has been in the business for decades and takes pride in maintaining the same taste they introduced many years ago.
The manager, Muhammad Khuda Bux, said the owners, Muhammad Miraj Din, Muhammad Ashraf and Fazalur Rehman, prepare the haleem with 17 special masalas and then supply to the three branches in Laskshmi Chowk, Secretariat and Township.
At their shops, the haleem is served in a small tray and is decorated with lemon, mint leaves, chaat masala, green chilies, ginger and fried onions. Their rates are also affordable with Rs60 a plate for chicken haleem and Rs50 a plate for beef haleem. Lahoris prefer to have haleem with naan, which Koozi sells for Rs12.
The loyal customers of Koozi claim they come to eat here at least once a week. They prefer the place because of its cleanliness. Muhammad Ishaq, a customer at Koozi, said he was visiting Lahore for business from Sheikhupura and his friend dragged him here for the famous haleem. “It tastes as good as people had claimed,” he said.
RATINGS: QUALITY 5, QUANTITY 5, PRICE 5, HYGIENE 5, FRESHNESS 5
At Chowk Nasir Khan, Bukhari Haleem has been the undisputed king of haleem for at least half a century. Bukhari, the owner, said most of his loyal customers are from the walled city — the Hindkos. He claimed his haleem is unadulterated (unlike those haleem shops caught thickening their stew with wool extracts), cooked with only meat, wheat, ghee and spices. “We sell at least a cauldron a day.”
More importantly, it is one of the few places that also offer meetha haleem, replete with beef and grain. That sounds rather unappetising, considering its garnish includes fried eggs, desi ghee and gram lentils. But after a few spoonfuls, it’s almost like filling breakfast porridge. Since the sugar is added at the request of the customer, it can be sweetened to individual preference. Meethi haleem also wins the novelty vote.
RATINGS: QUALITY 3.5, QUANTITY 3, PRICE 3, HYGIENE 2, FRESHNESS 5
Imagine stumbling upon a quaint, little restaurant that is literally dubbed as a house of haleem. Located in a centre of the bustling F-8 Markaz, Haleem Ghar has carved out a niche for itself among local pocket-friendly food places that serve authentic traditional cuisine.
A single serving, that can easily feed up to four people, comes in a minimalist white plastic bowl, accompanied by an Indian-style thali, compartmentalised into the condiments of coriander, lemons, ginger, chaat masala and green chilies. A tarka of crispy fried onions is mixed into the smooth texture of the cereal, along with generous quantity of chicken chunks throw in for good measure.
Coupled with hot, fluffy naan, the taste of haleem is still decadently rich and the overall deal is a decent one for a total Rs90. While there is a general lack of an indoor ambience, the adjoining open-air setting offers one a well-rounded combination of warm food in the nippy winter season.
Established back in 2002, the particular restaurant branch is owned by Chaudhary Abdul Qadir while there is a separate owner and staff for the one in food court of Blue Area.
RATINGS: QUALITY 4, QUANTITY 5, PRICE 5, HYGIENE 4, FRESHNESS 4
Islamabad’s own version of a hip and happening, desi food experience is the local Melody Food Park in G-6 Markaz. Ambient and abuzz with colour and foodies by evening, the Food Galaxy at the park caters for a relaxed, casual setting where one can devour a diversity of local cuisine, such as haleem, nihari, paye and chicken biryani.
A single serving of haleem comes in a medium-sized plate, with condiments sprinkled on top and ingredients mixed up in the thick, soupy texture. A profusion of spices, particularly black pepper and chaat masala, can overwhelm the senses, leaving little room to savour the intrinsic flavour of the quintessentially Pakistani delight.
A single serving which comes in a medium-sized plate is for Rs70 but is probably not the most fresh food preparation one can have in a city where haleem places are surprisingly few and far between. Muhammad Shafi, who has been running the food joint for about two years, said that they improvise recipes to cater to local tastes. “We just got an order for three cauldrons of beef haleem,” he said, adding that their chicken biryani is considered the best in the whole area.
RATINGS: QUALITY 3, QUANTITY 2, PRICE 4, HYGIENE 4,
*The ratings have been given on the following criteria: 1 being the worst and 5 being the best
Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2014.