I had stopped updating lahorikhaabay 4 years ago. When I looked through my last saved drafts today, I came across this. A wonderful person I knew a few years ago had written this when I was looking to feature fellow paitu log on lahorikhaabay.
By publishing it now, I’m not sure what I’m doing but I feel that I should. Sara put a lot of effort in writing this and I guess it really captures how Lahoris love food the same way, wherever in the world they are.
You can follow Sara on Twitter – @SupaSaara
“When you’re looking for a good place to eat at, always follow the crowd” – Mamu
You’re never too far from desi dining in London, be it a local Indian take away or an all out Lahore Karahi. Driving down the very desi high street of Tooting, you’ll find a handful of restaurants, each with a long list of why not to eat there but you do it anyway.
For the beginning of the 10+ years I’ve spent in this country, I found myself spending a lot of time, in family gatherings, at this high street. We’d started off at one end and gradually through the years discovered the rest of the high street.
I walk into this little ‘room’ of a restaurant, Desi Khana. This place seems to be overcrowded by goray but is still frequented by the desi families of Tooting. The gora-attraction reason being, this is probably the only place that caters to your choice of ‘curries’, your level of spice and allows you to bring your own drinks! I’m greeted by a young waiter, like most of the others working here, probably a student that’s just arrived from back home, who can’t believe he has to work when all his life naukar cleaned up after him, at the same time thrilled to have found work with his fellow Pakistani/Indian work mates.
I’m seated a little towards the open kitchen area. As I sit myself down, my complimentary papad arrives with a choice of raita and mango chutney. I’m not keen on the zeera in my poppadum. You’ll notice how, when you’re hungry, you’ll still be dunking your poppadum in the raita (yoghurt), despite the zeeragetting stuck in your teeth. We give the waiter our order; Karahi Saag Paneer, Karahi gosht, Chilli Chicken and of course, a mixed grill. Let’s not forget the naan. They have a wide variety ranging from chilli and garlic naan, to peshawri and keema naan, not to mention the parathas and the rotis, for the small minority in my social circle.
Drinks are not at the top of my list when I’m prepared for a big meal, tends to fill me up quicker! So I order a coke, and that’s that. We don’t have to wait to long before the food arrives. First the saag and the chicken. The gosht to follow and not long before the mixed grill arrives, sizzling hot. It’s always hard to compose yourself, and not seem pretentious but still attack the food before the good stuffs all gone! I try to be subtle, but it’s not long before dishes are flying everywhere.
There’s a brief pause before the naans come rolling in, hot off the tava. I tend to start with something that looks least tempting, so I can savour the best at the end. Everything looks delicious, I choose to start with the karahi saag paneer (spinach), since paneer is not my first choice. The blend of masalas is just right. I cup my naan and aim for the chicken, mixing it with the saag. So what? I like to mix and match!
You have to be careful not to be too subtle when going for the mix grill. You want to just pounce and grab the chops while they’re still there. Once they’re gone, that’s it. There are never enough chops in any serving of mixed grill. I’m lucky. I get there fast. I’ve learnt well over the years. The chops should be eaten within five minutes of they’re arrival. Although, still very tender if left to cool, always a lot more delicious when eaten hot. Don’t be afraid to add a spoonful of the grilled onions and tomatoes to your plate, that comes with the grill. The grill consists of grilled chops, seekh kebab, chicken tikka , lamb kebab and tandoori wings. Three pieces each except the wings, which has four pieces. The chilli sauce has a tangy flavour to it, goes well with the spicy kebabs, my all time favourites.
I’m making my way to the karahi gosht now, although I can already see there’s not much left to it, so I tip over the whole dish into my plate. If you’re dining with your husband/wife or a couple of friends, the portion sizes will do just fine. However, if dining with a larger group, the karahi dishes will seem too small, so yo’re better off ordering two of your favorite dishes, one for either end of the table. The gosht is really well made, the meat nice and tender, a nice blend of spices, again not too spicy unless you ask for it to be extra spicy, in that case they’ll chop some extra hot green chillies and add them to your karahi.
The choice in sweets isn’t as wide and varied as our food. I tend to avoid sweet dishes from just any restaurant. You have to go to the right places to get nice ras malai and falouda. Most order a Kulfi or falouda after they’ve finished licking and smacking their lips, to get the last bit of flavour out of their teeth.
Dessert arrives in due time. I dig my spoon into the kulfi of the person next to me. Like I said, I can’t have dessert just anywhere, and I don’t like to waste food when I know I won’t be cleaning my plate. The kulfi’s nothing to fuss about. I’ve had better. Chai is not needed this time, as we don’t have a large amount of chai lovers on our trip today.
We pay the bill, not too pricey, and make our way out into the icy cold winds and freezing temperatures of London. We have enough warmth in our bellies to get us to our transports and still be warm and fuzzy.