The Tale of Two Cities

31 Dec

Wow! Seems like forever since I last wrote on here. But A LOT has happened since my last post. I quit my job, got married and moved to a new city. If you didn’t already know, I am originally from Karachi. My new family, however, is based in Lahore. And let me tell you one thing… Karachi and Lahore are as different as chalk and cheese. While Karachi is mostly about making money, Lahore is about making food. People here, think from their tummies; and I don’t blame them… the food in Lahore is like the city itself. It is historical, it’s flavorsome, it’s full of color, culture and calories (lol!).

Foodies revving up to be fed at the scenic food street, interestingly laid out in the infamous Anarkali

Being a foodie, it wasn’t difficult for me to make the transition. As newly-weds, my husband and I were invited to lunches and dinners left, right and center; and while my clothes were complaining…. i definitely wasn’t. So far I have gotten to taste some really good food, ranging from Chinese to Barbecue, Continental and, of course, the local specialties… the curries. Of course my inability to digest mutton (mainly because of my dislike for the  meat) is somewhat limiting, but I have come to enjoy some amazing vegetarian dishes, some well-cooked beef-based cuisine, some insanely-good fried fish, and of course, the love of my life… Chicken.

One of the best things about moving to Lahore is being able to enjoy food in it’s entirety. Discovering the ingredients, absorbing the way it’s cooked and savoring all the flavors it has to offer. So stay tuned as I chronicle the adventures of my taste-buds, as I familiarize them to everything Lahore has to offer.

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Gourmet Burger: A product of GBC

14 Nov

My boss suggested I order "the best burger in the country"

For a while now, my boss had been raving about this Classic Beef Burger that he had recently eaten from a local eatery. “This is the best burger in the country,” he declared. For a cynic like me, I found such a superlative being associated to something like a burger to be quite exaggerated. I tossed around some questions that would debunk his belief; but he seemed resolute.  He suggested I eat it myself and decide. Fair enough.

I don’t fancy red meat. In fact, if I can help it, I avoid it as aggressively as possible. Nevertheless, I decided that I take up on his advice and take a shot at what he claimed was the best burger in the country. Now I know Pakistan is still somewhat dabbling in the fast food arena; but my boss has traveled all over Pakistan, so I thought his opinion about the burger may hold some merit. I decided to make an exception on the occasion, and indulge in a beef burger. The place in question was Gourmet Burger (www.gbco.pk), and the burger was the Gourmet Classic Burger, that proudly boasted not one or two but three thumbs up (thereby declared as a top seller!).

When the burger finally arrived (after I coughed up Rs 350), I knew from the smell that the french fries served alongside the burger were good. Crunchy on the outside, and soft, melts-in-my-mouth on the inside. The fact that they didn’t survive the short walk from the pick-up area to the office testifies for how good they were (and few!).

Then comes the star of the show, the burger itself. I confess, there was a drum-roll in my head as I opened the lid of the soft foam delivery box. I was greeted by a modestly sized burger with a big, fat beef patty. Now, as a fan of Carl’s Jr, it didn’t take a flash of genius to conclude that it wasn’t as appetizing. I decided to give it the benefit of doubt, and bit into it. Hmmm….

A closer look at "the best burger in the country" (Sorry, I can't help myself :P)

It was good. Really good. The grilled beef patty was topped with a slice of cheese, mustard sauce, some onions and that’s it. Pretty simply, and basic. And having recently read a book about a man who changed the world because of his love for simple but amazing things, I liked the idea of not having to complicate the flavors by trying to do to much. So the patty was good; thick, well-cooked but juicy. But the best in Pakistan? May be not. The question is, is it the best I’ve ever had? Still a no. It’s probably one of the really good burgers I’ve ever had in Pakistan, but not the best. The best would’ve been one that would’ve blown every other burger out of the water. I don’t know what exactly it was that let me down. Perhaps it was the bun, that had been so conveniently void of any kind of attention. It wasn’t even heated. As a result, I had a juicy burger patty with a dry, almost crumbling bun. Or maybe it was just the way my brain processes anything with beef. I don’t think it was the latter; had it been so, I wouldn’t have liked the patty so much.

So sadly, I was disappointed. Because I still had a memory of a lot of good burgers I have had in Pakistan over the years. I guess there are a lot of burgers left for me to sample before I declare one the best. Hardees, maybe. Or Roasters, or maybe OPTP. I don’t know. That being said, I have found the place that sells the best fast food fries… and the quest for the best burger in Pakistan continues.

Caramel Pudding

5 Nov

I made this pudding a couple of days back... turned out good, but I think the previous batch was better

Since my childhood, I have had a soft spot for desserts… and caramel pudding is, without a doubt, a member of the Hall of Fame. Growing up, it was a weekly tradition in our house to prepare a caramel pudding with a dozen of eggs, so love for the dessert is now a part of our DNA. Those who know me would tell you, without a blink, that cheesecakes are my absolute favorite; but while a generous slice of a New York Cheesecake is the love of my life who takes me out on dream dates, a caramel pudding is the best friend who I can always go to when I’m stood up. In a creepy way, that makes sense (or may be just in my head).

Since I have been very fond of desserts, but never really good at making them, I stick to making only the ones that turn out good. Three of my dessert staples are  a nice, rich and divine chocolate mousse, the attention-seeking Bakhlava and a firm but smooth caramel pudding. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make a Molten Lava cake, but I think these three will do just fine for now. I had not made pudding in a while, and when I learnt that my future in-laws would be visiting, I decided to make it. My decision may have had something to do with the pudding being my adorable father-in-law’s favorite, but I knew that the other wouldn’t complain. (My main course contribution was for my sweet mother-in-law). In my mission to impress the party, I welcomed all suggestions from family members, who had all (surprisingly) dabbled in the art of pudding-making, with unpredictable results of course.

Many of you would already know that the caramel pudding uses very few, easily available ingredients.

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Sugar
  • Vanilla essence
I know that a caramel pudding is one of those things which is defined by its understated beauty and simple flavors. So while I was open to recommendations, I didn’t want to experiment too much. My godmother, Beti, suggested I add some yellow food color, but I kept hearing turmeric (even while she was saying it, I knew she was saying “food color”, but for some reason my brain was constantly processing it as turmeric!). So I decided it was best to stay clear of both. True, the result was a somewhat pale pudding… but it looked so clean, I could stare at it all night.
The best advice, however, came from an unlikely source – my mother. I say that not because she can’t cook (she’s a great cook!) or because she doesn’t like sharing cooking tips (she loves to!), but because I had no recent memory of her making a caramel pudding. It was just one of those things that “someone” made and we all ate. Anyway, my mother suggested that I make the pudding mixture thick. She added that this would make it firm and rich. I loved it so much, I grabbed the tip and ran away with it. The next 30 minutes were spent with me carefully putting 1 cup milk (with cardamons soaking in them) for every one egg (total 12 eggs). Then adding 4-5 cups of sugar, 2 cups of cream and powdered milk. I know it sounds odd, but I just kept adding the powdered milk until i felt the mixture was thick enough. And it was pretty thick. Then I added my favorite dessert ingredient … the vanilla essence. Whoever thought of making vanilla essence, is a genius whose (clean) hands I wouldn’t mind pecking. I think it can make the most boring desserts appealing. That’s exactly why I’m always tempted to try out the French Toast.
Btw, I strained out the cardamons.
I had already put the steamer on the stove, so the water was just starting to come to a boil. At that point, I started working on the trickiest and most important part of the pudding… the caramel. I filled the base of a dry pudding/bundt cake mould with white sugar, and put it directly on the stove on low-flame. When it just started to melt, I gave it a twirl. Now the trick is to get the caramel to a nice, golden color of honey, rather than that of maple syrup. It’s ideal if you find a middle ground. It’s also important that you keep the caramel even-colored. If any part of your caramel turns too dark, you might as well start over… because the caramel will eventually turn out bitter. After my caramel got to the color I wanted, I removed it from heat and let it cool. Call me paranoid, but I don’t like the idea of the pudding mixture bubbling as I’m pouring it. I feel that this would make the top layer contain blobs of cooked, sweetened egg, defeating my purpose of a singular, rich and creamy pudding. To make sure that the caramel is cool enough, I try tilting the mould and judging its viscosity. I know it’s ready when it starts to move at a speed that is slow enough to keep you intrigued, but fast enough to keep you from growing frustrated. I know it’s a very subjective way of measuring, but that’s how I cook most of the time. So here’s the deal… your caramel should be cool (and thick) enough to guarantee you that when you start pouring the pudding mixture, it won’t seep to the bottom of the mould. Once all the mixture is poured, i put it on the steamer and let it cook until the tester comes out clean.
The picture above is from the batch I made recently, but judging from the feedback, I could tell that the one I made for my in-laws was better. This may have been because I gave that one my best shot. Or may be because everyone who gathered to eat that night wanted to make me feel like the luckiest and the best girl in the world. I think it’s the latter.

RECIPE: Chicken Ala Kiev

7 Sep


I made this recipe a couple of days back for a very special family reunion on the joyous occasion of Eid. There’s something very gratifying about cooking for the people you love; it’s like a way for you to pamper them. I confess, I do get a bit cranky in the kitchen, but that’s only when I end up getting stuck over there for the whole day, as opposed to just for the cooking and preparation time. Thankfully, when my family enjoys a meal I cook and compliments my effort… all is well again :).

So here’s the recipe for the dish I made. I served it with A LOT of mashed potatoes and spicy rice. Personally, I would’ve preferred serving it with buttered rice with peas, but had I spent more time in that kitchen, I would have ended up spoiling more moods than my own.

I love (and hate!) the part where you cut the chicken. Love it because that’s when you see the beautiful, lemony butter ooze out. Hate it because, it’s the moment of truth. What if the chicken is undercooked – chef’s biggest nightmare! Another thing I love about this dish is how clever it is. Whenever I make Stuffed Chicken Breast (a family favourite), I have to make two gravies… a peppery, mushroom gravy, and a sweet, pineapple gravy.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love cooking gravies… but you know, I like saving time. Unlike a the traditional stuffed chicken with cheese and spinach stuffing, Chicken ala Kiev already has butter inside, which essentially means that you don’t need to cook a gravy to go along with it. You can eat a piece of perfectly fried chicken, without the fear of it being too dry… that’s the dream… well, at least one of many :P!

Chicken ala Kiev

Preparation time: 90 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes


Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 4 chicken breasts – slit horizontally to create a broad. flat fillet
  • Peppercorns – coarsely crushed
  • Lemon juice of 1 lemon
For the stuffing
  • 2 cups salted butter – softened
  • 3/4 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 clove garlic – crushed
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
For the coating
  • 2 eggs – beaten
  • 1 cup cornflour
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
Additional
  • Oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Prepare the stuffing by mixing together all the ingredients. Take a butter paper/aluminium foil and place a heaped tablespoon of the stuffing on it.  Roughly create 3-inch rectangular fingers with the stuffing, and put it in the freezer.
  2. Rub the chicken breasts with the pepper and lemon juice, and flatten the fillets while being careful enough not to tear them.
  3. Once the “butter fingers” are hard, place them inside the chicken fillet, and wrap carefully, ensuring that the butter is not visible from any side. Try to minimise touching the butter too much; it’ll start melting. Once the butter is properly tucked inside the chicken, put the chicken pieces into the freezer.
  4. Once the chicken is properly frozen, coat the chicken parcels directly onto the cornflour. Then, dip it in egg, and coat it with breadcrumbs. Once the breadcrumbs soak the egg, dip the parcel in egg once again, and again in breadcrumbs. This ensures that the stuffing it properly sealed. Chill parcels until you decide to fry them.
  5. Fry them on medium-low flame, until slightly dark golden brown, and serve with creamy mashed potatoes :)!
Bon Appétit !

Rotiboy Coffee Bun

23 Aug

The Rotiboy Coffee Bun (Photo courtesy: Freddie)

Yes, it’s official. I’m still reeling from the fact that I am no longer in Malaysia *sigh*. Nevertheless, I think it’s only fair to share with the world, the fond memories I have of the people, food and culture of Malaysia.

There are four food smells that always work up your appetite, when you’re in Malaysia.

1. Famous Amos Cookies
2. J Co. Donuts
3. Saint Cinnamon Classic Chocolate Cinnabons
4. Rotiboy’s “downright-amazing-and-freshly-baked” Coffee Buns.

If you travelled to Malaysia and didn’t try EACH of these… you need a solid refund!

Nevertheless, today I’m going to talk about Rotiboy’s Coffee Buns. Available at all the Rotiboy outlets perforating Kaula Lumpur, my favourite outlet was the one at the magnificent Petronas Towers Shopping Mall… Suria KLCC. Petronas Towers… you might’ve heard of them. If not…here they are…on the map.

I still remember, as soon as you enter KLCC, you’re welcomed by the heavenly smell of coffee. For someone who gets migranes because of coffee, it’s bad news. But this smell is different. It’s the smell of fresh coffee, sugar, cream and butter. And of course, my favourite smell in the world… freshly baked bread. If I were given the chance, I’d love to set up my very own business of baked goodies…I’m guessing that’s what heaven would smell like. Anyway, I remember, on my way back from work, I’d queue up for 30 minutes, to grab two coffee buns, which used to be for approximately RM2.0 each, which is like less than a dollar. I’d watch the “rotiboys and rotigirls” work behind counters, envying them for being able to put smiles on so many faces.

The bun itself is quite big, albeit light and fluffy. Ond bite into the deep brown bun, and you’d break through the fragile yet crisp surface. The bun, as dark as it is on the outside, is almost a light tone of nude on the inside. It’s so fluffy that you can almost press the entire bun within the palm of you hand. But if you do so, how else would you enjoy it’s light, yet absolutely divine texture. The wafer-thin crust, the soft interior that smells like butter yet tastes like coffee *sigh*!

Rotiboy Coffee Bun is one of the best baked items found in Malaysia. The Buttermilk Boy is another favourite. Those who’ve tried it will nod in agreement…and those who haven’t…well…tsk tsk.

RECIPE: Ayam Kicap (Soya Sauce Chicken)

22 Aug

I know It doesn't look great, but believe me... it tastes awesome!

Finally…. I cooked Ayam Kicap over the weekend. I didn’t think it fair to upload a recipe of something I hadn’t recently made. The last two times that I made it, my sister was the only one who wasn’t a believer in the wholesome goodness of Ayam Kicap. But when I cooked it last night, she too turned *yeahee me!* So here it is…

Ingredients

  • One whole chicken (with skin), cut into 8 pieces. You can go with skinless if you like.
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • Salt to taste (This recipe makes use of concentrated  soya sauce, which is quite salty… so please be careful)
  • 1tbsp ginger (chopped)
  • 1tbsp garlic (chopped)
  • 4tbsp onions (chopped)
  • 2 medium-sized onions (cut into thick rings)
  • 4 tbsp white sugar or 3tbsp brown sugar
  • 1tbsp vinegar
  • 6tbsp thick soya sauce. If you don’t have the thick kind, just reduce a cup of the regular soya sauce over low heat. I did this, much to the dismay of everyone at home (everything smelled like soya sauce)… but it was worth it.

Instructions

  • Massage the chicken with salt and tumeric. Heat a cup of cooking oil and fry the pieces until they’re golden and well cooked.
  • Remove the chicken from the oil and let it rest on the side. In the same oil, add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Cook till brown.
  • Add the chicken and cook some more. Add about a cup of water and reduce. The onion, garlic and ginger mixture should have a paste-like consistency.
  • Add the soya sauce and cook well. Now add the sugar and vinegar and cook some more. This is where the advantage of using chicken with skin comes in. Its texture, upon being caramelized, is what makes the difference.
  • At this point, the chicken will be slightly brown and dry. Add another cup of water and when you get the required consistency, then add the onion rings.
  • Let it cook for a while, then remove from flame and serve. I usually like the chicken to be slightly dark, gleaming with oil and smelling sweet. You could add more water, but that softens the chicken, completely undoing the crunchy texture. So I would advise against it.

Enjoy and let me know how it turns out for you.

Tao Yuan-Chinese food with a Desi touch

19 Aug

Photo courtesy: Flagstaff Restaurants

Chinese food has gained popularity in Pakistan in a relatively short span of time. Does it have anything to do with the simplicity of the cuisine or Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with China? Well… I don’t know. But one thing is for sure, you have more Chinese eateries in Lahore than in any other city of Pakistan.

In the heart of Lahore on Main Boulevard Gulberg, right opposite Hafiz Centre (famous IT retail plaza) , is the Chinese-food lover’s sanctuary –  Tao Yuan. Tao Yuan has been serving top quality Chinese food to the food-loving people of Lahore, for well over a decade now.

I think that’s Tao Yuan (written as Tai Wah) on the map. Sorry if it’s wrong… nevertheless, this is the street where it’s at

If you’re a person who’s all about fancy shmancy ambiance, then Tao Yuan is, by no means, a place for you. It does not have fancy Chinese art on the walls or anything else which might get you to think of it as an ambassador of Chinese culture. Yes, apparently that’s how Chinese restaurants in Pakistan demonstrate their “China-ness”. Quite on the contrary, at Tao Yuan, you’ll see shabbily dressed waiters who aren’t particularly welcoming, and a small television set which never has anything interesting to watch on it.

You must be thinking, this place does not sound like somewhere I would like to have my next meal, right? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong! Tao Yuan sells some mouth-watering dishes that simply kindle your senses; the entire experience being enhanced purely by the food on your plate. Just forget about the waiters, the TV set or the lack of art around you. For the price that they sell the food at, and consistent quality that they have to offer, I visit the place regularly with my colleagues after work. Not being big fans of any appetizers, we like to order the main course straight away. Tao Yuan has a vast array of dishes to select from but fearing any unpleasant culinary experience, I stick to ordering the standard menu that I have perfected over the years –  thanks to my friends Omer Ali and Kashif Mustafa.

Yes, I ain't much of a photographer, and yes, the food looks straight-up horrible. You couldn't be more right about the former, and more wrong about the latter

“Chicken noodles” are a must-have at Tao Yuan and I can say this with full confidence. Their chef seems to have rubbed shoulders with an Iron Chef China or something, because his use of spices with vegetables is unlike any other garam-masala and oil-laden Chinese food found locally (case in point: Agha’s Chinese food); and of course, there’s LOTS of chicken on the plate.

For those who would like to venture into something more exciting, “Tao Yuan Special noodles” offers an addition of two different meats including beef and shrimps. “Tao Yuan special rice” is another dish that  a lot of the Chinese-food-loving people would be delighted to have. I have had the same dish under various names in other restaurants, however, this particular dish is head and shoulders above the rest. Countless flavors are fused together to bring this rice dish on a plate but the crunch of the almonds, coupled with the sweetness of the pineapple, is something that words just can’t describe. Another must-order for me is the “Chicken with almonds,” which is the only curry on our standard menu. Whilst many people like to order Chicken Manchurian, I seriously believe that having what is nothing more than tomato ketchup and chicken thrown in together, is just a waste of your money. In protest, I order this almond slash chicken dish. Surprisingly, this dish has the shortest table life and is considerably popular for its simple flavour. The last dish to land on our table is always the “Spring Chicken”. I have never understood where the management got this name from – it is neither “spring-y” nor does it have any use of spring onions in it. To me, it is some plainly-marinated chicken bathed in a batter and deep fried. It doesn’t have any complicated flavours that challenge the taste buds, and quite honestly… it doesn’t need to.

Tao Yuan Special Rice

The food at Tao Yuan might not be the stuff of Michelin-star and the food inspectors might raise concerns about the hygiene of the place as well, but one thing is certain, adding a personal touch to the food, Tao Yuan Chinese restaurant would certainly give any contemporary Chinese eatery a run for their money, based entirely on merit. So next time you’re short on cash and are looking for a nice dining experience, drop by “Tao Yuan” and their zombie-like waiters would unwillingly serve you food worth cherishing.