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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.

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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.

Pizza Chronicles-Rahat Bakery Islamabad

30 Jul

A city which is mostly known for its bureaucratic and political lifestyle, Islamabad is not very famous when it comes to food. For people like me who belong to Lahore, a culinary journey in the capital city of Pakistan can prove to be quite awkward, especially since food does not seem to be a priority for the residents here.

In recent times though, I was constantly told by my brother, who happened to work in Islamabad for a while, that Rahat Bakery in the Blue Area sells some exotic baked items, which are second to none when it comes to the taste. In particular, he added that the pizza sold by this bakery was finger-licking. When I did some additional research, I discovered that it was one of the foods in Islamabad that were spoken of very highly, and strongly recommended.

It wasn’t until a week back,  that I got the chance to visit Islamabad and taste a pizza that had alluded me for almost two years now. Located in what seemed to be one of the most posh areas of Islamabad, Rahat Bakery stood grand in the blue area and welcomed me in all grandeur. The place is the first “genuine bakery” I have ever visited in Pakistan, and I say that because most of the items sold there were being baked fresh – right before our eyes!

My friends and I ordered the Sausage pizza which was surprisingly not very overly priced. The 13-inch pizza cost us Rs. 795, which compared to a lot of its counterparts in Lahore was relatively economical. One can imagine the popularity of the pizzas served at Rahat by the fact that we had to wait close to 40 minutes to get our hands on our order. Since the bakery itself was overcrowded, we decided to wait for our order outside and spent our time on the stairs chit chatting. After a long wait, when I finally took a bite of the first slice, I knew that the wait was totally worth it. Nothing compares to a piece of freshly baked pizza. Although, the thin crust is not something I am normally fond of, the nice blend of spices and the generous spread of sausages and cheese were a thorough delight. Every bite had a different taste to it and the pleasure of eating it grew by the minute. In my vies, the best thing about it was the simplicity with which the baker had treated the pizza. Very often, we find that pizzas are treated complicatedly in an effort to infuse too many flavours. As a consequence, they end up ruining the entire pizza. This certainly was not the case with the Sausage pizza that i had at the Rahat Bakery. Maybe it’s just me; maybe the 40 minutes of waiting made me devour and relish every bite! However, I don’t think that was entirely the case. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a pizza, that in its most simple form has been filling and delicious.

If you are a genuine pizza lover, if you really believe in tasting simple food and most importantly, if you are planning to visit Islamabad any time soon, do try Rahat Bakery’s pizza and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

 

UPDATE: Directions to Rahat Bakery, Islamabad (A on the map)

Askari Biryani’s Chicken Biryani

26 Jul

I LOVE biryani, not just any biryani… Sindhi, chicken biryani. For those who don’t know, biryani is basmati rice layered with a spicy meat gravy, and a variety of desi toppings…mainly, fried onions, sliced tomatoes, mint leaves, orange food colouring, kewra water (I need to google its English translation water made from screw pine) and split green chillies. I think it’s single-handedly the best dish served in Pakistan. Though it’s very easy to mess up this dish, those who have aced it, unconsciously earn the responsibility of creating it at every family gathering. Take it from someone who knows! Though I don’t regret being good at making it, I sometimes think I shouldn’t have boasted so much.

Anyway, coming back to this post, I don’t think I’ve had a biryani tastier than that available at Askari Biryani. Every plate comes with a piece of potato, a chicken piece and a generous helping of spicy rice. What’s great about Askari biryani is that every grain of rice served picks up on the spicy flavour of the chicken gravy, and best yet, the potato is sweet and spicy&soft and absolutely delightful. Priced at PKR 80 (less than a dollar), I feel that Askari biryani not only trumps the overly-priced and over-rated Student Biryani, I rank it among the best chicken biryanis in town. I mean just look at the colours (pardon the photography). How can this plate of food not tempt you enough to sacrifice all diets. If only there were an Askari-Biryani diet! I would’ve done it proud.

Note that Askari Biryani, the shop, is situated within the Askari IV premise… in the commercial area. Another menu item it sells is chicken curry, but it is not half as good as the biryani. Another thing, it’s not available all day. They make 20 plates in the afternoon (available from 1pm till 2pm) and 20 plates at night (starting at 8pm & wiped out by 9pm). So the next time you’re in the Askari IV area, be sure to try this amazing dish. Sindhi biryani… in its glory!

UPDATE:

Directions to Askari Biryani

Agha’s Chicken Boti Kebab

25 Jul

One of my favourite items from Agha’s Fast Food (near my work place), is their Chicken Boti Kebab. Served with grilled onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and raita, this dish is made up of spicy chicken cubes, barbecued on skewers. Though this photograph is not entirely appetizing (c’mon, it’s weird taking photos of lunch at work!), I think it’s easy to make out the juices at the bottom of the dish. If you squeeze an entire lemon over the chicken cubes, and fold one into a piece of chapati (unleavened flatbread), the juices are the best gravy you could ask for. That’s how I usually eat it. Unlike Chicken Tikka, Chicken Boti is not as spicy. And the fact that it is made up of boneless chicken, means that the cooking time is also considerably less.

One plate of chicken boti kebab from Agha’s costs PKR 160, which is less than USD 2. For a filling meal, that reignites your love for BBQ, that is a very small price to pay. Don’t you say?

Agha’s Chicken Tikka

24 Jul

As promised earlier, I decided to write about BBQ at the infamous Agha’s. Chicken Tikka, often referred to as Chicken Tandoori, is a quarter part of chicken, marinated in a spicy marination and cooked over hot charcoal. As one of the most popular BBQ items available at all local food joints in Pakistan, it is much liked by many…locals and foreigners alike.

Whenever I order Chicken Tikka from Agha’s, I request for extra chillies, a mint-coriander chutney (raita) & lemon wedges. You have no idea how amazingly delectable a hot juicy tandoori breast piece tastes after you’ve generously massaged it fresh lemon. Once the piece is glistening with the lemony juices, it’s ideal that you rip out a piece, dip it into the coriander chutney and devour the rustic morsel you just composed. As a fan of hot food, I bite onto a green chilli, along with the chicken. Though often a times I find myself tearing up due to the level of spice, I have barely ever done otherwise. It’s almost routine for me to order this combo, and the gentleman on the other end of the line knows it by heart by now. ..
One chicken tikka breast piece, with lemon, green chillies & raita. Never a bad idea!

Agha’s Chicken Chili Dry and Egg Fried Rice

23 Jul

I am always hungry. That’s a fact that pretty much everyone I know has learnt to live with. I am, unfortunately, one of those who  (pardon the cliche but) live to eat.  So there I was at work, hungry as always, trying to resist giving into my carnal cravings. Of course, as obvious from the picture above, I failed. And I failed bad. Because anyone who knows a thing or two about dieting ( I have been on a perpetual diet since I was 10 years old), would tell you that rice is a big no-no!

Anyway, with all concerns about any diet or an impending wedding out of the window, I ordered Chinese food from a nearby lunch place – Agha’s.  This little fast food corner, at the heart of Karachi (junction between I.I. Chundigarh Roah and Ziauddin Ahmed Road), is a favourite at my workplace… not because their food tastes fantastic or anything but because they are just so damn fast at delivering the food, that it seems like the only reliable place to turn to in case of emergency. Which reminds me, Agha’s is also our permanent Plan B place for lunch. Whenever we find it difficult to agree on one place for lunch, we always decide on Agha’s… even though a lot of us have fallen prey to its not-so-impressive hygiene.

Moving on, I must tell you that, in all honesty, I am not a big fan of Chinese food. Its not so much that I don’t like it… it’s just that my taste buds are more attuned to spicy food. Also, I like intense flavours. I know some Chinese dishes are supposed to be really intense, but I think it’s a thing with us Pakistanis… we don’t feel done with food until we feel full. Any Chinese food always makes me feel light. I know it sounds crazy, because technically, it’s healthier to feel light after a meal. But to me personally, it’s more important to feel fed *shameless*.  I have never tasted real Chinese food, but I am pretty sure that it would be more unapproachable for me than the desi version of Chinese food that is so freely (and as many renown food critics would say, sacrilegiously) sold in Pakistan. In spite of my reservations for Chinese food being so explicitly etched in my mind, I still ordered the Chicken Chili Dry with Egg Fried Rice, which looked like the picture  above. The fluorescent green stuff did not come with the food; those are my chopsticks… which, by the way, are kiddy-size. Either that or my hands are really big.

Upon delivery, the  Chicken Chili Dry with Egg Fried Rice comes in a paper box, containing two plastic bags – one of the chicken, and the other for the rice. Most interestingly, also included in the package is coleslaw, ketchup and mint chutney. Now I don’t claim to be any expert on food, but I don’t think any of those four things (coleslaw, Chinese food, mint chutney or ketchup) go together. That’s just really wrong. No wonder we fall sick so frequently after eating from Agha’s. Anyway, I decided to completely stay away from all the three…um…things that were completely uncoordinated with the main dish.

Those who’ve had Chinese food in Pakistan would agree that it is loaded with oil and garam masala (which is a spice made up on five spices: cardamon, cinnamon, clove, star anise and some other things that I will have to confirm with my mother. I think it also contains something called barhi eliachi, which directly translates to big cardamon, but I’m not so sure of its English name). But you see, Agha’s is not your typical Pakistani fast-food eatery, where you find very spicy, oily and unhygienic food. It is all that and more. Apparently, it claims to specialise in Iranian, Pakistani and junk food as well. I could, upon request, indulge in the latter two. Iranian food from Agha’s is something I have officially sworn off after falling really sick.

Chicken Chili Dry with Egg Fried Rice at Agha’s is oily, tasteless (unless salt-pockets qualify as taste-makers) and very heavy. The rice, served separately had the right texture. So, not surprisingly, it was made of left-over rice. This, many chefs say, is a good thing, since leftover rice is slightly hardened on the surface and can withstand the heat of a wok. The chicken was unfortunately, not as I expected it to be. Considering it was my first time ordering this particular place, I am entitled to have expectations, am I not? Anyway, I was expecting the chicken to be cut in strips, cooked with some soya sauce, salt and pepper till crisp, and then lightly sauteed with chili strips. What I got was chicken cubes cooked with lots of onion, spring onion, garlic and chili. Still, compared to yesterday’s lunch, I would say today was an improvement… which is quite insulting for Pizza Hut. Sad, but true. I am making a note to myself to avoid ordering Chinese food from Agha’s unless it’s an absolute emergency. I think their BBQ and Pakistani food is their forte. Perhaps next time, I’ll order my favourite item from their menu – Chicken Boti (BBQ Chicken cubes). Hmm… let’s see.

You will wonder, after reading most of my blogs, why I continue to eat from places that make me sick. The answer to that is simple… what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

UPDATE: Directions to Agha’s (A on the map)