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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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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.

Feefo’s Arabic Paratha

4 Aug

Ramzan is definitely that month of the year when Karachiites remember their love for food. If it were possible, this would be the time when the streets of Burnes Road would drip with oil, and the month that doctors would unquestionably associate with heart problems among majority of the people. Yes, Ramzan is when everyone – rich or poor – indulges in deep fried, fat-laden and heart-attack inducing food. Though this essentially defeats the purpose of the month – living with modesty, developing compassion for the poor & exercising abstinence – food served this time of the year is unparalleled. Not in terms of quality, but in terms of spirit.

Every year, for 30 days, I see Karachiites less savage-like than they usually are. This is evident from the fact that when driving in the wild traffic at Sharah-e-Faisal, instead of shouting generational curses at the bikers who overtake them from the left, these relatively-sedated people just shut their eyes and pray for patience. Magical, isn’t it.

Coming back to the food, there is never dearth of fried food in Ramzan. From pakoras (mixture of onion, chillies, coriander and gram flour, cooked mostly in the monsoon season), to potato and brinjal fritters, dahi barey (fried puffs lentil dumplings in spiced yogurt) and jalebi (need to find out English translation)… iftar tables in Pakistan are laden with all the goodies. Arabic parathas, though not conventional occupants of an iftar table, are very tasty. The Arabic paratha is a deep fried flattened bread stuffed with egg & spiced shredded chicken. I know, it sounds incredibly fattening and it is, but it is also very delicious. The best thing about this fried item is its texture. It is crunchy on the outside, and soft, slightly glutinous on the inside. The flavoursome core is of course its strength. Many people substitute egg and chicken with minced beef, but I have my reservations with red meat served on the street. Do try to make this at home… it makes for a great tea-time snack, especially since you can choose to bake the bread instead of frying it.

UPDATE: Directions to Feefo (I THINK it’s behind Music City… this place always confuses me!)

Hyderabadi Khattay Aaloo

3 Aug

Khattay aaloo (sour potatoes) is a Hyderabadi snack which has found its way into Karachi street food. My family is a regular at ‘Hyderabad Colony’, a part of the city famous for its pickles, paapadh (poppadum), bagar-e-baigan (pickled brinjal) and khattay mirch (sour, stuffed jalapenõs). We usually buy the pickles and paapadh from there, but you should know that Hyderabadi food, in general, is extremely exotic. Their blend of spices is something that can put Mexican food to shame, which is another cuisine I love. Anyway, since my dad’s side of the family is from Bangalore, and my mother’s side is from Madras, we have a lot of traditional Indian food (like dosa, idli, saambaar, chaar, upma & wait for it… saltish semolina) served on our table. Also, since my family spent a lot of time in Bangladesh, we have a sweet spot for fish and rice as well. So you see, we have a lot of different kinds of food in our house, so understandably Hyderabadi food is no exception.

That aside, for one particular iftar, my uncle brought us some khattay aaloo, especially since it’s a favourite of mine and my mother’s. This particular one is not necessarily my favourite. He brought this from Cresent in Bahadurabad. I like the one available at the Dhoraji gola gandah junction. Traditionally, khattay aaloo is a dish simply made up of boiled potatoes, roughly cut into quarters. These potatoes are served with a spicy masala, which is what makes all the difference. The masala is made up of a lot of lemon juice, five spice powder, anardana (dried pomergrenate seeds), salt and some other stuff that I think is a secret passed on from one Hyderabadi to another some other things that I added when I made it here. Nevertheless, the sloppy way in which it’s served is that they put two to three boiled potatoes (whole) on a plate, cut it into rough quarters (or more depending on the size of the potatoes), and pour a good amount of the spicy paste onto it. The lemon-based spice, along with the bland potatoes go really well together. As soon as you put the potato in your mouth, there’s a burst of flavours and spices, and as soon as you bite into the boiled potato, you’re welcomed by it’s mild, almost tasteless flesh, which is a perfect contrast to the rich masala on the outside.

Word of caution, do not try this dish if you have a pitiable threshold for spicy food. As great as it sounds, it is dangerously aggressive for a delicate stomach. Also, never eat this on an empty stomach. It spells nothing but a sickening streak of acidity*blech*.

 

UPDATE: For those interested in knowing where Hyderabad Colony in Karachi is, here’s a grab… thanks to HRH Google

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!