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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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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.

Andaa-Daal Fry

22 Jul

Rising inflation poses a great threat to many of the large food businesses all across Pakistan. However, like many cities Lahore has a large presence of Dhabbas where one can find cheap,yet high quality food which is rather comforting in nature. Close to Jinnah hospital, in faisal town Lahore, one can gorge upon the very famous Andaa-Daal Fry. This simple dish made with channa daal and a nice infusion of egg is served with tandoori roti and is further accompanied with fresh salad and mint chutney. Madinah hotel is just one of the many Dhabbas that sells its version of the dish and it truly is a treat for any food lover who is looking for a low budget yet tasty dining experience.

Hygiene is not something that the sellers of this dish pay special attention too since the regular customers come from a humble background who are not likely to pay attention to such things. For those people who are particular about it, they should rather not venture into having the dish altogether. You might come across people who advice you to reinvent this dish at home but my suggestion to you would be otherwise. I don’t know why, but for some odd reason the taste a plate of Andaa-Daal fry holds at a dhabba can never be matched at home. The low hygiene environment, the cooking environment in general all sum up to give this simple dish a royal touch.

So, the next time you happen to be in faisal town, i would suggest you to drop by the Madinah hotel and do try this delicious marrige of daal and egg. Only after tasting this beautiful dish can one truly understand how comforting and satisfying can the most simplest of dishes be in life.