Nothing defines Lahoris more than food; with the dearth of recreational activities, it is food that Lahoris resort to when they feel the need to channel their happiness (or sadness) with the world outside. Much like Delhi, Lahore has a range of food, both traditional and contemporary, that illustrates the city’s rich culinary history. From Mughal cuisine to the international tastes, all cuisine must eventually adapt to local tastes if they wish to stand the test of time in the city’s highly competitive and demanding food industry.
Here are five comfort foods that define what it means to be Lahori. What is a comfort food you ask? Well, you know: rich in flavour, rich in calories and not too pretentious when it comes to advertising it’s nutritional value.
Roll Paratha / Shawarma
Roll Paratha’s and Shawarmas may have been Karachi imports (which imported these tummy-fillers from Mumbai and the Middle East, respectively) – but both have now become staples of the Lahori junk food diet. Not as healthy as many of their middle east counter parts, Lahori Shewarmas are laden with oil-brushed chicken (or any other meat), low-quality cheese, an array of yogurt sauces and chutneys, and very little room (or time) for greens.
The result is a textbook definition of what it means to be a ‘comfort food’: you close your eyes, and let your primitive senses enjoy the saucy, cheesy beast before. Unhealthy, yes. Tempting and downright tasty, hell yes.
Nothing represents the desi spirit better than good old stuffed Samosa. Samosas come in all shapes and sizes; and a number of newer chains offer increasing creative (almost postmodernist) versions of this comfort food: from chocolate samosa to mango samosa. But nothing, and we mean nothing, comes close to the good old stuffed Aaloo samosa with mint chutney and a ting of sweet of sweet chutney.
You will find one in almost each corner of the city – but be warned: their quality varies greatly from one shop to the next. We reckon only about 25 percent of the samosas would do justice to taste buds.
Salt N’ Pepper took the Stuffed Chicken, available in various forms throughout the world, and made it’s own. Complimented with a wonderful sweet and savoury pinapple sauce, the delicacy is probably the most popular dish in what can cumulatively be termed as ‘New Lahore’.
Other restaurants have not stayed far behind: Gourmet Grill, as an example, has it’s own ‘perfect’ copy of the Stuffed Chicken with Pineapple sauce. Served in a generous portion alongside steamed spinach, coleslaw and fries, no one eats a Stuffed Chicken and walks away hungry.
Anda Shami Burger
Anda Shami Burgers are the poor man’s McDonald’s – and if made with fresh ingredients (quality butter, fresh meat, eggs and spices), these burgers can be the ultimate comfort food for the soul. Quite often one is not enough; and if the bun is toasted right, one can often lose track of how many portions one has eaten.
The downside is that not many people make Anda Shami’s with love. Quite often the bread and butter (pun intended) of lower-class vendors, the typical Anda Shami can be a stale affair if not made with love for the ingredients and the process.
When made right, however, these burgers beat any bun-based food from any part of the world. Except a good Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich, ofcourse.
Nihari / Hareesa
Nihari might not seem like a typical comfort food; but it fits all the credentials. Firstly, despite what many Kashmiris tell you, it is not healthy. Okay, it might be good for your joints, muscles, lungs or whatever the local hakeem has told your aunt. But an oil-laden Nihari can be tortorous for your heart.
That takes nothing away from the blissful array of tastes soaked into it’s steamy, slithery surface. A good Nihari, like Mohammadi (on Ferozepur Road) will have your nose running and your eyes squinting; releasing the tribal beast within.