Food for thought: Flavor of the past
(Source: Dawn, published on SEP 06, 2009 – written by an anonymous)
I was six when my father took me to Karachi in 1945. My father, a Khilafati mullah; me a child from the zig-zag streets of Hyderabad; it was my first visit to the expanding multi-cultural society of the would-be-metropolis. At that time the town was confined to the Old Karachi, Cantonment, Saddar, Port, a small airport in the area now called Gulshan-i-Iqbal, the two railway stations, parts of Clifton, Soldier Bazaar, Amil Colony and the industrial area of Landhi.
The life of a common Karachiite was quite different from what today’s sprawling city presents. Today’s Karachi offers a mosaic of various cultures.
Let us take the eateries. Though Malabari restaurants are now vanishing and the Iranian cafes are also in decline they were in their prime during the late 1940s and early 50s. Malabari restaurants were the meeting place for the average citizens, middle-class businessmen and low-income groups. Iranian restaurants, with their distinctive furniture and food style, were quite popular with almost all professionals. The Eastern Coffee House and the Zelin Coffee House in Saddar were the popular meeting places for writers, poets and intellectuals.
Cafe George, which was a popular meeting place for journalists, poets, writers and artists, remained so for many decades after Independence. Situated opposite the Eastern Coffee House, it was known for coffee, tea, biryani and patties; it exuded an air of elegance with its uniformed waiters and fine service.
Race lovers, punters and racing journalists would collect at Fredrick’s Cafeteria in Saddar, both before and after the race. The only difference was that in the latter case, all the bills would be borne by the winner.
McLeod Road — now I. I. Chundrigar road — was another area with a collection of popular restaurants. Being the hub of printing and newspaper offices, the restaurants of this area drew mainly journalists, columnists and printers. Green Hotel, which has now been supplanted by a bank, was a residential hotel but its cafeteria was regularly frequented by professionals from the vicinity.
At the eastern end of the road was the famous Iranian Cafe, Khairabad, one of the few relics of the pre-partition days that still survive. As in the days of yore, it remains a meeting place and eatery for newsmen, columnists and writers; the staff members of the nearby power house and now a KESC outlet also make up its regular clientele.
Cafe Liberty, now just a fading memory, was one of the busiest restaurants of Karachi. Located at Tariq Road, the fashion bazaar of the middle class, it offered a large variety of food. For those who preferred a calm ambience, there was the Western Hotel, off Queens Road. Built in the style of old Gothic architecture, it was a haunt of intellectuals and frequented mainly by the older generation.
Karachi’s large Goanese community, which has unfortunately almost disappeared with time, gave the city a taste of their unique cuisine. A number of small restaurants offering Goanese food could be found in Saddar and were frequented by people of all communities. That these friendly, unique eateries have been replaced by run-of-the-mill fast food joints is one of the many tragedies of this city.
Since Karachi also had a substantial Hindu population at that time, there were a number of eateries offering vegetarian cuisine, many of which were located in Boulton Market. The Sindh Hindu Wapari Hotel, located on the first floor of a building in the main market area, was perhaps the most famous. Charpaeeys instead of tables and chairs and the complementary pickles and papars served with each meal, were some of the unique features of this restaurant.
The Ram Swami temple on Bunder Road, opposite Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, was another place to go for a vegetarian meal. A small hotel situated right next to the temple continues the tradition and is a good place for all those who are looking for simple but delicious food.
In the early years of Independence, Karachi grew at colossal speed and so did its food industry, with new eateries coming up all the time. Bundoo Khan was among the first to introduce kebab paratha and his first outlet behind Taj Complex is still one of the most popular eating spots in the city. His ads had a unique character as well.
Suniye janab wala
Kya kahata hai munadi wala
Mulk khuda ka
Paratha kabab khan ka.
Rising from a fishing village to a sprawling metropolis, Karachi is a unique town; so are its eating habits. From posh restaurants to make-shift roadside dhabas to fast food chains, Karachi’s food culture is a colourful mosaic that has evolved over 270 eventful years and continues to do so.
Courtesy of Mr. Bakhtiar Khalid on FaceBook Post July 15 2018. Karachi Past and Present Group.