Saturday 23 January 2016

If we had coffee together today, I would take you to Pakistan...

Saturday is the day when I am happy to have you for coffee or tea and have a chat about the week. But today, if we had coffee or tea together, I would ask you to get on my magic carpet and to come with me to the Country of the Thousand and One Nights Tales. We would then find ourselves in Karachi and meet again Hammad Rais our guide who invites us to discover his country, Pakistan.
Come: I see him. He is already smiling to us.

It's me, Hammad Rais, your Touring Pakistan guide!
How are you doing and it's been so wonderful to meet you again.
So where were we? Oh, yes! the tour!
Initially, I planned to give you a brief intro about my city, Karachi and then we would go on to see all 4 provinces, their cultures, traditions, notable places and much more. But Camille gave me another idea, which was great. She asked how about I show the readers (that is you!) about the way of Pakistani life, or more precisely, the life in Karachi. The climate we have here, what I eat, what age I started school, the cultures we love, the traditions we follow, what's my mother tongue and many things alike.

A view of my neighborhood, from the 6th floor of a nearby apartment
It was a good suggestion but to be honest with you, it made a wonder how in the world will I give you a glimpse in my way of life, which is by the way pretty simple, as per Pakistani standards. I wondered what image will it create on your mind about me or my fellow countrymen. But if there is another image, as I talked about it in the previous episode, then there is a big need to wipe it off from your mind.

Yup, it's a traffic jam and they happen daily!
So, it's a good idea to let the world know and understand that Pakistani's are just like every other human being living on this planet. We live in a house, we have families, we eat, we celebrate, we play, we work, we cry, we smile, we do all those things that you, your family, your friends or your co-workers do everyday. There is no difference!
So, with this in mind, I decided to work upon it. Since you have already landed in my city and I'm your guide (thank you, Camille! for appointing me up for this task), what would be more great than showing you a slice of my life. About how I live and what my days are like, what I do, what I see everyday, what I eat in lunch or dinner and many more things.

Selling fruits at night, a common sight

As I told you I live Karachi, the biggest city of Pakistan. All traditions associated with any other big city in the world are also the same in Karachi. Life is fast and time is short, is the motto here. Although, I don't like this fast and furious approach.
Anyway, beside being Pakistan's largest city, Karachi is also the provincial capital of Sindh province. There are 3 other provinces in Pakistan:
Islamabad is Pakistan's capital city and is located in Punjab. Beside capital cities, there are so many other cities in all 4 provinces, along with districts, tehsils and union councils.
So, a little more about myself. Here in Pakistan, many families live jointly. My home was built by my grand father and I still live there with my parents, my wife, my son, my two little brothers, one of whom is married and have 3 kids. My mother's sister, who is unmarried, also live with us. All other homes in my neighborhood are like, where children still live with their parents. The tradition of living by yourself once you pass college or get a job is gaining foot here too but I don't like it. People always say do something about your future, save some money, invest somewhere, do this or do that. I regard myself as my parents future, as they once dreamed about me standing on a level where they would be proud of me. Now, when I'm standing there, why can't my parents be with me?
We regard the presence of our elders inside the home as a blessing and taking care of them makes our day. Beside, who wouldn't love to see their grand children growing up in front of them, taking care of them, playing with them. Since 2011, my home is not the same anymore as 3 fully charged up kids play, fight, cry and laugh together, filling my home with life.
In general, life in Karachi is different from what you may see in a village or in those parts of Pakistan where farmers live and produce crops. I haven't been to a village but life there is simple, quiet and full of nature. A friend of mine was born in a village and didn't stepped in a big city until he was in his mid 20's. He now lives in Karachi but occasionally visit his hometown. He tells me about how villagers go to sleep right after sunset and get up way before even sunrise. That there is no fast food joint or cinema in his village and day to day traveling is still done on carts. Life is still simple in those parts of Pakistan and from what he tells me about it, I then compare those things with Karachi, which is totally different from so many aspects.

A traditional village home in Tharparkar area of Sindh
Simple life means simple things
A kitchen in a village home
Washing laundry in village

Yes, we do get up in morning early but on weekends, we may not. The city is literally over flooded with fast food restaurants and cafes. People love to eat here and it is consider as "the cool" to try out that newly opened restaurant or watching a new movie. There are many food streets in Karachi. In fact, any place where three or more restaurants are located next to each other, is a food street. Its where you can load your taste buds with all sorts of food.
And speaking of food, I may have to create and maintain a separate blog just for what kind of food you will find in Pakistan. Literally!
Over here, we love to mix up dishes and create diversity on our dining tables. I start with the one item which is must for every meal, for everyone, in every home, every day. You can find this in every corner of Pakistan and it is known as Roti.

A typical Roti
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, these are incomplete without Roti. Heck, I even ate it regularly back in my school days as an evening snack with a cup of tea. I even love to eat mango with Roti in summer, would you believe that?
Roti is prepared by stone-ground wholemeal flour, which is commonly known as Atta Flour here. We eat it with either meat gravies of many kinds, fried or cooked up vegetables of various varieties, kebabs, boiled pulses and so much more. You can even eat with either butter, cheese, yogurt, and anything you like.
There are so many varieties of Roti and each one has its own unique taste. With various cooking methods, Roti is definitely an inseparable item from a Pakistani dining table. Everyday in my home, it is prepared twice; for lunch and for dinner. The picture you have seen above is the most common form and it is prepare in every household. Let me show you some other varieties which are mainly served on special occasions like weddings, parties at home or anywhere else:

There are many more varieties of Roti beside these. You can even stuff it with either fine chopped meat or mashed vegetables. My mother-in-law prepares Paratha filled with mashed potatoes and it is served with green chili sauce. So mouth watering!
Roti and all of its varieties are eaten with either meat or vegetable dishes mostly. You can even eat it plain and simple if you want to. Below you can see some common Pakistani dishes which are served with Roti. Again, these dishes also have various varieties for themselves and each one has it's own unique taste.

Dal (dried pulse dish) and Roti, most common
Chicken Karahi, a spicy chicken dish with vegetables
Keema, finely chopped meat cooked with spices
Nihari, a meat dish with very thick gravy and lots of spices
Shami Kebab, a beef kebab, there are many varieties
Chicken Tikka, grilled chicken with heavy spices
Kofta, meatballs with gravy

(Bonus: click here for a great recipe of Chicken Kebab I found at a fellow Pakistani blogger. Try it out!!)

There are countless other dishes which are these common ones. There are various methods of preparing each one of them and almost every family has its own secret way of cooking these dishes. My mother and all my aunts learned cooking from my grandmother, who was such a great cooking expert herself. Beside cooking, my grandmother knew so much about how to keep a household in order and she passed that knowledge to her daughters very well. I remember how she used to prepare special dishes for me whenever there is something on a day's menu I don't wanted to eat. I was her first grandchild, so I was treated very specially :).
On Sundays, Jia, my wife, might prepare Biryani only. Like last week, when my sister arrived showed up, Jia prepared Chicken Manchurian with Chinese Rice and it was loved by all. Jia is expert in preparing rice dishes, an art she had learned from her mother, who is herself an expert.

Chicken Biryani
So from Roti, we move towards Biryani, a spicy rice dish in many forms, which is prepared with all sort of spices, vegetables and meat. Like Roti, there are so many forms of Biryani also. If beef is used, then its Beef Biryani, if vegetables are used, then its Vegetable Biryani and so much more.

Pillao with Chicken Gravy
Tehri with Potato and Peas
Dal Chawal, Boiled Rice with Spicy Pulses (this is not Biryani variety)

A Pakistani woman will be crowned as an expert cook, by her family, if she can master this cuisine's art as this dish is so much love by every family member and it is very hard to resist.
We Pakistani love to eat spicy food, as know you have some idea. We want spices to dive deep in our taste buds and tickle us all they way. There are many forms of spices which are commonly used in daily cooking. Usage of home made spices are also very common and every family has its own secret. This gives every common dish a unique flavor. We also love to spice up our lunch and dinner with pickles, chutney, sauces of various kinds.
In the appetizer section, there are so many to chose from. From spicy to sweet and sour, the list goes on and on. They are also served as an evening snack or when guests shows up. Some of the most common are:

Gol Gappay, also known as Panipuri
Dahi Vada, also known as Dahi Bhalla

Here in Pakistan, cooking is considered as an essential art which every woman must master. I can give example of my sister, who before her marriage, only knew how to prepare breakfast for herself. Those Western norms of working women are also gaining foot here but still a Pakistani woman show her best talent in her kitchen. Because receiving an appreciation from family over a well cooked food is something special and it is regarded as a great accomplishment. As an old saying goes: the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, so a Pakistani woman knows it very well and she loves to keep her man happy.
Now if you are thinking that Pakistanis only eat spicy food and there is no sweetness in their lives, then allow me to say this: You are so wrong!
To get a taste of our sweetness and much more, we will meet again. Until then, take care and bon appetit.
Oops! Almost forgot!
The annual Karachi Eat Food Festival is underway this weekend, i.e. from Jan 22nd to Jan 24th 2016. Check it out on Twitter also for more videos and pictures.

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