It’s a festival we wait all year round for. Not because there is a shortage of food in the city, and this be the only place to find it, but because the general atmosphere of Karachi Eat has always been so jovial. It’s one of the few occasions where you plan and take the family out and enjoy Karachi’s poor excuse of a winter on a sunny afternoon. You connect with the city and the people and of course, the food. It’s an amazing feeling to be there, bumping into friends and family enjoying what every Pakistani enjoys most: food.
So, my family and I planned to go on Sunday. And we decided to take a Careem since rumour had it that parking was a terror. At 2pm the Promo Code didn’t work. After several attempts we booked the Careem without the code and embarked on the journey. The captain didn’t know the best route so we spent a good forty minutes crawling down the Marriott Road, around Metropole and past Sindh Club for the front entrance. Cost: 360 rupees instead of the flat rate of 250 that was being advertised.
The festival was packed when we entered. Luckily a friend had pre-bought tickets so we evaded that queue. Unfortunately there was no avoiding the queues inside. Navigating through Crepe Tease (delicious), Nom Nom Tachos (not so delicious), Fatso’s loaded fries (decent), some noodles and prawns from Soi (also decent) and some fresh juice, we decided we had had enough. That was unfortunate because most of the better stalls were at the far end of the venue. Had we a better idea we would have mentally planned a menu.
The Karachi Eat organizers do need to up their game. One understands that the rescheduling of the festival – it was postponed a week due to heavy rains in the city – may have taken a toll on its discipline but then many of these issues arose even last year so they need to be pointed out.
1. Organizers should print and distribute floor plans, maps and/or guides of all stalls, so one can pre-plan what to eat and what to avoid. We would have avoided a lot of junk if we had known exactly where to find goodies of our choice. The festival should ideally be divided into food zones but if that is difficult then at least a map should be provided.
2. There were too many professional restaurants at Karachi Eat and that kind of defies the purpose of finding novelty food. Even when professional outlets do participate they should improvise menus or introduce special items especially for the festival. What’s the point of going for food you can find all year round?
3. Karachi is a dusty city but then dust and grub don’t go together too well and the situation only worsens with dust, grub and too many people. The venue fell short of space; there were just too many people. While crowds are the heart and soul of any festival, this one needed more walking and seating space and definitely some shade from the harsh sun. Perhaps we went at a particularly busy time but Sunday afternoon at the festival was grueling. One was constantly afraid of tumbling over people sitting on the ground and it was just quite chaotic. The organizers may have to rethink their venue if the festival continues to grow at this pace, which it should and one sincerely hopes that it does.
4. The lack of wifi, thanks to jammers in the area, posed the biggest problem for those of us who wanted to book a Careem home. We could not access the application and had to walk right down to Clifton Bridge before we got a signal. Careem cars or any cab service involved should ideally be stationed in clearly demarcated areas.
5. The traffic jams outside Frere Hall were a serious cause for concern, not only for people visiting the festival but also for general commuters and especially residents of the area. It was not a great idea to clog one of the city’s main arteries and the traffic situation, in fact, dissuaded many food enthusiasts from attempting to visit.
6. A smaller observation is that entry and exit points needed to be marked more clearly. Hand written notices and makeshift ramps led people in and out, not a very professional way to do it.
7. And speaking of entrances, the ‘families only’ policy has to be rethought because ‘families only’ means that every group must have a woman in it, which is ridiculous. Are a father with his two sons not family enough? Apparently two German diplomats were turned away because they were not accompanied by a woman. The festival must have security inside (to control any untoward behavior) but the entrance policy really does need to be changed.
All in all the annual Karachi Eat food festival has become an event that everyone looks forward to and it is now plotted on the cultural calendar of the city. It is definitely an essential experience, and one that shouldn’t be missed. That said, there is room for improvement and it should improve if it wants to be considered world standard.