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23 Jul

How to eat in Lahore

Lahore

Lahore is a massive cauldron of food that entices you with bubbling aromas of all kinds of gastronomical delights. It’s a food fantasy that justifies the hashtag #foodporn and anyone visiting Lahore, especially people with family in the historical city, knows that a one-week trip can result in trauma on the weighing scale. I know because I suffer the dilemma every time I visit my hometown. Between my mother’s cooking and the family that plans extended food trips to every restaurant (new and old) in the city, one week in Lahore results in a very painful addendum on the weighing scale.

My trek began at Haveli, two days before Eid, where a fraction of my extended family (just 22 cousins, nieces and nephews) gathered for an early sehri. It was a little after midnight and while the majestic view over Badshahi mosque was gorgeous, it was also very loud as the maulana on duty was out in full force on loud speaker. Conversation was a no-go area. And the food was not great enough to make up for lack of conversation. We ordered a great deal: karahis, kababs, tawa chicken and the whole shebang of a desi spread including lassi but it was not too memorable. The dessert, I have to point out, was most disappointing and the heat didn’t help, nor did the noise. I don’t think I’ll venture out to Haveli in summer again.

Cosa Nostra has been my go-to café in Lahore for ages but that’s something Rina’s has changed. It was good enough to have a Rina’s hang out place in DHA (despite the fact that there was always a waiting line outside) but Rina’s restaurant in Gulberg was the game changer. The desserts were to die for; my favourite had to be the salted caramel brownie but it was the thin crust pizza that became my mainstay while my children feasted on smashed burgers and roast beef sandwiches. There’s a whole science behind why Rina’s pizzas are so good – the pivot being that the chef has trained in Italy and imports Italian wheat and ingredients for her pizzas – but whatever the reason, they are divine.

 

Lahore

There’s a whole science behind the quality of pizzas at Rina’s – the pivot being that the chef has trained in Italy and imports Italian wheat and ingredients for her pizzas – but whatever the reason, they are divine.

 

Dynasty at Avari, however, really has to rework its former magic because we experienced the most horrible Chinese food I have ever eaten in Pakistan. For a hefty 2600 per head, we suffered garlic fish that looked like chicken and tasted like porridge, dry beef that was more of a rubbery stew and stir fry vegetables that had no memorable ingredients.

Amu’s was the grand revelation of my trip to Lahore. The brain behind Amu’s – chef Shahnawaz Khan – has serious global experience and his work at Michelin star restaurants in Paris really sparkled through the hibiscus ice tea, the plum and basil salad, salmon tiradito and then the langoustine ravioli that I feasted on. The mi-cuit au chocolate noir was sinful; in lay man language that was a fancy version of the molten cake.

Most of us living in Karachi have been to and loved the food at Fuschia but the newly inaugurated branch in Lahore was another level. I went twice and would have happily taken another trip if time had permitted it. Fuschia is primarily Thai food and the menu for the Lahore branch has been improvised with several new and exciting additions. All I can remember is gorgeous basil infused prawns, sticky and super sexy beef, tempura prawns, velvety Thai green curry and amongst other things, the most delicate chocolate wantons served with a green tea ice cream. I think I’ve put on a pound just thinking about them.

Bamboo Union was the other Thai place that I visited with friends and it was the less formal, more affordable and just as tasty option. Situated in the Mall One food square that desperately needs a visual makeover, Bamboo Union has fast acquired status as ‘favourite’ for Thai food lovers in the city. We ate a tangy tamarind fish, sesame beef, pad Thai noodles and the velveteen tofu. And we came out completely gorged.

Lahore

This delicate salmon tiradito at Amu’s was one of the most refined flavours that I experienced in Lahore.

 

Unfortunately Gai’a wasn’t as good as it usually is. The Japanese fusion space in DHA is a must-go on my Lahore menu but this trip was a let down. The rock shrimp tempura was not fresh and the sauce was not uniformly coated on all the shrimp. The seared salmon tataki was amazing as always but the black miso cod was unsufficient and rested on a watery bed of juices, indicating that it hadn’t been seared properly. The worst thing on our table was the Udon noodle with shrimp and lobster; it swam in an unsightly sauce that tasted as if it had dredged through a pot of honey. I used to swear by Gai’a but this trip changed my mind.

I don’t think I can dish out details on everything I ate; that would be overindulgent but I would like to recommend L’Auberge at Faletti’s for lovers of Lebanese food. The mini shawermas and lamb kebabs were delightful and the entire spread (we went for the weekend buffet) was extremely fulfilling. Good value for money unlike Dynasty and Gai’a.

My Lahore culinary journey is never complete without my mother’s cooking: the karela gosht, makai ki roti and saag, the yakhni pulao (which is better than biriyani any day), the halwa puri breakfasts (from Zakir in Cantonment was superb), the chops and stewed kidneys with parathas and of course, the payas. All this is precisely why the weight came on; let me just say that it was worth every bit!

I should write about ways to work it off now!

Aamna Haider Isani

The author is Editor-in-Chief at Something Haute as well as Editor at Instep, The News. Full time writer, critic with a love for words and an intolerance for typos.