Lahore: L-Q

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Lahore: M.M. Alam Road

Raising the bar for desi food

By Halima Mansoor


Going down M.M. Alam Road on most days while deciding where to dine is at best tedious. The ditch ridden road perceived by some deluded gentlemen as a Formula 1 track gives the aura that it houses a multitude of eateries, providing unlimited options, whereas the options are rather limited, especially for desi food. There is one place that never fails, however, in serving local cuisine that can be happily polished off the plates: Mirchi.

A relatively old establishment, its menu offers a combination of continental food, local cuisine and dessert. The focus being the main entrées on the desi menu; curries, kebabs, barbecue dishes, naans and the token vegetarian dishes. And all categories have at least one mouth watering item.

The experience begins with the trademark pickled vegetables the eatery serves in little glazed pots to whet the appetite. With a tingling vinegar aftertaste, the vegetables are a lovely mouthful, especially the green chillies, the namesake.

There are two curries that stand out the most: the murgh madrasi and the kashmiri chicken handi. The murgh madrasi is a unique blend of chicken, tomatoes and spices that crosses into the category of spicy food without giving heartburn or making one guzzle down gallons of water during the meal. On the other end of the spectrum, the dish from Kashmir is a gentle full flavoured dish that is seasoned with just enough oomph to entice those preferring bolder flavours and pleasing those who prefer milder flavours.

If in the mood to nibble, the barbecue platter provides two or three people a variety. Chicken boti, behari kebab and Mirchi special kebab, are all very distinctive in flavour. If the waiter's in a good mood and can be wooed, he should be requested to add a few pieces of paneer tikka to the little ensemble!

To complement the succulent barbecued chicken boti and the bold murgh madrasi, the parathas and roghni naans are a definitive accompaniment. Their cheese naan is an original and literally mouth watering bait, however, its complete flavour makes it a better appetiser than a bread to have with food. Sharp cheese with aromatic herbs, it can be a meal on its own.

Undoubtedly the star item on their menu is the khatti daal. The flavour cannot be penned down to detail since this daal is unique to taste. The subtle smoky aroma offsets the smooth tangy daal perfectly. It is very addictive, indeed.

A good meal, however, cannot stand a restaurant’s weight alone. Even if the bland background music is ignored the ambience in the eatery is dramatically affected by the terrible lights. Their brass light shades dangling over each table let through thin shards of sharp light that look pretty from a distance. Once at the table, they drive one into a state of annoyance.

The upside is the manner in which the waiters dealt with it once the complaint made its way to their very distracted ears: eager to solve the issue at hand, the waiter presented us with a light shade ala napkin. Points down for the lack of elegance but the round went to the house for good service.

This glitch in ambience should not deter people who dine out to experience good cuisine. Over the past two years no trip to Mirchi has ever been a culinary disappointment.

However, their western dishes have never stood out; perhaps the availability of good local food always leads one to the establishment for a tried and tested order that usually only differs in quantity!

This side of Lahore, Mirchi raises the bar for desi food.

Lahore: Neela Gumbad

Chickpeas for a penny

By Hina Bhatti


Lahore Neela Gumbad
Lahore Neela Gumbad

Neela Gumbad in Lahore may be known for a hundred things, but food is not one of them. A commercial hub and a city landmark, the place bustles with activity as pedestrians and cars fill every possible inch of the space around the chowk. It used to be the motorist’s way made easy into Anarkali Bazaar. The open space in front of the majestic King Edward Medical College building on one side, the hostel on the other and the historical Neela Gumbad mosque bang opposite, is now flanked by the bicycle market at one end.

At the other end is the spillover of Anarkali bargains and the third side sports medical equipment being sold at the far side, leading to the line of banks that give the Bank Square its name at the busy traffic junction on The Mall. Here, at a stone’s throw stands another sentinel of the colonial past, the GPO. The odd-kilometre-long stretch has been the scene of gatherings and protest rallies by political workers since the banning of demonstrations on The Mall proper in the early 1990s. The YMCA and the now defunct Pak Tea House, once the cultural lifeline of the city, also stand nearby.

Back at Neela Gumbad, under the bright sunshine, a continuous flow of honking horns, the sputtering of rickshaws and smoke fill the air, but a sharp turn into Robert Road changes all that. Buildings tower on both sides of the lane shading it from the sun. The lane, not wide enough for a car to manoeuvre into, is devoid of the smoke outside, and rain over the years has robbed it of its smoothness.

Robert Road leads to a maze of crisscross streets, housing the Balmiki temple, the oldest in the city and still manned by the followers of the pre-Hindu creed credited with the writing of Ramayan. Further down, the alleys spill into Anarkali Bazaar at the Bible Society corner, the booklovers’ paradise. Nestled in the corner shop, just off Neela Gumbad, is Ghulam Rasool Chanay-wallah, the front of the shop surrounded by a clamouring group of customers.

The proprietor is Haji Ghulam Rasool, who established his business in this location right after independence in 1947.

The shop is run by Ghulam Rasool, his son and his three brothers, as they were groomed to do so from childhood. Ghulam Rasool proudly sits behind a huge pot of chanay (cooked chickpeas) at the entrance of the shop and scoops them into plates to be served, all the while nodding reminders at a boy standing next to him to collect the money.

A huge pot of chanay cooked in rich gravy simmer over a flame, in order to be kept warm, and a small group of people standing in line yell out orders, many thrusting forward small pots brought from home. This is Ghulam Rasool’s established, loyal clientele that belongs to varying classes of society. They come from far and wide to relish the chanay that are his specialty. Some are his daily customers; others have been coming occasionally over the years.

Ghulam Rasool is as tightlipped about his daily income as he is about the secret ingredients that make his chanay one of the most sought after in the city. The fact that he is able to compete in the market, now with many international food-chains and the other, regular delectable desi fare present just round the corner at the Old Anarkali food street, and still not only survive but thrive over the years is proof of his business’s success.

“I open up the shop at 11am and within the next few hours I’ve sold out everything, everyday,” says a contented Ghulam Rasool.

As per tradition, the food is cooked by the women at home and then it is transported to the shop every morning, where the chanay are sold with fresh baked naans. Ghulam Rasool has managed to fight temptation of relocating into a posh area of Lahore, and preserved not only the taste of his food, but the traditional values that his father ingrained into the business.

Slow rotating fans cool off the customers as they lounge on wooden benches lined in front of the shop along the wall, enjoying their chanay with achaar (pickle), served on modest, aluminium plates. A man can eat here till he can eat no more for anything between Rs15 and Rs25; add a soft drink and you have a leisurely meal.

“It’s nice to sometimes get away from all these flashy restaurants around and enjoy food at this leisurely pace, surrounded by this atmosphere,” said Musa, a student of National College of Arts, eating there with his friends.

Ghulam Rasool chanay-wallah has managed to preserve in this quaint corner of the busy commercial hub a shop for 60 years. It has continued to serve the spicy, aromatic food it had to offer the day it first opened for business. Whoever thought that Neela Gumbad had this little food area tucked away in a tiny lane behind the rampant commercial activity that meets the eye as you enter the place?

See also

Lahore: A-E Lahore: F-K Lahore: L-Q Lahore: R-Z Lahore: architectural treasures Lahore: Civic issues Lahore: History Lahore: Parsi cusine Lahore: Protected Monuments Bhai Ram Singh

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