I found a little bit of Pakistan in Hong Kong!

Published: January 13, 2013

I found a little bit of Pakistan in this bubbling metropolis! PHOTO: REUTERS

I have been an expat for three years now and I still can’t get over it.

My husband assimilates much better than I do. He is able to adjust to change in a way that is silent and not at all messy. He talks about the new place, adjusts to his new time zone and continues to talk about surroundings in a happy-go-lucky sort of a way.

His wife writes angry blogs and rants to fellow neighbours about the lack of dhaniya (coriander) and goes off in search of curry leaves to a place where no woman has gone before.

Okay, that last part was slightly exaggerated, women go everywhere in Hong Kong, but all the other information provided is a hundred percent accurate.

I am one of those idiots who can’t let go of their childhood and every time I smell cardamoms it reminds me of my maternal grandfather’s little steel paandan from where we used to steal the sweet, silver-warq coated betel nuts. I cling to the familiar and relentless search for ways to adjust by keeping the old memories alive.

So the first question I ask my husband before we are about to move to a new place is:

“desi food hai?”

(Will we get Pakistani food there?)

It’s fairly easy to gain access to desi cuisines and ingredients in the Middle East, where Pakistanis hold up half the sky. Ex-pats living in the United Kingdom and the United States are also just as comfortable.

And now, thanks to the massive changes brought about by globalisation, you can mistake identifying a photo like this …

Photo: Mahwash Badar

This isn’t  Mini Market in Lahore or Gizri in Karachi.

This is Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, China.

This little wet market down Peking Road is a glimpse of a world that seems impossible to exist on an otherwise busy, glassy street. Peking Road itself is filled with perfectly tall, designer-labelled, LCD-advertisements filled malls and hotels.

Take a turn down Haiphong Road and that’s a new dimension altogether.

Photo: Mahwash Badar

The wet market begins in a quiet, unobtrusive way. It seems as if it does not want to get in the way of the busy, glamorous, air-conditioned lives of the malls and hotels. It begins under a shed, with small open kitchens, a handful of small stools; plastic tables are occupied by the young, old,  busy and the idle. Hot water flows in the background as broccoli leaves brush along your elbow and  the smell of boiled rice wafts directly into your nostrils.

This is where we begin our olfactory journey into the quest for desi mutton. Deep in the heart of this wet market sit meat and vegetable vendors who are happily dressed as if it is Chakwal and Mianwali and not Hong freakin’ Kong. They offer fresh Pakistani produce and thank you with a polite smile. To hear them speak in Punjabi amongst themselves is a reminder of how far away from home you really are.

Photo: Mahwash Badar

Then there are the Chung King Mansions where you must stop to buy spices to cook all that fresh Pakistani mutton. Readymade masalas, desi herbal drinks, red onions, garam masala, you name it and it’s there. Even Urdu Digests, for those of you who are unable to let go of your guilty pleasures.

The food there is not fit to be eaten in a fancy ballroom gown- the roads are narrow and eager brown-skinned men huddle around you, in their attempt to sell a fake Birkin or even a genuine calling card.

But there is that distinct smell of biryani, chicken tikka, puri and parathas complimented with Urdu, Hindi, and Malayalam chatter. There is that occasional white tourist, the tall Mozambiquean, the half-asleep Bengali, the friendly Chinese woman peddling 10 dollar rings.

Photo: Mahwash Badar

It doesn’t matter where in the world you may be.

It doesn’t matter how immensely French, Italian or Chinese cuisine tantalise your taste buds.

It really doesn’t matter.

Pakistan will always be my home.


Read more by Mahwash here or follow her on Twitter @MhwshB


Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Op

    now matter where ever we go our hearts remains in pakistan Recommend

  • Sundus

    While holding on to your cultural values and cuisine is fine, but adjusting to local culture and cuisines is the way of life. Please dont be the typical Pakistani females who go around saying “mein yeh nahin khati!! ” I seriously feel like hitting an iron rod on their heads.Recommend

  • Tony

    so in hong kong u saw target killings, shia genocide and drones hovering over your headRecommend

  • GrimmJow

    So Desi is Pakistani? I thought it was Indian? Or it belongs to the sub-continent as a whole?Recommend

  • Parvez

    If you had written this from Salzburg Austria I would have smiled……….but from H.K ??Recommend

  • Ammar

    Yea, I found Gujarat in Barcelona, and it isn’t an impressive sightRecommend

  • Romm

    From above comments of Indians regarding Food and environment and nothing to do with politics, it strengthens my belief that Indians are simply scum buckets preoccupied with Pakistan centrism. Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Let’s not grudge the use of a Sanskrit origin word – although I agree that it sounds a bit strange coming from a Pakistani. I guess this is because there is no equivalent in Arabic or Persian that conjures up the same images as ‘desi’ does, so they are forced to adopt a less-attractive Indian term.Recommend

  • Nadir

    Chunking is one word, not Chun King!Recommend

  • Sunday

    @Romm: Thank you for sharing my life long belief. Recommend

  • Milestogo

    Pakistaniat is universal.Recommend

  • Umer Sheikh

    Loved reading your article. I think there is no substitute for Pakistani food. Nothing can make you happier overseas more than scintillating chicken tikka smell or chicken biryani. Sometimes, these little things make priceless moments to cherish upon years later. Recommend

  • Raj Kafir

    NRPs ( term coined after NRIs ) are mainly single men and relatively peaceful in Phoran ( Foreign ). Majority of them portray themselves as Indians. Their sole purpose is to migrate to Canada and then go to Pakistan and get married to a teenager cousin.Recommend

  • G

    Beliefs are just that beliefs, and most beliefs are not rational. Recommend

  • Omer

    Great piece. Loved it.Recommend

  • Mohammad Assad

    I live in Hong Kong too…and while Chung King mansion, and the various ‘desi’ outlets serve local cuisine, its not the same taste we are accustomed too in Pakistan. But alas, something is better than nothing :)Recommend

  • Dr. Indrani Singh


    The term “desi” was, in fact, coined by the Indian diaspora. But later Pakistanis also started to use the term for their own purpose. You might be interested to know, dear readers, that here in New York, the large and increasingly powerful Indian diaspora has been supporting “American desi politicians” — implying Americans of Indian origin or even mainstream politicians who are, increasingly, becoming infatuated by Indian culture — and organize a number of “Desi events”, ranging from prayers in places of worship through cultural dances and food and film festivals to business trade shows. One of the big publishers of Indian newspapers and magazines in the United States is, in fact, called the Desi Publishing Co. There is also a weekly tabloid paper called “Desi Talk” that reports about all the happenings, mostly, in the Indian diaspora in the United States. It is wrong and factually incorrect on the part of this author — she seems to be very childish to the point of being frivolous — to make such assertions such as “desi food hai?” (Will we get Pakistani food there?).
    Many women of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other South Asian descent show a remarkable change and do not forget their centre of life in an alien country. There is no harm in saying “I want to have everything here that I had back home” but it is a fatal error to forget your adopted country, even if you may return to your native country some day. Recommend

  • http://mezaajedeen.blogspot.com Tribune Reader

    I see you found Chunking mansion, some really nice resturants there, it is also the best place to use a money changer in Hong Kong, best value for your US Dollar, on every visit to HK that is where i always head for nashta, parathas and chais from the sardar jee vendor….i wonder if that joint owned bybthe pindi boys shalimar is still around…Recommend

  • Azar

    What a display of shamelessness by most who left a comment. Simple article about a womans experience in HK, and look at the negativity in response.

    Mahwish, my wife and I also found CK Mansion to be a big relief. But yea I’d agree with Parvez up there, HK is A VERY good place for South Asians to find “their” stuff. There can be places far more alien for us. For example, we dial to this shop and get halal meat and Shan Masalas delivered to doorstep! What more could a Paki expat ask for hehe?

    If you want to venture into Chinese cuisine, and I’d recommend to you without hitting you with an iron rod, go to Wan Chai Islamic Centre Canteen (5th floor) or Ma’s in Sham Shui Po… You will find delicious authentic Chinese made from halal ingredients.

    Enjoy HK! We love it…


  • no name

    Why are Pakistani women in particular the most argumentative and difficult persons from this face of the earth? When they are abroad they miss Pakistan, when they are in Pakistan they miss living abroad. Wake up, get your head checked and be appreciative! And this is coming from a female, i’m not male.Recommend

  • Sam

    Can you write a comment without display of violence? Do you talk like this in your everyday life?Recommend

  • Azar

    Funny how Indians wants to OWN the word Desi, whereas it can not be more South Asian. A Bangladeshi is just as correct in using this word, as is an Indian or for that matter a Pakistani or a Sri Lankan. There is tons of history behind language. We merely separated less than 66 year back.Recommend

  • Sane

    You must be missing cheat, con and criminal rulers as you find in your home country.Recommend

  • cty


    Desi comes from the word ‘Desh’ which has its origins in sanskrit okay. that is how the word desi was coined By Indians for India.Recommend

  • Sane


    While holding on to your cultural values and cuisine is fine, but adjusting to local culture and cuisines is the way of life. Please dont be the typical Pakistani females who go around saying “mein yeh nahin khati!! ” I seriously feel like hitting an iron rod on their heads.

    You Indians have intrinsic quality to spread hate. Irrespective to the subject, you find space for your immoral and hateful comments. Why you want to influence in choice of others. Why do not you eat beef?Recommend

  • Pakistani


    I must say that your comment is objectionable and crosses boundaries of religious sensitivity.Recommend

  • abhi

    We don’t want to exclusively own it but we are just reminding you that it is not a word from arabia. So next time somebody cribs about usage of Hindi Words like Desh or Raksha in tv channels, please be sure to include desi also in it.Recommend

  • pakistani

    When I was in Singapore for my studies . I met with several paki there and all of them used to pretend to be Indians LOL Recommend

  • Azar

    I appeal to your intelligence, if you have any. Do you HEAR your Hindi when you speaketh? Every sentence that you enunciate drips of Urdu. Every song by Javed Akhtar that you hum has many pure words from Urdu – nowhere to be found in Sanskrit. An Indian friend of mine, Anupam, he used the word “diqqat” once (English: hardship) in one of our conversations. I was completely surprised. I asked him it’s a typical Urdu word which even I wouldn’t normally use. I would choose the more common word “mushkil” over “diqqat”. But Anupam, from Delhi, used it. I think there’s nothing wrong. It’s beautiful he used that word. Only goes to show the history of how languages develop.

    So I reiterate. “There is tons of history behind language”. Stop being a brain-dead jingoist. In fact, “Desh” is for country in Sanskrit but “Des” in Urdu is for country. I am not touchy about such minor things, but since you are, you might want to start calling Indian stuff “Day-She” instead of “Desi”.Recommend

  • Azar

    Haha your out-of-context comment is a reflection of your biased mindset. I am always surprised by one thing. I have a LIST of Indian friends in Singapore and Hong Kong – two places, where I met many of them. Not a single one of them EVER came across as a jerk (in fact, one of them stayed at my place when he/his wife visited HK). Very nice folks. I wonder which breed from India do I meet over blogs.Recommend

  • observer


    Funny how Indians wants to OWN the word Desi, whereas it can not be more South Asian.

    It actually has its origin in the Sanskrit word- Desh- other derivatives are Videsh- Foreign Lands, Pardeshi- People from other lands, Swadeshi- of your own land or indigenous etc etc.

    I think in Urdu you have Mulk- Ghair Mulki etc.

    In short Indians do not have to WANT to own it. The others may WANT to do so by acknowledging their Hindu/South Asian ancestry, instead of the purported Persian/Arabic descent.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Dude – pls do some basic reading to understand what Urdu is – it is a dialect that was originally called Khariboli from the Western UP region. All the nouns and verbs in Urdu are derived either from Sanskrit or from Persian and now Pakistan has introduced a generous dose of Arabic into it as well. The principles of the Urdu language (its conjugation and the rules applied to create sentences) are largely the same as those of other Prakrit-based languages from the Gangetic belt – Hindi/ Bhojpuri/ Awadhi/ Banarasi – and FYI most of these use des and not desh etc. Most other languages of India have also borrowed heavily from Sanskrit – and Bengali is one of the heaviest borrowers – hence the Desh in Bangladesh. The Hindi that is spoken colloquially in India (and used in Hindi cinema) is indistinguishable from Indian Urdu and most Indians don’t know the difference – except that Hindi is written in Devanagari – including words like Diqqat which we use commonly without trying to mentally label it as either Hindi (an Indian language) or Urdu (another Indian language). It is this pathetic inferiority complex which prevents you from acknowledging the roots of your language that most Indians here are making fun of – otherwise language and music belong to no one and should be enjoyed by all without distinction.Recommend

  • Khalid


    Urdu is a sub-continental language that has a lot of words from arabic, farsi, english and other sub-continental languages and “desi” is as much Pakistani as indian. No need to trying to “own” the word.Recommend

  • Ayesha

    I think the author’s purpose was to point out that we always carry a bit of our homeland in our soul where ever we may go in this world.In a strange place even a small thing like the smell of Garam Masala can be comforting. Speaking as a long time expat myself i always feel so happy to see a South Asian face in any crowd without a thought about their nationality. Somebody who is like you as apposed to millions of strangers.

    The argument about the word “desi” is absolutely pointless and immature. It does come from Sanskrit. No arguing with that. My Indian friends nobody is stealing it away from you.We Pakistanis and Indians need to acknowledge a very simple fact ,whether you like it or not, we share traditions,language and genetics.Learn to live with it instead of enacting WW3 on every blog on cyberspace.Recommend

  • Barcelonian

    I live in Barcelona and here we also got a mini-Pakistan (same pendu-style community although we try really hard to live as far as possible from them)!! So much for Pakistan!!Recommend

  • gp65

    @Azar: You are correct that in India people commonly use Hindustani – which is a mix of Hindi and Urdu and really no one has a problem with it. You maybe unfamiliar about earlier discussions on these blogs where Pakistani commentators have expressed horror at the creeping influence of Indian TV serials and Bollywood in terms of introducing Hindi words to Pakistanis. IT was emphatically stated that Pakistanis are Muslims and hence should stick to Arabic or PErsian and discard anything that connects them to India.
    It is such past chauvinism that you are seeing a response to when people point out that the word Des and Desi have Sanskrit origin and not Persian or Arabic.Recommend

  • AK Murthy

    It is funny how Pakistanis are fighting over the word ‘Desi’. Desi is an Indian word used for all Indian origin expats the world over. Here in California (Los Angeles) I know many Indian or so called desi restuarants which are not really Indian. They are owned and operated either by Bangladeshis or Pakistanis and these restuarants even have Indian names as well as Taj Mahal photos inside.

    I have rarely restaurant’s here in Los Angeles which says that It is a Pakistani restaurant. The nearest they say is ‘Indian and Pakistani food’.

    Pakistanis have a inferior complex and try to imitate Indians wherever and whenver they can. Recommend

  • Ahmed

    I understand a liitle Mandarain and I tell you Hong Kong there is a lot of racisim to South Asians.Recommend

  • gujranwala789

    For me Desi is a punjabi everyday word, we use it for anything that is pure , for example desi ghee compared to vilayati ghee. In india too, it has been introduced by indian punjabis both within india and abroad. Hindus use the word Desh which would make it deshi in hindi language of hindus. It is punjabi language where Desh gets a linguistic shift to des and brings the word desi. And for your information Punjabi, sindhi and other indo-aryan languages spoken in pakistan are grammatically more closely related to proto-indo aryan ancestral language than any language spoken by indians. Sanskrit is nothing special, it is merely one of the ancient indo-aryan languages, the dardic languages that are sister languages (not descendants) to sanskrit are still spoken in northern areas of pakistan such as Shina, khowar, and kalasha.Recommend

  • Samo

    To all the Pakistani commentators posting above, the Indiana are correct when they say that ‘desi’ is a word that comes from the Sanskrit language. That is a fact.

    Sanskrit is the most influential language in South Asia, with Persian close behind, and it is reflected in a very large number of regional languages. Urdu, while widely spoken, is relatively newer(only 8=9 centuries old), and borrows all it’s vocabulary, syntax, etc. from Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian, and Arabic. It is a technically a creole, isn’t it?Recommend

  • http://UK Insane

    Desi is derived from the Sanskrit word Desha (देशः).
    Pakistan separated from India by rejecting their Indian/Sanskrit roots and accepting
    the Arabic roots. Now if you are claiming the ownership of Desi then you are effectively supporting the Indian cause which is against the founding principles of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Romm

    Despite my candid and frank comment….
    Indians will go on and on and on Recommend

  • Sane


    Desi is derived from the Sanskrit word Desha (देशः).
    Pakistan separated from India by rejecting their Indian/Sanskrit roots and accepting
    the Arabic roots. Now if you are claiming the ownership of Desi then you are effectively supporting the Indian cause which is against the founding principles of Pakistan.

    What a baseless and ridiculous logic!!?Recommend

  • gp65

    @gujranwala789: “For me Desi is a punjabi everyday word”,
    Correct and Punjabi language is derived from Sanskrit just as French and Italian are derived from Latin. No one has problem with using the term – just don’t pretend it has Arabc or Persian roots.

    @Ayesha: “We Pakistanis and Indians need to acknowledge a very simple fact ,whether you like it or not, we share traditions,language and genetics.”


  • abhi

    Sanskrit has three consonents for “S”, these have slight variation in pronounciation and you cannot capture that in English alphabet. So your hairsplitting about difference between Desh and Des is rediculous.
    My point is very simple, Hindi and Urdu are same language and I don’t have any problem in using dikkat or mushkil or listening to Javed Akhtar’s songs. But many Pakistani have porblem in using desi words like desh, vishwas and raksha (you can see few tribune blogs also on the same issue) and that is the reason why they should also not use “desi”, it will dilute the purity of pakistan.Recommend

  • abhi

    You may be right about roots of sanskrit language, but sanskrit is special because it has very well defined grammer rules and vast literature and most of subcontinent’s history is captured in it.Recommend

  • Ali Qazi

    You can take a Pakisani out of Pakistan but you can’t take Pakistan out of a Pakistani.Recommend

  • Liaqat

    Only read a few of the comments found it interesting that the comments from most of the Indian readers are around the term ‘desi’. However the essential sentiments of the author are pleasantly accurate and perhaps taken out of context. Born overseas to Pakistani parents before growing up in Pakistan and then having emigrated alone to the West 30-odd years ago I still crave my Pakistani-fix. However well everyone around me feels I have assimilated I am still not used to drinking American style coffee (interestingly I do like espresso) but prefer my tea boiled in a pot with milk and sweetener added. Assimilation is one thing but to forget where you come from and become a native is not an option for some of us and that is nothing to be ashamed of or decried.
    For those of us who do not drink or smoke allow us this one pleasure. I do recall a time when my mother had to painstakingly sew little packets of spices and ship them to me at college because there was no store that carried those spices; thankfully those days are long gone.Recommend

  • ethicalman

    ‘desi food hain’

    desi is an Indian word..why can’t Pakis eccept that..even in UK or US..Pakistanis call their restaurants Indian..

    Pakistani food is nothing..Recommend

  • Daniyal S.M

    No but she probably saw Tony, The Taxi Driver, sitting in a dark alley typing this using a stolen laptop after working a grueling 20 hour shift.Recommend

  • http://SA SA

    Pakistan it is….Recommend

  • Mariam

    hmm..you should try to search for a desi market in Tsim Sha Sui, the building is difficult to find but the “garma garam” desi food there is so very fulfilling.Recommend

  • Shameem

    @ ethicalman: pakistani food is nothing’ — LOL!

    If Muslims hadn’t invaded Hindustan ( persian word) we would be eating daal and sabzi in our loin-cloths till Kingdom come! LOLRecommend

  • Tanveer

    Indians have nothing else in the world to do except read Pakistani websites and comment… and still claim they are indians and love india… so what the heck are you SOBs doing on a Pakistani website?Recommend