So last week we went to the Karachi Eat Food Court at the Frere Mall
As a city, Karachi yearns for entertainment. Unfortunately, the only entertainment we seem to think of in this part of the country surrounds itself around food. Now, no one’s saying food is a bad thing – I mean being a Karachiite automatically means you are an inherent foodie. But when you combine food and a festival together, your expectations automatically rise.
Since the past two years, Karachi has been hosting what is called the Karachi Eat Food Festival. This consists of lots of different (already established) restaurants coming together in a big beautiful lawn at Frere Hall, with a stage that is (supposed) to host concerts and regale a whole bunch of entertainment starved Karachiites. The initial response to this festival was fantastic – it was a brand new idea, played the tunes of a foodie’s song and was an outlet for entertainment. But over the years (three to be exact), reactions have begun to vary. From hearing words like “delicious”, “fun” and “different”, we started hearing words like “same-old”, “unorganised” and just “okay”.
What surprised me a little bit, having attended all three festivals, was how complacent Karachiites became when it came to such events being hosted; I’ve heard things like “but we have nothing better to do so let’s not criticise the one thing we do have”. We know how to make things fun, there is no doubt in that, but the fact that we will settle for the most convenient money-making kind of fun, that compromises our general approach to food, is a bit disappointing. In the Karachi I know, we have Facebook pages that hold restaurants accountable for the slightest mistake in their order. We know how to tell the difference between good food and just food – we pride ourselves on it! I mean how many times have we fought Lahore over which city has better food? And yet… when it comes to a grand scale event such as the Karachi Eat Food Festival, we step away like docile little lambs happy to be fed dry grass.
This is not to say the festival isn’t a great idea – it’s fantastic! A friend argued that it is nice to have “all the restaurants under one umbrella”, but then… how is this “festival” any different from the various food courts we have at all our malls? Does it suddenly become okay to wait at a stall for over 50 minutes for unpalatable food? Food that would have been of much better quality were you to order the exact same thing to your door step? After all, everything at the festival is available at the restaurant itself too… so why should I wait in line for food that is not up to the mark? But then, I hear things like “what about community”. And I see people fighting over the last chair available, if that means sliding your backside onto one when you see an older person waiting for it… really doesn’t warm me up to the community argument.
While that really isn’t the purpose of this discussion, the fact that this festival is just another regular food gathering is. To me, a festival is a celebration of sorts – something that encourages you not only to enjoy food, but to learn something from it or experience something new. I mean, wouldn’t it be great to walk into the festival and learn all about the various kinds of food available in Sindh? How one kind of biryani is different from the other? How, as Khurram points out in the video, a regular dish like sajji is made differently in every different city? Wouldn’t it be a tourist magnet if we hosted this festival yearly to boast about the culture of food in Pakistan? Wouldn’t it be great to walk in and show your friends that one particular stall that you can relate to most? I mean… churros really don’t ring the Pakistani bell in my mind. And besides, where do they even come from? What is the significance behind that dish? If you want churros, so be it, but tell me something about it!
I don’t mean to criticise the organisers or the event, it is a great endeavour – but is it enough of an endeavour? No. The organisers have set a precedent for massive food festivals to take place in Karachi. Imbuing the right flavours and the right ambience is our prerogative to take. Karachi has exhibited great enthusiasm when it comes to these festivals, but we need to make sure that they remain what we want them to be – a true celebration of food. For that we need to stop applauding restaurant-made pasta, pies and desserts and give a chance to the food that is prepared by small vendors and new players in the food market. To truly celebrate food, we need to make sure that food takes centre stage, not popular restaurants and eateries. Enough mass-produced churros and cheesecakes, let’s bring out the home-bakers and allow them to strut their stuff. No more mainstream desi food served by major local food labels, let’s rejoice in the essence of true Memon, Bohra, Sindhi, Parsi and Bihari cuisine. When Karachi Eats, it shouldn’t have to bore its taste buds with the same old stuff. When Karachi Eats it should indulge in a kaleidoscope of flavours and aromas that can truly satiate its appetite.
Bring the surprise element back – keep it interesting.
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