5 things my taste buds miss most about Karachi

Published: April 18, 2011

Brightly coloured gola gandas bring together tastes that you could never imagine mixing

A street side bun kebab is a delicious mix of local flavours Pani puri by the sea side is a classic Karachi treat Brightly coloured gola gandas bring together tastes that you could never imagine mixing Soft puris with warm sweet halwa and salty chanas are delicious Chilled milk with herbs in a 'botal'

For a foodie like me, London is sheer heaven when it comes to cuisine.

At every obscure corner is a hidden gastronomic gem: from mouthwatering dill ice cream served with Mackerel tartare, Burford Brown egg yolk and crème fraîche at Gordon Ramsay’s to red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing that melts in your mouth at Hummingbird’s; from perfectly seasoned soft shell crab and salted egg croquette fried dim sums at Yuatcha to crispy on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside fried fish served with chunky chips and yummy mushy peas at pubs.

However, indulgence in fancy foods pales in comparison when I think about all the gastronomic delights I have left behind in Karachi. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I will get an intense craving for garlic mayo fries from OPTP that will evoke yummy food memories left behind.

Here are five things my taste buds miss most about Karachi:

1. Meethi doodh ki botal (bottle of sweet milk) from Nagori Milk Shop

Lactose intolerant by choice not force, there is no bigger torment than milk forced upon me. When I was a kid, my mum used to force me to drink a glass of milk every morning which I would pour down the sink when she wasn’t watching. Even for a milk hater like me, the meethi doodh ki botal from Nagori Milk Shop was an absolute treat – especially on a hot summer’s day when my brother would pull up next to the shop and order us some bottles which the waiter would bring straight from the freezer.

The milk is infused and cooked with a secret recipe of herbs, spices and dry fruit to a point where it attains a thick, creamy texture and a slightly brown tinge. Some parts of the milk are crystallised into ice due to long exposure to cold in the freezer which made it absolutely refreshing – strongly recommended for a hot summer day.

2. Bun kabab from a roadside thela

There isn’t a specific theila I recommend because every time I’ve been hungry on the road and grabbed a quick bun kabab, it has always been delicious.

I think it’s a mix of the dirt beneath the fingernails of the thela wala combined with the summer sweat, hah! Hygiene aside, bun kababs are absolutely delicious – but only when bought from genuine theia walas and not from a place like Gazebo or Chatkharay.

My favourite is beef patty with aloo and anda – the savoury flavour of the kebabs, combined with the sharp spice of the green chutney and sickly sweet taste of cheap imitation ketchup create an explosion of taste in your mouth. You may regret it the day after when you’re visiting the toilet more frequently than you imagined if you have a weak tummy, but to me, every bite of that burger is worth it.

3. Halwa puri at Boat Basin

Waking up early on a weekend is never an easy task – but coupled with a promise of a halwa puri breakfast at Boat Basin, the offer becomes irresistible. Sitting on broken chairs and wobbly tables with flies buzzing around, you can feel the heat exuding from the large pans that they cook puris in – the experience itself is as big a part of the halwa puri delight as the flavours of the halwa puri itself. The puris are served hot and crispy and need to be eaten as quickly as they are served otherwise they become hard and cold – so takeaway is futile.

The halwa is sickeningly sweet, oozing with oil and the chanas are cooked to a point where they are so soft they will crush if you hold them gently between your fingers.

The way I love eating halwa puri is combing the chana and the halwa in one bite and eating in together with the puri. The sweetness of the halwa, combined with the saltiness of the chana and the savoury-ness of the puri creates the perfect combination to please even the most critical of palates.

4. Gola ganda at Dhoraji

I have tried gola gandas everywhere in the city but the fanciest ones I have ever found are the ones at Dhoraji.

These artistic creations combine crushed ice with Pakola and Rooh Afza flavoured syrups, cola flavoured fizz, condensed milk and cheap melted-chocolate topping.

Flavours that sound absolutely disgusting on their own combine to create a creation that is almost too gorgeous to eat – until you take that first bite, after that, there’s no stopping you till you’ve finished the entire thing. What I love about gola gandas is that no two bites ever taste the same because different syrups blend together in different combinations in the various ice crystals. When you’re done with eating the gola ganda, what’s left behind is an often dark brown coloured juice that looks disgusting enough to throw away but tastes absolutely gorgeous, the flavours come together to form an entirely new taste to a point where you can’t identify the individual flavours anymore.

5. Pani Puri at Sea View

I am sure there are places in Karachi that serve much better pani puri than the theilas at Sea View. I remember a particular one at Tariq Road once that left me drooling for more.

However, the reason my taste buds miss pani puri at Sea View more than anywhere else is not just the flavour. It’s the experience of trying to balance the plate on one hand while eating the pani puri with the other hand –your hair flying around as you smell the salty sea air and hear the waves crashing on the shore.

My favourite part about pani puri is the intense flavour of the paani – my mum would always tell me off for drinking it on its own, warning me of the sore throat that would follow – but I would always sneak in a few gulps when she wasn’t looking. Little crisp shells of flour filled with chickpeas and then dipped into that sauce are the perfect accompaniment to a gorgeous sunset by the sea.

I know there are many more things I have left out that I miss just as much, but I am unable to cover them due to space restrictions – including, but not limited to, chicken cheese garlic mayo rolls from Hot ‘n Spicy, roadside pappars served with chaat masaala sold by men carrying big bags of pappars over their bags, mixed chaat from Flamingo and mash ‘n bangers from Mash ‘n Bangers!

Oh, tastes of Karachi, how I miss you!


Kiran Farooque

A PR consultant in London who aspires to be a fashionista and a food critic.

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

  • http://wasiddiqui.com Wajeeha Asrar Siddiqui

    There are many things you would find no where on globe but in Karachi. Good street-side food is one of those. Recommend

  • parvez

    Good read and would have been even better if you had restricted yourself a little in your opening paragraphs which came off as a hoity toity strater to a bun kebab meal. Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    I would like to add a few items to that list, things I missed while I was a student in London

    Real Karachi Nihari, preferably the kind you get at Sabri in the old city, or Javed ki nihari near Moqa chowk. Even Nihari Inn, Zahid and Indus manage to do a decent job. In London, Ravi comes a decent close.
    Kebab Rolls from Hot n Spicy and/or Red Apple.
    Burns Road Food, including BBQ, Biryani and Haleem
    BBQ tonight, need I say anything more, lol
    Desi style ka Chinese Food, we all have our favourite little desi chinese joint in Karachi, whether it be Yuan Tung or China town
    Desi Pizza Variants at Pizza Hut, like Chicken Tikka Pizza
    Doodh Patti Chai at local pathan/quetta hotels, though Chatkharay in Elephant and Castle in London does a decent job with the doodh patti.

  • Zak

    what about Hot n Spicy’s chicken garlic mayo rolls? i used to travel (alone sometimes!) from my hostel in Gulshan to Khadda market almost twice a week on the safari bus in adverse weather conditions (caused by pathans) just to satisfy my addiction of those rollsRecommend

  • Noman

    Ahhhh….being way from Home! reading this sends tickles all over the tongue! Dont know if the above statement can actually be proven by medical experts though! The feel around these places have been captured very well, the taste may not be that great but coupled with the experience and memories, its unmatched!

    The unhygeinic sugarcase juice specially in Saddar is another thing I would add to my list!Recommend

  • irfan

    OHHHHH…Kiran,,as I went through your blog….i realized these are the same things I love and am missing….amazing reminder of those dirty yet delicious food…may be you have forgotten the amazing pakoras with green chutney during rainy season and doodh patti chae of pathans dhabaa….the kachori with its chutneys…like u said …all these roadside thelas will loose their essence if not cooked with the sweat and dirt of the ppl cooking them ;)Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Nice list but what about Nehari??Recommend

  • Patriot

    Sabir, Zahid, Javed, Tipu Bun Kabab the list will go on and onRecommend

  • Zeeshan Siddique

    Ohh Plzz stop after reading all of this I just cannot do any justice with my lunch (Tuna-mayo-baguette) :( Recommend

  • Faraz

    Hey EXCELLENT article! I was just crying for Karachi literally and found this article of yours! I remember going to Mohammad Ali society early morning with my family to have saag and puri bhaji from Ideal… must try.. and thn the great bun kabab of burns road and rehman/sajjad at tariq road. In my recent visit to Karachi, I even found khousay at Tariq road to be a nice serving place.. and then Sindhi Muslim Chowrangi and Hyder’s shakes and Pan from bahadurabad chowrangi and PIDC.. ah i miss it all! The lacchay dar parathay cooked to perfection at alamgir (bahdurabad) and the kabab place right opposite to it (with sada bahar lawn)… and burns road karhai and usmania’s white karhai.. and thn habib and sajjad in highway.. uff kia jagah hai karachi yaar qasam say..

    Miss my city and pray for peace and safety of ALL!!Recommend

  • Faraz

    yes Tipu.. and ofcourse karhai of ganj pahar in Nazimabad!Recommend

  • Haris

    Oh man ask me its been 5 years since I’ve been to karachi. I miss Biryani he most he it cost n arm and a leg to get plate in Ottawa and its not even a shade of Student or Mazydar’s


  • Biryani Qorma Sheermal

    Let’s not forget Student’s Biryani, any Thelay ka Haleem, Silver Spoon’s Kabab Rolls, a well-made khusbhoo-ilaichi paan, Bahadurbad ki chaat and cone, Hanifia’s burgers, Meerut or Bundu Khan’s kababs, KB’s icecream, Harvest’s biryani, big glass of Lassi, Bombay Bakery’s cakes, achaar from Hyderabad colony, etc. Now back to work!Recommend

  • Asad Baig

    Excellent and Mouth Watering Article.Recommend

  • Tamoor Azhar

    i like halwa puri & gola best of list…lots Recommend

  • Sara

    Well-written! The writer has done a great job in capturing the feel around the places where you go to eat the above mentioned items. The food you get in Karachi is unmatched! Regardless of what you’re eating and where, its an experience in itself.
    Ohh how I miss Karachi even more…How do I get back to work now after reading this…sigh…cant wait to visit again Inshallah! Recommend

  • Asad

    I love and miss the food delights of Karachi (and Lahore also!) and miss the buffets in Karachi hotels with hundreds of dishes and scores of sweat dishes..all to end with a wonderful paan (Betel Leaf!!) Not to forget the road side Samosas, Bun Kebabs, Rolls, Jalebis, Javed Nihari, Water Pump’s Kebab Paratha and halwa puri weekend breakfasts!! ufff..my mouth is watering..
    In London also, once I was having dinner with friends in Southall and saw the ‘anand paan shop’ and remembered Karachi days of eating paan and wiping the hands behind your hair!!! Recommend

  • http://kirannazish.wordpress.com Kiran N

    Yes, yes, yes. Great list Kiran

    the burns road and the boat basins…. Karachi rocks.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Aloo Puri at Boat Basin is kinda clean… if you are up for real street food… go to Ranchorr Line… XD

    There is chat at Newtown… Karachi is like street-food capital of the world I think…Recommend

  • J

    I should not have read this article. Now I cant think of anything else other than the cheap yet delicious food in Karachi. I loved to eat Javed Nihari, Paneer Handi from Boat Basin, Highway Karhai, Biryani from Student Biryani and Food Center, Kabab Fry from Burns Road, Mixed Katakat (cooked in butter) from Hussainabad, Club Sandwich from Kaybees, Halwa Puri from the small shops in front of Tusso (Bahadarabad) and near Mukka Chowk (Azeezabad), BBQ from BBQ Tonite and a very old shop in Laloo khait, Gola Ganda from Dhora ji, and Desi Chinese from China Town and Little China.

    It is impossible to get this type of food in America!Recommend

  • Maria

    Sounds mouth watering !!!! Hope you make it home soon to enjoy the food. I get my fix whenever I travel home.Recommend

  • Muhammad Farooq

    Although i am not a roadside food lover but the way you have written/described the taste, i felt all those taste in my mouth..I must say very well written.Recommend

  • Zubair

    Reminiscent of the great taste! All of these are near my home in Bahadurabad :DRecommend

  • Mehroz Ali

    I am wondering how can you not like Falooda :PRecommend

  • Valeed

    And Kachorian ! Class Apart ! Recommend

  • AD

    Don’t write such articles ..this is food terrorism …….my mouth is full of juicy water.Recommend

  • mariam k.

    hAELEEEEEM……………………. and falsey….Recommend

  • Tehmeena Rizvi

    what an amazing article truely mouth watering n the list of food items is impossible to count it just goes on n on n on exteremely proud n honour to be a Karachieet !Recommend

  • Fazal (Moscow)

    delicious all the way..!!! can’t wait to visit next monthRecommend

  • http://billaytoot.wordpress.com Bilal

    ” cheap imitation ketchup create an explosion of taste in your mouth.” haha..good one.. I like Meethi Puri and those chips that u get at boat basin by lala in 10 rupees..Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    Paani Puri at SEAVIW?you got to be kidding meRecommend

  • http://www.fm91.com.pk Jameela

    For the best in culture, see: http://twitter.com/#!/FM91_RADIO1.Recommend

  • Ravaba

    really nice piece ..i really enjoyed while reading it .but yeah must say you forgot to add the pan walas ,charts , nehari , haleem they are also worth missing by your taste buds :)Recommend

  • lost

    Tears rolled out when I read this article, I love you Karachi.With thy all faults I still love thee.Recommend

  • R.B

    Agree on all the others. Just can’t agree on the pani puri at sea view. Its terrible. The smell of gasoline is overpowering for some odd reason.Recommend

  • http://ibteda.wordpress.com Sadaf Baig

    Haye, kia yad dila diya. :) No place like Karachi when it comes to food.Recommend

  • http://www.mbakhan.com M B A Khan

    Yeah… I would’ve loved it if you added Hot N Spicy ke roll… :DRecommend

  • http://www.pkhope.com Maleeha Khan

    awww miss karachiii ….. :( buh where is the student birayniii :p :p Recommend

  • bushra

    Its like a jail when in manchester i feel the craving for exactly khi’s typical foods:-((Recommend

  • http://www.noor-ul-ainhanif.blogspot.com Noor-ul-ain Hanif

    wat a mouthwatering post!! :PRecommend