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Lahore Eateries of the Sixties

Lahore Eateries of the Sixties

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Published by: zchoudhury on Oct 19, 2010
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Lahore Eateries of the Sixties
 Ziauddin Choudhury 
In the fall of I964 three of us friends landed in Lahore, Pakistan, as part of PakistanGovernment’s student exchange program between the two wings. We were among ten orso students selected from then East Pakistan to study in different academic institutions inLahore. We three—Shafiq, Tawfiq, and I—were destined for the Punjab University for ourgraduate studies, albeit in different subjects. Our common bond was, however, a friendshipfrom our young days, and our common alma mater—the Dhaka University, where we haddone our undergraduate studies. But an overriding bond all through the years had been ourlove for food, particularly for Shafiq and me. With Shafiq leading, and myself in tow (andoccasionally Tawfiq), we would venture into the new city to indulge in our love for food andeateries that we discovered through our friends in Lahore or sometimes through sheerserendipity. The eateries of the sixties in Lahore may not be there anymore, but thememory of the food they purveyed still exists; I can even smell the aroma after fourdecades.Our first introduction to the food of the historic city came through street foods, moreprecisely through breakfast foods eaten by the denizens of old Lahore, commonly known asthe walled city. The walled city, or the inner city, dating back to Mughal days, had thirteenentrance gates or Darwazas, the most famous of which were Bhatti Gate, Mochi Gate,Shahalami Gate, Lahori Gate, and Delhi Gate. The gates that served as control points forentry to the city in olden days later became concentration points of sellers of consumeritems, particularly food vendors. Our first introduction to street food in the walled city nearBhatti Gate was breakfast sold in one corner of the Gate. The most common items wereparatha fried in pure ghee, paya (beef trotter soup), and gazar (carrot) halwa cooked inmilk and ghee. This came along with lassi and milk tea. The parathas and the paya weremade in open fire, right in a shack near the sidewalk, and people lined up from early
morning to savor the offerings. We devoured the food offered in enamel ware with greatdelight completely ignoring the insanitary environment where the food was being preparedand health hazards the food posed. These artery busting foods were the most popularbreakfast items that period in inner Lahore.Our next street food venture would be fried fish, believe it or not. This happened becausethe chap, a newly found Punajbi friend from our hostel, believed that for us Bengalis fishwas a staple, and he wanted us to know that Lahore was the place for fish. The places thatour friend took us for fish were Mozang Chungi, and Gowalmandi—both near the famousAnarkali bazaar. Of the two, Gowalmandi was the most famous place for street foods (and Ibelieve it still is). The fish that we ate in both places was known as Punjabi fish—largeslices heavily spiced and deep fried. The fish was served in paper plates piping hot.After acknowledging our gratitude to our friend for sating our hunger for fish (because hethought so), we asked his indulgence to delve into other culinary delights that Gowalmandihad to offer. To indulge in those delights which were countless, we would make weekendforays to the Gowalmandi food street. Among the heavenly delights that we discoveredwere boti kababs made of kaleeza and gurda (liver and kidney), chapli kebab (coarseground beef patti spiced with chili and onions), chicken tikka, nihari (made with lambshanks), and fruit chat. The entire street (as also other streets in Lahore) would also belittered with the ubiquitous juice stands. Typical among the juices were Malta (orange) juice, Anar (pomegranate) juice, and sugar cane juice. The juice was freshly squeezed forevery order and served in opaque glasses. One glass of orange juice was half a rupee only!The first restaurant that we visited after our arrival in Lahore, however, was Cheney’s LunchHome, a place near Anarkali Bazar, not too far from the Punjab University Old Campus off Mall Road. It was the second day of our arrival, and three of us had gone to Anarkali Bazarto buy some clothing and basic supplies for our hostel living. The Bengali friend who took usfor shopping was somewhat senior to us in Lahore experience (he had been to Lahorebefore), and when he suggested the name of the restaurant for lunch we took it to be aChinese restaurant. (He had pronounced Cheney’s as “Chinese”.) To our dismay, (but todelight later with the food that we ate), we found that the dig served local food. We hadbrain curry, chicken korma, lamb kofta, and tandoor bread for lunch. What a delicious lunchthat was! We thanked our friend, and ourselves that the place did not turn out to be aChinese restaurant. We would return to the restaurant whenever we could.In no time we would discover that Lahore had many more restaurants than we had seen inDhaka, some of which were actually were beyond our reach. Of necessity we had to limitour food and eateries exploration to the ones near our reach, and food of Gawalmandi andMozang Chowk. But soon we tired ourselves of kabab and street food, and were longing forsome rice and curry that were really a rarity in Lahore those days. In the campus mess hallour daily menu consisted of roti and some badly cooked meat lost in a heap of vegetablemash and covered with flowing oil. Again, our Punjabi friend Shafqat came our rescue (towhom we had actually stuck like satellites).Two restaurants that he took us to in search of rice and curry were Rachna and ShezanOriental—both near the Old Punjab University campus. Rachna had fixed price menus at
three levels. The lowest, priced at two rupees, offered a vegetable, a lamb curry, and ricecooked with butter (ghee). The most expensive dish priced at five rupees —pompouslycalled Sultani Lunch—offered a shami kabab, a chicken curry, a lamb curry, rice and apudding. My friend Shafiq was a frequent patron of this eatery.Shezan Oriental was slightly more expensive, and it was patronized by the intellectuals of Lahore (poets, college professors among them). It had a long menu, all very appetizing.Our special focus was always on getting some rice (again cooked in butter), and somecurry. The lassi of Shezan was out of this world.The fancy restaurants of our time that period, however, were all located in Upper Mall Road.The names that immediately come to my mind are Shezan Continental, Gardenia, andLords, which catered to a more wealthy and deep pocketed clientele. All the restaurantswere air conditioned, and very elegantly furnished. The food was a mix of continental andPakistani cuisines. It is not that we did not set foot in those upscale digs. Once in twomonths or so we would visit one of these establishments and blow away about a quarter of our monthly allowance indulging in the extravagance. Shezan Continental had its specialtysandwiches and its signature soft drink--house made fresh lime. Sometimes we wouldorder only a glass of chilled fresh lime (costing only a rupee), and hold on to it for an hourof air conditioned comfort. Gardenia was more expensive, and I think we went there onlytwice. Food was mainly continental, with eye popping prices. Lords was a tea time favoriteof Lahore intellectuals. The most notable among the accompaniment for tea there was itsconfectionery that included various pastries, and patties of chicken or lamb.This tribute to Lahore eateries would not be complete without paying homage to the TuckShop (food stall) in the backyard of our Hostel in the New Campus near Ravi canal. CalledShezan Sentimental by my friend Shafiq, the place was run by a father and son fromPeshawar. This was the only place for breakfast or snacks within a mile of our newlyconstructed hostels. A typical breakfast was an egg omelet spiced with onions and red chilipepper, buns, and tea that had been brewing in open fire for hours along with thick buffalomilk. Considering the price and the value it offered for money the Tuck shop was a godsendto us that time.Much, much later in early nineties in a visit to Lahore I tried to locate the eateries of ouruniversity days there. Most had disappeared including the famous Shezan Continental andthe pricey Gardenia. There was no trace of the less expensive digs in Lower Mall that wehad frequented either. And gone of course was the Khan Family Tuck Shop—which actuallywas originally built to feed the construction workers of the New Campus!! The food streetwas intact, however, and it had more vendors than our time, with kababs galore. Butsomehow I missed our Rachna, Cheney’s Lunch Home, and of course the dirty dishes of theKhans.
Ziauddin Choudhury is a frequent contributor to the Forum Magazine and Daily Star Op-Ed  page. He lives and works for an international organization in the USA.

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