All Hail Lady Rina and Her Kitchenette

It had been months! The man in shinning Ray-Ban wasn’t budging. I needed to dress up, look sharp and be swept off to a nice dinner but his definition of a dinner date has been changed to ‘Netflix and Chill’ or rather ‘Torrents and Take Out’ and there’s nothing one can do about it except wait for the internet bundle to run out. And when it did run out, I slipped on my new Mango tee (that’s as dressed up as I’ll ever be) and he pulled out his Toms. Off we went to Rina’s Kitchenette (the one on Main Boulevard).

There’s much to be said about pretentious dinning in Lahore but I’d rather keep my mouth zipped here. Walk into one of the more upscale restaurants and when you find Drake blazing out of the speakers as you fiddle with your fork and knife,  you’ll know what I’m talking about. Rina’s Kitchenette was a different story.

We found ourselves seated on a communal table with nice plush bar stools, no wooden seat corners digging into my thighs, no back aching, no staring back at K in sheer awkwardness. It was an informal and yet comfortable seating with a fun and casual vibe. K ordered Chicken Schnitzel and I went for Aglio E Olio. Simple comfort food cooked to perfection. His was golden and crisp and came with fresh home made bread. Mine was hearty and wholesome and tasted even better the next day. The dessert, the dessert, the Nutella Caramel cake slice! We dug into it with our tiny teaspoons satiating a desire we didn’t know of before! And I have kept going back for it again and again. Lazy K’s skeptical, I wouldn’t be able to hold off the weight I lost over the past couple of weeks but trust me! If I end up leaving Lahore, I’d be bummed I didn’t have my cake and eat as much of it as my heart desired!

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The first time we went to Rina’s Kitchenette, we were too engrossed in the food to snap a few pictures for the blog. Making do with this one from the second visit!

PS. Someone pray the internet bundle runs out again! There’s this Smash Burger that everyone’s been talking about! Man in Shinning Ray-Ban, are you listening?

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Baingan Bharta

For K, if he ever decides to cook by himself

Plop those eggplants on the stove. Good ole desi gas stove. No! You don’t need to take out a wok. Just plop ’em on the stove and let them burn.

Now get back to the Shamsie novel you have been reading for the nth time. Cuttle fish, ink, Karachi..

How different is it from Lahore?

Put Kartography down and pick up Moth Smoke.

Never mind, get back to the stove! See how heat has pierced into the skin, aging it in just a few minutes. Turn the eggplant over. Get back to Moth Smoke now.

How did you ever not know of Dara Shikoh? Don’t worry. I learned history through fiction. Thin line..

It’s time to take those eggplants off the stove and let them cool. At this point, they should be beautifully burnt. God! Alliterations I come up with…

My former literature teacher would shake her head!

Use your fingers or fork to peel off the skin. Ditch the fork like I did, you did. I now dive in with my pregnant fingers. Have I never told you about fingers being pregnant. Curvy bones sticking out from the back. Like bellies protruding.. Analogies..Similes..

My former literature teacher would slam her laptop shut at this point.

Sigh.

Mash the pulp. Beautiful golden yellow pulp. See the seeds. What beauty! Make sure you remove every inch of the purple turned black skin from the pulp.

Keep mashing. At this point, you can either chop up some tomatoes, onions and hari mirch, throw in some cumin powder, sprinkle in lemon juice all into the pulp and call it a day or..

You may light up the stove again, brown some onions and hari mirch. Add in tomatoes and coriander powder, garam masala powder, paprika, salt, turmeric powder and cumin powder. Stir it all in. Keep stirring. Let it all just melt into each other.

Add in some water. Keep stirring. Now throw in the pulp. Keep stirring, coating the pulp in the red spicy masala mess that you just created. Now empty out half a cup of yogurt. Stir it. Mix it. Let it cook for ten minutes.

Turn off the heat.

Baingan Bharta!!!

PS. As you know, I don’t know measurements. I start with a pinch of salt here, a teaspoon full of paprika. I keep tasting. Tweaking the gravy as I go. A little more here, a little less there.

Its all about intuition.

Sing as you cook..

A Toasty Affair with Jade Cafe

Watch out, vegan mommy! It ain’t a vegan-friendly post! 

While visiting me in NY one winter, E asked me if I could make french toast for breakfast. Sure. No rocket science there. You whisk some milk, eggs and sugar. Soak a sad little piece of bread in the mixture and throw it into the pan! VIOLA!  Now cover all that burnt taste with some maple syrup! Gourmet breakfast, eh?

Needless to say, Tenzin had to cook eggs for him and I tossed out the toasts! Never after that did I want to see, eat or cook french toast! Never!

And then one night (you saw it coming, didn’t you?), K and I stumbled out of China Town and saw the most beautiful french toast we’d ever laid our eyes upon in Jade Cafe. It was the first time we’d tried szechuan fish and we’d exhausted our tummies so we headed home without honoring the desires tingling on our tastebuds.

But we came back, honey! We came running back for breakfast the very next morning!

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All in love with Jade Cafe’s french toast!

Whoever said anything about sticking to traditional sloppy french toast?!  Look at that bread. Crisp, golden and soft! Look how it parts its lips right in the middle for those boozy shots of cream cheese. Bite into that. The world is beautiful when there is just the right amount of sweet. Who needs maple syrup when you have cream cheese?

Ever since, we’ve returned multiple times. Banoffee pie waffles aren’t something to miss out on. I would skip most omelets and order the mediterranean one. Funky feta and olives just give it that extra kick and moisture that rest of the omelets on the menu miss.

Jade Cafe isn’t a place you’d want to take your favorite novel to and read while you eat. It’s the place where you take a wandering mind on a Sunday morning. Look at those walls! Just keep looking, keep reminiscing, keep noticing….

Jade Cafe, Lahore
We eat a lot!

BYOB – Lahori Definition!

Caution: Vegan mother do not proceed! I bolted my door shut, turned the volume up. There was no way I was going to let summer in. It was going to give up and go away if I just let it keep rapping the door. But boy was I wrong? The determined little thing barged in with a blow and a dust storm, enveloping me in a whirlwind of the tamasha it brings! I got carried away… Floral lawn prints sprawled the billboards. I heard of one day exhibitions where women trampled one another to get their hands on pieces of cloth that remind you of diagrams in botany textbooks. N asked me to accompany her to one of these exclusive lawn exhibitions just for fun but the prospect of being squished between aunties showered in Channel No.5 and Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door nauseated me. I hopped on the rickshaw to liberty instead in pursuit of halwa puri and choolay. And this my lovelies is where I tell you that this city only knows extremes. Just inhale in the stink in Liberty’s alleys. It reminds me of a theory a fellow Confused Desi formulated as we witnessed passengers from a PIA flight set foot in Canada at the Toronto Pearson Airport:

There are no deodorant isles in Pakistani supermarkets!

Negate me all you want but darlings! Seriously? Don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Use that stick/roll on! There is a reason why it was invented. Show some mercy because this heat isn’t going to! Heat! Ah! The Tamash-been! Load-shedding! Dust Storms! Body Odors! Lawn Exhibitions! Its one big tamasha, I tell you. I should expect the next three months to be like a crazy roller coaster ride. However, I’m the optimistic one! I am anticipating mangoes and monsoons, although I hear that summer really is melodramatic here just like the triple patty hamburger I had the other day. I am talking fresh ground beef balled and flattened into patties, grilled to juicy perfection and stacked one on top of another; A promiscuous slice of melting cheese binding them together. Drama! Drama! Melodrama! Jalepanos, Salsa, sautéed onions! You are the king here, my friend! You choose what you want in your hamburger! You Build Your Own Burger. Literally! They hand you little cards with pencils so that when you are done feeling all gleeful and childish, you can check all those boxes next to ingredients that tickle your tastebuds.

The check boxes allow you to practice control over the number of patties you want, call the shots on the goodies that should be stacked between the buns and pick the kind of bun that entices you!

The irony of it though is that Outpost BYOB (where they nurture your inner control freak) is located on the same road that houses the university (LSE) that dictates your wardrobe. No shorts on campus! YES! This means you bear summer in this near equator city in thick denim. Yes, yes! I know summer isn’t kosher without shorts but this is Pakistan, my lovelies! And hear me out before you dial your dealer’s number. BYOB stands for Build Your Own Burger! What were you thinking? Lahore swapped laws with Istanbul?!

Lahore’s New Invention: Chocolate Naan

Sometimes I feel I am living one of those hollywood movies based in small towns where apparently everyone knows everyone and about everything that’s happening in the town. Am I comparing Lahore to a small town? No, sir. DHA alone can be marked off as a city. Lets not forget the Post-Thokar ‘societies’.  I am thinking one day Lahore would have its own five boroughs. How very neat! Except there won’t be a real ‘metro’ system even by then and to connect all the five boroughs there would be a gazillion more underpasses.

But underpasses or not, Lahore would continue to be the kid who can’t hold any secrets. Everyone would  continue to know about everything that is happening in the town. You’d have to log onto Facebook to catch the live updates and breaking news just like these days. Never mind, City42. Their flash lines usually read one liners on couples being caught on dates at different public spots.

So it was only natural that before K knocked on my door with a  surprise wrapped in a newspaper, I had already heard of the naan that is the talk of the town these days.

Rumor had it that a shop in Model Town Extension (the city is full of towns and the towns have extensions. Confusing, right? I still can’t get my head around the map) was selling a naan. It wasn’t until I had it that I realized what was so special about this particular naan.

Humbly wrapped in a newspaper, the naan bears seeds (I’d like to say sesame) on the crust. Tear off a small piece of the desi pita and your fingers would be smothered in thick Nutella. Lick it off. Bite into the piece and you’ll find out what its like when east meets west. The nutella filled naan is a beautiful invention.

Since K doesn’t believe in the miracle Steve Jobs created (thus, his phone doesn’t support a good camera) and my iPhone is missing in action,  I’m borrowing a picture of the naan from a friend for you lot:

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And for those of you who still haven’t devoured the naan, hop off to ‘Maro Tandoors’ in Model Town right now and ask for their ‘Chocolate Naan’ .

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Somebody please teach Madeeha from Savaree the art of  taking decent photos. 😉

Hot Chocolate in Lahore!

If there is one thing I love about winters other than the Christmas festivities, it is hot chocolate. Not that I refrain from having hot chocolate during the summer months but winters just make it kosher. Yes, I am talking extra chocolate-y hot chocolate with a dollop of coconut or regular whipped cream on top. Starbucks! I miss you. In my pursuit of hot chocolate, I ventured out to the only decent coffee place I have come across in Lahore: Mocca. Decent because they make my drinks just right. Soy hazelnut latte with extra hazelnut syrup and just half a shot of espresso. Black and white mocha with extra white chocolate and yes! you guessed it right.  Half a shot of espresso. Its simple, really. Most places here still don’t get it. The folks at Mocca do. I like Mocca for its simple Scandinavian design, great coffee (K swears by it), power outlets (Starbucks style) and a lovely rooftop. I should mention here that the aeropress coffee here is beautiful. Of course you shouldn’t take my word for it. I go for half shots of espresso. But K! Now he takes his coffee seriously. He loves his coffee black. He loves those extra shots of espressos even when they are a little diluted in Americano. He loves Mocca for the caffeine only. I would agree with him here.The food at Mocca isn’t good. Very bland. Not even worth a try. The deserts either unless its the scrumptious nutella cake. That too is overly priced. I’d say hop over to Delicatessen next door and order their banana and nutella crepe instead. The best crepe in town. But then Mocca isn’t meant for serious food to begin with. Not even sandwiches. Its a cafe and unlike the cafes in Toronto (I miss Chabichou) or anywhere else in the world, cafes in Pakistan don’t get their sandwiches right. By the way, I love sandwiches. And soup. And bread. Baguette to be exact. Le Pain’s hummus on levain with vegan organic soup. O! Take me home, back to Le Pain and Chabichou and my mom! *Sighs* Back to hot chocolate and Mocca for now. Mocca makes pretty decent hot chocolate. They just don’t brighten up the day with whipped coconut or regular cream. They don’t carry it. They serve Belgium chocolate steamed in soy or regular milk. If its a chilly Sunday afternoon and you have chanced upon Tariq Ali’s ‘Night of the Golden Butterfly’, force yourself out of bed and go to Mocca. Read away, drink away.

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Excuse my poor photography skills. Yes, I venture out in flip flops even in the November chill.

I will be on the look out for better hot chocolates in the city but I don’t have my hopes up in the air really. After all, K has been here his entire life and he is yet to come across a better cafe. Mocca is the best coffee shop we’ve both been to in Lahore. Try Mocca just for the coffee and the ambiance. Not for the food. How do you like your coffee? Any favorite coffee shop in Lahore?

Udon House, Lahore: A Treat to the Tastebuds

(Caution! Vegan mother and vegan readers please refrain from proceeding further)

And its Friday, finally! Finally! How patiently and intently I have been waiting for the long weekend ahead. I have things lined up: a DIY project I saw on Pinterest, a trip to the landa (Flea market of Lahore), tea time and chess with neighbors and a date at Udon House with Nida. I really need that heart to heart session with her. Too much to be unloaded off the chest and  Udon House is the perfect place to do that. At least for us.

The restaurant has four tables. You heard me right! Just four small tables! The idea, I have been told was for the customers to come, eat and leave fast but boy! Did that idea flop?! It flip flopped and finally sploshed on the floor with a big thud! A select few people make up the regular clientele and they like long lunches and exaggerated dinners(despite the small tables and chairs) that last long into almost midnight. The restaurant closes at eleven, you see.  The owners have a life too. They can’t be cooking food all night. That’s right! The owners, a Korean couple, cook their native food for you right then and there. There are no other cooks, no  hired chefs. Nobody else. Just the couple. No, actually there is one more person: the server. Now this server is someone who knows the value of a good smile in the customer service business. He is happy, smart and fast. The food he puts on your table though makes you forget everything else. The food! O! I am telling you the wait’s worth it! Trust me!

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And that my lovelies is a bowl of seafood soup! I was too greedy to stop and take a picture when my seafood soup first arrived. Spicy Seafood Udon to be exact. Udon is the word for freshly made noodles in Korean. The rest of the name is pretty self explanatory. Squids, clams, shrimps, mussel and fish set afloat on a bed of noodles make up the yummiest of soups these taste buds have ever savored! So much goodness in one bowl! Just the right blend of spices and sauces! Nothing more, nothing less! And did I tell you about the kimchi that comes with it? The probiotic I discovered in the aisles of Whole Foods back home in the States, ends up fresh with my meal whenever I go to Udon House. Kimchi is basically cabbage fermented in a spicy Korean sauce. You can get the kimchi that came as a side dish with your meal at Udon House replaced again. And again. Don’t be shy. You can ask  the server for it just one last time! Again! Ah! Culinary genius, healthy bacteria! What more could one possibly ask from life?!

The thing I love most about Udon House is that the restaurant is one of the few places in town that serve beef based dishes, mostly. There is one chicken item on the menu and one vegetarian. Most other eateries serve dishes that mainly constitute of chicken and the healthy food advocate in me will not touch broiler chicken at any cost.

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Yes! Thats chicken! Spicy Chicken Udon. And no! Thats not mine. I just told you about my vow. No, no no! There are no cheat days

Let me mention here that the meat at Udon House comes from Zenith. Zenith I have learned is the best place to get your meat from. I still haven’t tried it so won’t comment on it but Nida says its clean meat. I trust her. O! I trust her! She introduced me to Udon House. My love affair with Korean food started because of her. The squids, the bibimbap (Nida’s favorite), the bulgogi and and the bulgogi soup! How much I love this food! I feel as if I was a Korean in my previous incarnation but we have already established, Tenzin (old roommate) and I, that I was a Tibetan in my previous incarnation. Maybe I was Korean in the one before it. Maybe. You never know.

Whats your favorite eatery in Lahore? Have you been to Udon House? How was your experience?