Everyone has heard. Karachiites find it difficult to settle in Lahore. 20 years, 10 years, five years, the hole in their heart is never filled. It’s not a superiority thing, which Lahoris believe it is. It’s because they don’t fit in even if they try to. Some succeed and become unrecognizable to their childhood friends. Most live their lives in Lahore, yearning for aloos in their biryani.
For Karachiites, biryani isn’t just about comfort food. It’s the smell of home on Sundays, it is the big silver daigs being brought into every mayyun, mehndi, and shaadi, the big plate with your favourite piece of meat, two aloos or more, rice with heaps of masala, raita, a good movie, eaten and watched in bed after a really long day. It’s home.
Food is synonymous with home. No matter where we live, when we are homesick we turn to food that makes us relive the place, and the memories we miss. If you live in hostels, or work abroad, you will ultimately call your mother to ask how to make daal chawal, and if you feel courageous enough to try, biryani. It won’t taste just like home but it might come close.
Five years on, I have yet to find the perfect biryani in Lahore. And I’ve tried almost all of them, in search for a piece of home. Two have come close, but perhaps it’s because I forced them to in my mind. But that was also more than enough for a few minutes.
I tried Karachi Naseeb Biryani at least 10-15 times. They have aloo, I was proudly told. The name suits the biryani. It is in your naseeb if you will find biryani that comes close to Karachi’s. And also one branch.
I’m told the oldest branch of Karachi Naseeb Biryani is the one that between McDonalds and Main Market in Gulberg. And that’s the one to try. The first few times I had the biryani from other branches and it was mostly the happy color yellow, mixed with white rice, aloo and chicken. The biryani looked glum, painted happy, depressed inside, lonely pieces floating around and never coming together. Then came the night when the right box arrived from the right branch. Yellow mixed with masala, aloo bukharas two aloos and masala stuck in between the nooks and crannies of the seena piece. Yes, please. It wasn’t Karachi but it was so painfully close. Eaten too fast, the moment was over too soon.
Karachi Kanteen came to Lahore with a bang. We were all talking about it. Anda Shami, chicken rolls and what, Sindhi biryani? Life was going to be complete, I just knew it.
The first time I had Karachi Kanteen, I went to heaven. I was home, I was at a wedding, I was at a friend’s house, I was everywhere I yearned to be. The biryani was perfect. The masala, the sticky aloo bokharas, those elaichis that add so much flavour but are quickly caught and pushed aside, it tasted like the heart of Sindh. It was one of my happiest nights in Lahore because life was about to change.
It didn’t really change though. The biryani was ordered four, five times, eaten at food festivals, tried over and over again. It was never the same. It was almost as if it had given up and blended into the Lahori palao biryani. Or it liked to fit in and decided it had taken a different route in life. Whatever the reason, it was never the same again. It made me angry, I’ll admit. It wasn’t supposed to do that.
There were many that came and went. Happy spoons going in, leaving dejected and hopeless. Some came with kababs, put on top of the rice like a pity crown, as if the kababs were a consolation prize for something that just wasn’t going to do it.
A worthy mention is a home-based company whose owner I met at a restaurant as I told my tale of sorrow for the umpteenth time. He said his family made biryani for delivery and he would send me some. I accepted his offer, not thinking that he would. He did and it came in a big container with green chutney. Rakh Rakhao’s biryani came on a day I needed it the most. I opened the box which revealed biryani that wasn’t just coloured yellow but had streaks of orange as well. I examined the rice and found it to be full of masala. The aloos seemed perfectly cooked, the chicken, glad to be stuck to the rice. My interest was further piqued by the presence of lemon slices, which very few people do. I dove in and it was good. I nimbled it with my fork, broke away the chicken pieces and mixed it with green raita, when my heart really wanted the white wala. The biryani was good but tasted mostly of lemon and the masala wasn’t perfect. But there was masala, which made it more biryani than others.
I came home, with my biryani box in tow forvsome time alone. I was hungry, I opened the box and took out the biryani, heated it up and made some white raita. Discarding the spoon, I started eating it with my hands, watching a movie on Netflix. And for a few moments, the biryani raised the bar and started to come home. It wasn’t perfect but then life for a Karachiite in Lahore hardly is. But it came close and that, is good enough.