Muhammad Patel: We bring smiles on faces of Karachi people
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Karachi is the largest town in Pakistan and one of the biggest in the world! It is also Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan city, most linguistically, ethnically and religiously diverse town, a busy seaport on the Arabian Sea and capital of the Sindh province! It is known as the City of Lights and it is – huge! The South Karachi is a diverse district, home to Saddar, Karachi's downtown area and centre of activity. Home to Karachi's tallest skyscrapers and much historical architecture.
Some of Pakistan's richest neighbourhoods, such as Clifton and Defence, are here, along with the iconic Karachi Railway Station. Many beaches, parks, museums, landmarks, colonial buildings, restaurants and hotels are in this district. East district is a mix of Karachi's
industrial heartland and white-collar office centre. There are some good museums along with many amusement and wildlife parks, and the major Karachi Airport. Malir district is the largest district of Karachi by area and is regarded as the countryside of Karachi City due to its open atmosphere and lush green farmland. It houses many of city's water amusement parks. The West is home to South Asia's largest slum and also one of the success stories of low-cost housing: Orangi Town. Large industrial parks are scattered through the district, along with the Port of Karachi in the Kemari area. West Karachi also has many beaches and islands, while Central district is primarily a middle-class area, it developed immediately after Pakistan's independence, due to a wave of immigration. Many of these migrants were refugees from the partition. Out of 15 million people living here, one is my friend Muhammad Patel. He works as a confectionary in Karachi and runs a small but successful family business. We talk with him about his town and gastronomy heritage of southern Pakistan.
Muhammad, we are in height of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam. Pakistan is a devout Muslim country and most people follow the fast since dawn until dusk. The fasting is broken with iftar, a traditional meal after the sunset. What are the iftar traditions in your family, what do you like to share at the family table?
First of all, I would like to thank you for making me a part of your website. I have many brothers, as you can see on the pictures above. Yes, it is Ramadan or in Urdu we say Ramazan, it is undoubtedly the holiest month of the year for us as Muslims, and yes, during Ramadan we fast. The fast starts after having a meal we call Suhoor, this year it takes place before 4:15 am, so we wake up very early, we get done eating and drinking whatever we want and brush our teeth so that our mouth remains fresh and there are no bits of food left in our teeth.
Then we break our fast at the time of sunset. Fast breaking meal is known as Iftaar. The Iftaar traditions are that the entire family sits together and break their fasts together. Traditionally we open our fast with a date, as it is a proscribed tradition or a sunnah. Usually, in iftaar we eat different types of snacks, mostly samosas (which is an easier version of sambosak) which are triangular-shaped deep-fried patties filled with spicy minced chicken or beef, and also a red syrup (sherbet) also known as RoohAfza which hydrates our body after a long day of fast. An iftaar is incomplete with a glass of RoohAfza! We like to share smiles, laughter, joy at a family table. Working day after day in our kitchen is sometimes a mess, especially when my brother tries to make some parathas or our common flatbread, as you can see here:
The cuisine of Karachi is strongly influenced by the city's Muhajir population, who came from various parts of India and settled primarily in Karachi after the independence of Pakistan in 1947. North Indian Muslims maintained their old established culinary traditions, including a variety of dishes and beverages. The Mughal, Awadhi, and Hyderabadi cuisine played an influential role in the making of local Karachi cuisine, having taste vary from mild to spicy and is often associated with the aroma. In the minds of Europeans, Pakistani food is very spicy! Which flavours do you personally like and which dishes would you recommend for all those fans of super-hot foods?
Indeed, Pakistani cuisine is very much influenced by either Indian food or Bangladeshi food. I am also a muhajir since my father’s background is from India and my mother’s background is from Bangladesh. And I am born and raised in Pakistan. Pakistani cuisines and especially Karachi culinary ways are very spicy. If you are coming to Karachi, you can’t miss eating Biryani since Karachi is known as a biryani capital of Pakistan which we’ll talk about it later. Other stuff you can’t miss includes Nihaari; it was initially a breakfast but now people enjoy it throughout the day. It is made with bone broth and a lot of spices along with some meat which is being cooked for hours.
In past time people used to have it for breakfast but since now people are getting more health-conscious they now have it either for lunch or for dinner. Haleem is Pakistani-style stew, with many spices, lemon juice and Julian ginger on top. Karhaai is a very famous dish here in Pakistan and very spicy it’s usually cooked over charcoals and you can see me cooking Karhaai for my friends recently.
Dastarkhawan is a traditional space where food is eaten, like a tablecloth spread on the ground. What is a typical dastarkhawan in your place? Did it change during the years or do you still stick to the old culinary ways of your grandparents?
Not a lot of people today still use dastarkhawan to have their meals. Now, most people have a dining table in their homes, also in my house as well, but when our family and friends come over for meals or if it is Eid or any other celebration, that then we spread dastarkhawan on the floor so that all the people can have their meal sitting together, talking about politics or having a conversation about food. Dastarkhawan itself is very interesting, they are very colourful and specially printed depending upon different regions of Pakistan with nice colourful patterns.
Karachi is often named as biryani capital of Pakistan. What is it in the love of Karachi people with biryani? According to your opinion, which biryani is best? Among different ones, Awadhi mutton biryani seems to be especially popular?
Give me biryani, biryani, and more biryani! If you roam randomly around streets of Karachi you’ll see uncountable stalls, restaurants and shops selling biryani and every single one of them, according to their advertisement, cook the best biryani. Every house has a different recipe of biryani. There are more than 30 thousand different recipes of biryani! Karachi People are so obsessed with biryani that if it is a celebration we make biryani if it’s someone’s birthday we make biryani if it’s a wedding we make biryani, if someone dies we make biryani! From cradle to the grave, we eat biryani! In Karachi, 45-55 per cent of people eat biryani daily and in 80 per cent of houses, biryani is cooked on Sundays. In Karachi, you can have a good biryani, better biryani, best biryani, but you’ll never have bad biryani experience!
When we travel, we like to taste also street food. Which street food of Karachi would you recommend?
There are a few very famous food streets in Karachi you must have to visit when in Karachi. We usually visit Burns Road, Hussainabad, and Boat Basin for really good street food!
Some famous street foods you need to try when in Karachi include Bun kabab (burger bun stuffed with kabab), Chicken Tikka (chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices), Gola Ganda (shaved ice drenched in raspberry, RoohAfza, orange, pineapple or ice cream soda flavour syrup), soft-serve ice cream, Halwa Puri (puri bread with chana masala or bhaji along with halwa), Chai Paratha (breakfast favourite of crispy pancakes with Pakistani cardamom tea), Haleem, Nihaari, Paaye (trotters cooked with various spices), Chargah (deep-fried chicken), Chana Chaat (chickpea snack), Pani Puri (or gol gappay, puri filled with a mixture of flavoured water, tamarind chutney, chilli, chaat masala, potato, onion or chickpeas). And, of course, biryani!
Sweets are your thing! Can you tell us how you became a confectioner and what are you specialising in? What are the dessert traditions of Karachi?
Sweets are my thing! However, I am not a sweet-tooth guy but I am a guy with sweet teeth! As a kid, I always wanted to own a cake shop so that I can eat cakes whenever I want. When I grew up, I started learning how to bake cake and baking became my hobby. After I graduated from high school, I wanted to become a pastry chef and persuade baking as a profession. But since my father owned a well-established garments business he wanted me to join his business. After so much of struggling and convincing my parents, they changed their minds and started supporting me and that was a turning point of my life. I never looked back as I started an online artisan cake boutique called Adams Patisseries and now we are a team of six bringing smiles on other people’s faces. Making cakes all day and every day is what we do! We’ve also been making designer wedding and birthday cakes, for which I am so proud!
Some Pakistani traditional sweets are Shahi Tukda (national sweet dish of Pakistan, made with ghee fried bread, thickened sweetened milk, saffron and nuts), Gajar ka halwa (carrot-based pudding made with carrots, water, milk and sugar), Gulab jamun (milk-solid based sweet), Rasmalai (made of milk, sugar and saffron), Rasgullah (milk sweet with flavoured sugar syrup), Rabri (sweetened milk dessert with cardamom or saffron); Kheer (pudding made of boiling milk and sugar with various ingredients, such as rice, broken wheat, millet, tapioca, sweet corn, and flavoured with coconut, cardamom, raisins, saffron, cashews, pistachios, or almonds).
Thank you, Muhammad, and good luck with your sweet business!