Food Debate: Karachi Vs Lahore Vs Islamabad

I love eating and enjoy food at every city. I agree that taste of food is very personalized and on the basis of my taste I should not give final verdicts about it. It’s simple that we compare the food scene of these big metropolitan cities because big cities eateries are compared worldwide and when you pay more and get bland food for triple the price it hurts. It would be only fair if we just compare the same food offered in different cities.

Taste is relative. Some people do not like the Karachi taste, some do not the Lahore one. Some don’t even like the Pakistani taste. That is why many restaurants from Karachi could not do better in Lahore, like Kababjees, Ginsoy etc and similarly Salt n Pepper not extremely popular in Karachi. Well a true foodie is who can enjoy all sort of food. Like there are many specialties of Karachi but on the other side there are 100’s of specialties of Lahore and Islamabad which you cannot find in any other city. I think every city has it’s own specialty which is matchless to other city. So in Karachi its nehari, Golan kabab, Biryani when you come Lahore you get paye bong, nan chana and when you be in Multan you get Bar B Q mutton chops. So every city has its own variety and taste to enjoy.

Karachi Food Scene

Karachi became the first metropolitan city of Pakistan. People of all ethnicity lived here since Pakistan came into existence and before. Karachi has had international exposure as another reason for their variety in food. When the partition happened, most of the famous Dehli food gharanas, that had been cooking since the times of the Mughals, moved to Karachi. Some went to Lahore but the majority migrated to Karachi, the famous Burns Road food is the best example of this. These people have been perfecting recipes for hundreds of years and many generations. Karachi has taste of Indian cuisines and they know how and what to mix. The people migrating from India had a higher economic status and therefore a developed food taste. And then they came from all over India so the variety of high quality was immense. Next as the food scene quickly developed the best cooks from all over Pakistan (the best from Lahore for example) all merged on Karachi, keeping already high standards still higher.

There are a lot of factors for this supremacy: Diversity.

The diversity. Karachi is way more multicultural than Lahore and every community brings its own cuisine to the table. Karachi being a multicultural city is the biggest reason for this supremacy. Karachi is very diverse. People coming from different areas of the country bringing their specialties. A city of 28 million people that caters to the needs of everyone and pushes the limit. The port being right here so everything arrives here first then goes to other cities. That has always been the case. I don’t think any other city can match the food in Karachi (be it fine dining or desi food). The diversity of people has fueled variety unmatched anywhere in Pakistan.

There are a lot of other reasons for Karachi Domination

I think Karachi Food scene is good because people in Karachi are more price conscious and discerning and therefore give the restaurants a hard time hence the evolution of eateries. With community living at its peak there is this “khoob sey khoob tar ki talash”, that’s why people in Karachi just roll up their sleeves and are in their respective eatery businesses to the max. That’s why you see quaint bakeries and eateries all around Defence, and the competition is fierce. Karachiites in my experience are way more competitive and care about value for money than Lahore. So the consumer in Karachi is more demanding and not as willing to settle for less.

The hype of Karachi food is more

Sheer scale of customer base means that there will always be a niche market for restaurants to explore and experiment with food. More innovation, better food and people’s palate develop with it to appreciate the new. And so businesses then focus on what sets them apart; quality of product and unmatched customer service, a great ambiance and the aesthetics are a part of it. When it comes to the employees working in these places, there is stronger work ethic as compared to Lahore, because of the multicultural society, and that’s the only way to survive. Larger customer base means more investment. Restauranteurs are investing more money than ever before in better equipment and staffing. Also, they’re researching more, travelling further to procure better ingredients. Competition breeds perfection, as they say.

Unmatched bun kebabs of Karachi

Second Karachiites don’t have any other entertainment; it’s either sea or food. I have seen my Karachiite friends going in swarms to kill their appetite. Altitude of Karachi (sea level) means that food needs less heat and cooking time which makes a huge difference in the taste of a dish!! Also, salt content in water (base for all cooking) makes it different. Food in Karachi is better there is no debate, places to look for: Kolachi, Okra, Nihari (Food Street Burns Road) and Kanteen by Khaadi.

Lahori Asian Fusion Eateries

Firstly, Lahore cannot get out of their comfort khaabey is the way to go. There is no sense of urgency there, ho jaye ga tussi fikar na karo. So the point is diversity is good. If Lahore is good at khaabey and Islamabad good at Northern areas cuisine, then we must accept it; and what we can do then is to do what sets us apart in providing an unmatchable customer service and focus on aesthetics. Education of the food entrepreneur is very much needed in Punjab.

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Karachi eateries usually maintain long term business and continued standards. Eatries in Lahore usually come and go; few leave their mark or can hold up against the competition. In Lahore, that’s not the case of cynicism therefore the eateries are make do mostly. Some are good, some are okay but they don’t experience the level of criticism that the Karachi ones get and therefore haven’t evolved to that level. No offence but I think Lahore has enjoyed too long a time the mughal era, and thats become part of our DNA. We are weaned off niharis and halwa puris in whatever surroundings (ambience? What is ambience?) so our palettes don’t readily accept new and delicate flavours. We like big and bold!

Islamabad High End Cafes

I don’t think Islamabad food can be generally categorized as WORST. It’s ones own preferences. Western food is generally bland. However, Islamabadis are clueless about spices and flavors. Savour for example. Who would call that a pulao. Savour is savour still. Islamabad, the capital, doesn’t have any local people all over Pakistan came over to populate it. So how come you expect a food tradition for a city as young as 50-60 year old. Eventually, Islamabad food will get better. Places to look for: Street1 Cafe, Roasters, Monal, Des Pardes at Saidpur, Kabul Restaurant, Tehzeeb, Ox and Grill, Burning Brownie, China Town F8,The Cheese Factor, Loafology, Two Broke engineers, Ginyaki, Habibi, Howdy’s, Kohinoor, BBQ Bazar, Soul, and Asian Wok.

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Why do you think that “eatery scene” of different cities has to match? When are we going to move past this constant comparison between cities? I hope after this post after all we have established Karachi due to the size of its customer base attracts the best cooking talent from all regions of Pakistan (Peshawari karrhai, Balochi Tikka, Dilli Nihari, Sindhi Biryani, Bihari kebab and so forth) making it the melting pot of yummiest cuisines from around the world.

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P.S.: Peshawar has very good specialties.  No variety so no confusion, typically 4 to 5 items and they make it best.

P.S.: Karachi people please admit that Lahoris know that there is a huge difference between pulao and biryani. Cut off those lame jokes.

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