Thursday, June 13, 2013

Karachi Home Cooking

Food was one of the highlights of my trip to the Sindh province. Living with a family for five days, I knew I was going to have the privilege of sampling some delicious home cooking. For that reason, I didn't make a list of foods I wanted to try in Pakistan, I would just try whatever was given to me.

The family I stayed with in Karachi was Hindu, so their diet consisted of more vegetables than a typical Pakistani diet. Meat was something we really only ate for dinner, and it was always chicken. With all the delicious vegetables, most of which are not even available in the U.S., I didn't miss meat at all.

One element that surprised me of the overall Pakistani diet, was how much bread people consume. I had been under the assumption that India and Pakistan were rice cultures, but bread is the more common filler in most meals. We only ate rice once a day, and it was during dinner.

In the mornings we ate bread, called a rotti, which is similar to a thick tortilla. For the first two days my hosts gave me an non-spicy rotti, thinking that I would not like the spice. On the third day I tried someone else's rotti and love the spice (which was not too spicy for me at all), so every day after that I got a spicy rotti like everyone else.

For breakfast we ate the rotti accompanied by a papar, which is a crispy cracker.  I remembered having this food before at an Indian restaurant, so I called it "papadum" and that made everyone laugh. I have since learned that "papadum" is a Tamil word, not  Urdu, so that's why no one called it "papadum" in Karachi.

Papar/Papadum and spicy rotti

The other great thing about Pakistani food is the deserts. Overall, there were not a lot of sweets in our diet, but everyday after dinner a dessert was served. On one particular day, it was this Sheer Korma, which is a sweet milk with vermicelli noodles.

Sheer Korma, milk and noodles

While breakfast was usually rotti and papar, and lunch could be a number of vegetable dishes and rotti, dinners were more elaborate. One of my favorite meals was one that consisted of fried eggplant, fried spicy potatoes, which were wrapped in the rotti and dipped in a lentil soup.

Lentil soup, fried potatoes and eggplant, eaten with rotti

Tea is ubiquitous is Pakistan. I had a cup of hot, sweet, milky tea every day. It is most common to eat tea with some kind of sweet bread, like a biscuit or cookie, and to dip the bread into the tea. In other parts of the world I have often drank hot tea with milk, but it was totally different in Pakistan. The tea would come with a thick milk skin on the surface, and I later found out that this is because of how the tea is made. Instead of boiling the tea leaves in water, then adding cream and sugar, the tea is boiled in milk directly. This is the reason this tea is so rich and thick, and why it has that milk skin.

Pakistani tea

By far my favorite of Pakistan's fruit was called the cheeku or chikoo. It is a brown fruit that resembles a kiwi or potato from the outside, but inside it is the most deliciously sweet fruit I have ever eaten. The inside of the fruit is very soft, like a kiwi, and to me it tastes like chocolate.

Chikoo fruit

Typical examples of dinners with rice. A vegetable dish, lentil dish, chicken dish, and fried potatoes.

Rice, lentils with spinach, chicken, and friend potatoes. 

vegetable dish, lentil dish, chicken dish, and fried potatoes

This sweet cracker is a special dessert for the Holi festival which happened to fall on the 27th of March this year. The Holi festival is famous because colorful powders are used on the face and body. At home, we did not go crazy like some of the street parties I've seen. We just used an orange power and put a little on each other's faces.

Holi cracker

A typical lunch is usually bread and a vegetable dish. Here is rotti with a pea and potato soup.

Every lunch and dinner we ate a "salad", which is not like the American salad with lettuce and dressing. I have come to understand that salad is really just raw vegetables. Mostly, we ate carrots, which extremely red and were unlike any carrots I have ever seen. They were delicious and I miss them. We also ate sliced cucumber, which tastes like regular cucumber.

Raw carrots and cucumber

One interesting meal was a chicken biryani. We were on our way to Hyderabad, which is a two hour drive from Karachi, and none of us had eaten lunch. One family member gave us a pot of biryani and we ate it with our hands in the car. I used the lid of the container to make a plate.

Chicken biryani

Every night at the house, before we went to bed, we drank a milk with green syrup. I watched one of the girls make this drink. It is a combination of cold milk and a green or red syrup like the kind we use for snow cones. This makes the milk s green color and very sweet. It looks weird but it takes good. 

Milk and green syrup

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