Much the way Oscar-bait movies flood theaters at year's end, a torrent of great new restaurants popped up in Karachi neighborhoods as 2015 winds down.
Much the way Oscar-bait movies flood theaters at year's end, a torrent of great new restaurants popped up in Karachi neighborhoods as 2015 winds down.

Stagnant economies must give birth to a guarded gastronomy scene, right?

Well, your guess is as wrong as mine.

While Lahore has always been deemed to be the food capital of the country, the plates shifted a little this year; culinary innovation boomed, regardless of location.

Food enthusiasts had an eventful year; Karachi was embroiled in controversy whereas Islamabad saw many small eateries open up. Point being, no matter what, reservations were hard to come by and chefs pushed the envelope more than ever before.

It was the best of times for our taste buds, the worst of times for our waistlines.

Here's a look back at the good, the bad and the ugly of the food scene this past year:

1) Chai gets a modern makeover

All important decisions in life are either deliberated in the shower or over a cup of chai.

Two Karachites saw the need to make this elixir that keeps Pakistanis going cool again and more importantly, accessible to all and that's how Aized Suharwardy and Hamza Usman's brainchild, Chai Wala bred a movement that no one saw coming.

Read more: Chai Wala: New dhaba serves tea with a twist

Cashing in on the idea that women and families should be able to go enjoy a cup of authentic doodh-patti at a dhaba without feeling uneasy was a genius marketing ploy, as well as a much-needed social initiative.

The owner claims to be one of the handful of places in the city that serves authentic Kashmiri chai
The owner claims to be one of the handful of places in the city that serves authentic Kashmiri chai

It spawned many inspired joints such as Chai Shai or Lollywood Cafe, as well as a call from desi feminists to overthrow dhaba patriarchy.

Have a look: Tea time: #GirlsAtDhabas is crowdsourcing funds to set up a dhaba run by women

It's a big bonus that all of this also brought with it delicious Pizza and Nutella parathas.

The truck-art inspired dhaba serves a variety of different parathas, ranging from basic aloo ones to those with 'gourmet' fillings —Photo by author
The truck-art inspired dhaba serves a variety of different parathas, ranging from basic aloo ones to those with 'gourmet' fillings —Photo by author

2) Heated debate over employers bringing their domestic staff out to restaurants

Things took a serious turn on Karachi Food DIary back in March when popular high-end eatery, Xander's came under the crossfire on Twitter; an image of a family enjoying a meal while two of their domestic helpers watched from the side went viral.

When a picture of a maid apparently being mistreated at a cafe in Karachi went viral, social media went into a frenzy. —Photo courtesy: Yusra Askari
When a picture of a maid apparently being mistreated at a cafe in Karachi went viral, social media went into a frenzy. —Photo courtesy: Yusra Askari

The dispute raised several questions relating to privacy, class stratification and labour law, shedding light on an uncomfortable system that most Pakistanis are so deeply entrenched in: depending on often underage household helpers to take care of intimate aspects of life such as child rearing while treating them as lower-class citizens at the same time.

Read on: Domestic staff at dinner: Restaurant owners in Pakistan speak up

3) Dining in the dark comes to town

Fairly common overseas, Pizza Hut brought the novelty dining concept to Karachi for the first time ever this year in September, inviting customers to enjoy a three course meal in pitch black darkness,

Also read: Out of sight: This is what it's like to dine out in complete darkness

While the idea sounds unsettling right off the bat, it was a great way to educate the general public about people with disabilities; the venture employed visually impaired servers and placed the diners in their shoes for the night. The unique social experience was an eye-opener, to say the least.

Our appetizer that night.  —Photo by author
Our appetizer that night. —Photo by author

4) Food festivals gained momentum

In January, Frere Hall turned into every foodie's dream because Karachi Eat was in full swing. From gluttonous street vendor nihari to a hearty helping of chicken cacciatore, everything was available under one roof or well, lack thereof.

Fika's stall at the Karachi Eat —Photo Courtesy: Fika's Facebook Page
Fika's stall at the Karachi Eat —Photo Courtesy: Fika's Facebook Page

The festival celebrates the full diversity that Karachi has to offer and next year in March, the festival is also heading to foodie central, Lahore and will be happening at the Polo Ground.

Read more: Calling all foodies: What to expect from Karachi Eat 2015

It was here that I discovered that The Pantry sells the best gourmet beef burger in Karachi and everything else is just a sorry excuse of a patty between buns. It was also here that I discovered this glorious dessert, the strawberry samosa.

These little sweet treats had people lining up for ages —Photo Courtesy: Faria Syed
These little sweet treats had people lining up for ages —Photo Courtesy: Faria Syed

5) Pay as you want -- does generosity get generosity in return?

Fika opened it's doors to Karachi at the end of 2014 and paved a rocky road to success. The owner, Abid Merchant has struggled to defend his enterprise against haters on social media who tore him to shreds time and time again.

Read more: 'Fika' on the roof — adding diversity to Karachi's culinary landscape

As a show of good faith, he introduced a different concept to ring in the restaurant's one year anniversary: the pay what you want concept. Customers could order anything off their menu in whatever quantity their hearts desired and pay whatever they felt the meal was worth -- It was the ultimate 'put your money where your mouth is' experiment!

Also read: This Pakistani restaurant in Vienna runs on trust

Obviously, he got burnt along the way, especially when he openly called out a family for paying a less than satisfactory sum after eating a ton of food and although it was meant to last a month, it was called off in less than two weeks.

6) Punjab Food Authority and the wrath of Ayesha Mumtaz

From Fatburger to five star hotels, no one was safe. The Punjab Food Authority set out to police a highly unregulated food industry in the region by fining, sealing and warning, based on the fatality of the offense, any and every establishment that prepared food in unsatisfactory hygiene conditions.

Although the PFA was formed in 2011, the body has really lived up to it's potential and flourished under Ayesha Mumtaz, the current Director of Operations and the woman behind all the crackdowns.

CM Shehbaz Sharif even jumped onto the bandwagon and showed his support.

As pictures of rotten tomatoes, dirty kitchens and filthy utensils pop up on social media, the people have joined PFA in the ongoing war against these practices that are shockingly prevalent in the food industry.

7) Karachi saw a crop of new restaurants: Khanji, Chop Chop Wok, Mews

Much the way Oscar-bait movies flood theaters at year's end, a torrent of great new restaurants popped up in Karachi neighborhoods as 2015 winds down.

One instant hit was Khanji, the Pakistani food joint that moved from Port Grand to E-street, giving the long reigning BBQ Tonight a run for it's money. Everything from their Peshawari Karhai to their signature Mutton Chops had customers practically licking their fingers.

Chop Chop Wok, the Asian stir-fry place in it's blink and you'll miss it location in Khaddha Market, also garnered a lot of attention and with every rice/noodle bowl being under 500 calories, it was a guilty pleasure with only quarter of the guilt!

The chilli prawn and calamari is one of my personal favourite specials from the menu  —Photo by author
The chilli prawn and calamari is one of my personal favourite specials from the menu —Photo by author

Much earlier in the year, Mews opened it's doors on the swanky E-street. A small menu that has something for everyone: Black Quinoa for the weight-watchers and Mac n Cheese or Red Velvet pancakes for those of us who want to indulge, the European inspired joint has a fresh vibe that had everyone talking.

From L-R: Black Quinoa salad and Red Velvet pancakes —Photo courtesy: Mews Facebook page
From L-R: Black Quinoa salad and Red Velvet pancakes —Photo courtesy: Mews Facebook page

8) Home bakers slaying the game

There is just something comforting about the thought of home food, even if it is made at someone else's home. From housewives transforming a hobby into a part-time gig or couples turning their passion for the craft into a full-throttle business, 2015 saw the exponential rise of the home baker.

Amateur bakers have mastered complicated desserts like Pavlova and Kransekake —Photo by Images staff
Amateur bakers have mastered complicated desserts like Pavlova and Kransekake —Photo by Images staff

Thanks to the internet, it's become relatively easier for small scale bakeries to get their name out there via Facebook pages and food forums such as Karachi Food Diary or SWOTs.

Read more: Food wars: Are online food forums a force for good or ripe for misuse?

These amateur baker provide delectable options ready to be devoured at a few hours notice. With greater room for customization and most ventures delivering right at your doorstep, what's not to love?

9) Fad that's here to stay: juices make it big

Everyone wants to be the fittest version of themselves and it seems like there’s no diet, workout plan or get-skinny quick gimmick we won’t try.

An effective addition to your diet great way to stay hydrated and substitute for those fizzy drinks are fresh juices and cold-pressed juices. Health nuts are getting cozy with these to cleanse, refuel, detox and glow a little.

Greeno, a juice bar which operates at a gas station (as well as a couple of mall food courts) in the heart of Defense in Karachi probably makes more money in the day than the pump itself. Their blends target everything from one that claims to be a liver cleanser to the ultimate skin tonic and are a big hit.

The Greeno bar located at The Place —Photo courtesy: Greeno Facebook page
The Greeno bar located at The Place —Photo courtesy: Greeno Facebook page

Another one is Juicylicious, which is famous for it's fresh sugarcane juice and popsicles made from their fruit juices has also become a quick stop after the gym for many. It's the perfect boost of energy for the busy, on-the-go people of Karachi!

The joint also serves mixed fruit smoothies —Photo courtesy: Juicylicious Facebook page
The joint also serves mixed fruit smoothies —Photo courtesy: Juicylicious Facebook page

10) Table No. 5 — An eatery for people with sexist appetites

Located in Islamabad, the eatery thrived on outdated taglines like "if she won’t make you a sandwich, we will" and sandwiches named after celebrities with dubious track records like Charlie Sheen and Chris Brown.

The cover photo of the cafe's OFFICIAL Facebook page
The cover photo of the cafe's OFFICIAL Facebook page

This marketing strategy which relied on age-old sexist stereotypes irked many and it wasn't long before the joint got roasted on social media and had a rendezvous with city officials.

Here's the kicker: the cafe is owned by a woman!

Eventually, Table No. 5 succumbed to the injuries and issued a disgruntled apology on Facebook and announced that they'd be changing the names of all their sandwiches.

Over a month after the debacle, their Facebook page still has pictures like the one up top. Clearly, they haven't quite learnt their lesson!

11) Authentic Middle Eastern foodies got something to be excited for

Hardly monotonous when it comes to food, the Middle Eastern restaurants still bring something new to the culinary scene in the country, especially with Behisht bringing their A-grade Lebanese flair and Lale-I-Rumi whipping up some pure Turkish food.

Lale-I-Rumi not only serves real Turkish cuisine but has splendid decor and a genuine Turkish ambience —Photo courtesy: Rabeeya Moin
Lale-I-Rumi not only serves real Turkish cuisine but has splendid decor and a genuine Turkish ambience —Photo courtesy: Rabeeya Moin

With mellow party music and moody lighting, Behisht located on the rooftop of The Place, transports you to a shisha den in Lebanon -- with amazing food. Servings are small and the prices are steep but the food delivers on taste, coupled with

Lale-I-Rumi is where you send someone looking for authentic Turkish cuisine and wants non-fussy yet aesthetically pleasing delicious grub. Not to mention, good service makes up half your dining experience and this place has a staff with a racing pulse, one that I would compare to those who work at Kolachi and that's a big, big compliment.

For a long time, this space had been dominated by Kebab-Ji but it seems like times are changing.


This article is part of a series that looks back on 2015. For more, follow Images.Dawn.Com on Facebook and on Instagram at @dawn_images.

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