ISLAMABAD: Nestled in Blue Area’s Beverly Centre, Khoka Khola recently opened its doors for business and is already a raging success.
Motivated by their mutual love for food, three friends decided to take a break from their careers and open a dhaba style eatery in order to satiate Islamabad’s love for original desi food.
Their small eatery is situated in the basement of the Beverly Centre and is painted a refreshing white. A wooden bar and stools line one side of a hallway, at which those waiting for their tables can have their doodh pattis and creamy lassis, and there is also some seating outside.
The inside of the restaurant is much like an upscale dhaba. The environment is very casual, with pyaar kiya toh darna kiya playing softly in the background and diners having to shout over the din of laughter from other tables.
There are no menus at the restaurant. A waiter or, more likely, one of the owners, will come over to your table and tell you what’s cooking in the kitchen, much like a real dhaba. He will proceed to describe the three regulars and one special dish in detail, explaining what ingredients were used and how they are hoping their Lahori cholay will be like those found in Lahore.
The restaurant offers three regular dishes: butter chicken, thali and daal chawal, which are cooked by two of the owners, Mohammad Ali Khan and his sister, Faryal.
Served in traditional steel utensils, the butter chicken comes with a serving of white rice and tandoori roti. Garnished with cream and coriander, the chicken is creamy, nutty and spicy and will leave you wanting more.
The daal in the daal chawal comes with a desi ghee ka tarka, a serving of mango pickle, shami kabab, tandoori roti and kachoomar salad while the thali contains a vegetable dish, a meat dish, lahori cholay, salad, pickle, raita and tandoori roti.
The special dish varies every day. When asked how he decides on the specials, Zubair Khan, another one of the owners, said he just cooks what he feels like eating that day.
“I just cook the dish up in a huge deg in my home and bring it here. My mom makes her own masalas for them,” he said.
He added that he plans to make bhindi gosht and kadoo gosht one of these days. “Why don’t more restaurants offer kadoo gosht? There is so much you can do with a kadoo. It’s delicious.”
The food goes well with the creamy, chilled lassi served in large steel glasses, particularly in the current hot weather.
Zubair, meanwhile, takes pride in the kulfi, which he says is one of the best in the country.
“We do not use powdered milk in the kulfi, we only use whole milk. Which means we end up spending Rs 2,700 on a litre of kulfi when it would cost us around Rs 300 if we used powdered milk. But we are not doing this for profit, we are doing this for the love of food,” he said.
The cold dessert is indeed delicious. Rich, velvety ice-cream comes topped with crushed nuts and is served from a small steel container. A fresh batch is made every day as no preservatives are used and the dessert goes bad very quickly.
But what is a khoka without good doodh pati? The chai here is served from little green teapots and in little glasses, much like you would find in the lanes of the Qissa Khawani Bazaar. A serving of freshly fried crackers comes along with the tea order.
“I had some friends visiting from abroad and I took them to a dhaba to eat because they wanted original desi food.
And though they enjoyed the food, they were troubled by the open sewers next to the dhaba and said it would be nice if someone opens a clean dhaba. The thought stayed with me and that is how this restaurant came to be,” Zubair said.
All three friends were previously working in the corporate sector.
“My usual nine to five used to seem like an eternity. I work 19 to 20 hours a day now because we close late at night and then have to wake up early in the morning to go to the sabzi mandi. But this doesn’t feel like work,” he said.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2016