ISLAMABAD: Disappointed by ‘pulao being sold under the guise of Sindhi biryani’, husband and wife duo Mustafa and Abida Talpur set out to bring the taste of Sindh to Islamabad.
The couple from Badin started their own restaurant, Sarang Sindhi Cuisine in F-11 Markaz, some two years ago.
The eatery itself is small and nondescript and could certainly do better with its decor, which consists of just a few chairs and a few ethnic hangings on the walls.
However, the menu is extensive, affordable and with Ms Talpur cooking the meals herself, almost as good as home cooked food.
The eatery specialises in Sindhi biryani and traditional Sindhi daal chawal, the dal is a combination of two pulses, moong and masoor, which are cooked together until it thickens, with tarka added afterwards.
And what would a Sindhi restaurant be if it does not offer fish? Although the more common masala fried fish is also on offer, the couple have tried their hand at two popular Sindhi fish dishes as well: fish karhai and steamed fish.
“While steamed foods have become trendy now, Sindhis have been steaming their food since forever. Traditionally, we would rub a fish with a mix of masalas, garlic, ginger and herbs, put it in an earthen pot, seal the lid and then steam it over a fire which was lit with dried grass,” Mr Talpur said.
The masala for the fish and other dishes is ground and mixed by Ms Talpur, who insists this makes all the difference. “How can you believe you are offering something different if you are using the same mass produced masalas that everyone is using,” she asked rhetorically.
Ms Talpur also makes a variety of vegetable dishes at the restaurant, some of which are unconventional for a restaurant. Other than the fixed vegetable thali, kadoo gosht, bhindi gosht, karela qeema and karhi pakora is also offered on the menu.
“My wife and I have set out to reintroduce traditional, desi foods to the capital. Everywhere else in the world, ethnic food is celebrated and over here we are crazy about junk food. We have so many different varieties of food here and they should all be promoted. Having so many cultures in one country is so rare and they should all be celebrated,” Mr Talpur said.
As part of his mission to promote Sindhi foods, the Talpurs have introduced lotus curry and chickpea leaves as well.
“Diners, especially the younger ones, are always reluctant to try these dishes at first and then end up ordering every time. Lotus is such an important part of Sindhi culture. I remember, we used to boil sliced pieces of lotus and sprinkle lemon and chaat masala on in the summers. But I don’t think Islamabad is ready for boiled lotus yet,” he quipped.
The restaurant is frequented by employees of nearby offices and students in the nearby apartments.
“I go to university here and share an apartment with my friends. We don’t have anyone to cook for us so we usually come here after class because the food here is light and affordable,” said Saad Zaman, who was waiting for his order with his friends.
However, although spurred by pulao-like Sindhi biryani sold elsewhere and setting off to sell authentic, spicy Sindhi biryani, the couple have had to tone the spice level down in order to “cater to the tasted of residents of Islamabad who come from all over the country”.
The eatery still has a long way to go before it can revive the trend for traditional food, but the idea behind it is certainly well intentioned.
Originally published in Dawn, August 1st, 2016