From a pushcart on the curbside of the intersection of Shah Faisal Colony No. 1 main road and Furniture Gali in Karachi, Mohammed Anwar has been selling pulao for breakfast for almost four decades now. His aromatic blend of onions and fragrant spices shallow-fried in oil, to which basmati rice are added and brought to boil, is not his only claim to fame.
According to Anwar, he is a direct blood relative (maternal nephew) of none other than the (Late) 12th President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain (2013-18). But that’s a claim best left to explore for another day.
Back to Anwar’s pulao-peddling business, Anwar dishes out three variations of the steaming-hot, aromatic pulao to eager, hungry patrons. The economical, 80 rupees meatless with chickpeas variation, the 100 rupees one with beef, and the full monty for 120 rupees with all the trimmings, which include a tidy heap of rice with both chana and meaty treats topped off with dahi ka raita, crispy-fried and fresh onions. No doubt he’s the envy of other pushcart vendors around, and especially the proprietor of the all-too-common Quetta chai ka hotel running his business from a shop smack opposite Anwar’s roadside food stall.
Karachi is home to some pretty weird and wacky foodstuff, but nothing even comes close to Anwar’s pulao for breakfast, in business since the last four decades
Anwar’s regular patrons include office-goers, housewives and even schoolchildren, the latter in school uniform with backpacks, flocking around his pushcart for a quick bite to eat and then rushing off to the nearby private schools before the morning assembly bell rings.
Anwar sets up his stall as early as 7am and winds up when he sells out completely, which is usually around 10am every day, except Sundays. This has been his routine for the past 38 years. He has witnessed the ever-changing cityscape, as well as the political climes and fortunes of Shah Faisal Colony during this time, but Anwar and his pulao stall with its tell-tale cauldron have been a definitive constant and pretty much a landmark through these times.
In case you’re wondering what made Anwar come up with the wacky and very risky proposition of setting up a pulao-selling business this early in the day, when any sane and normal person would gladly relish the breakfast staple of eggs, paratha/toast and chai/coffee, Anwar points out that the crowds flocking to his stall bear testimony to the fact that there can only be supply where there’s demand.
He took a leap of faith with pulao and it’s been going at full-throttle ever since. A married man in his 60s with grown-up kids of his own, Anwar preps for the pulao on his own without any family assistance, and says that he’s thankful to God Almighty for making a success of his small yet successful business.
Just goes to show that no matter how much meticulous planning you invest into starting, managing and then maintaining a start-up, at the end of the day, what really matters is a crazy, simple idea that caters to individuals’ whims and impulses and foodie fetish. All you need to do is have your finger on the nation’s gastronomical pulse.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, November 14th, 2021