With the new year comes a new hope in the hearts of Karachi's foodies because the biggest food festival of the year, Karachi Eat, takes place in January. Festivals like Karachi Eat offer a platform for entrepreneurs to make it big in the industry and launch new restaurants or businesses. Karachi Eat has been the starting point for many food joints in the city but this year, there was little variety and even less uniqueness at the festival.
Karachi Eat 2022 took place on Jan 14, 15 and 16. Geared up with our masks and sanitisers, we embarked on a journey expecting to test out food fusions and have our lives changed (or maybe just our tastebuds), not knowing disappointment was just around the corner.
Instead of innovating and getting creative with food, repetitive items dominated the festival menu this time around — dumplings, sushi, tacos and waffles were sprinkled across Beach View Park. When we think of the annual food festival, we usually crave something new that makes us want more. Thankfully, a small number of stalls did offer more unique fare. However, we wish there was more, like maybe funnel cake, a ramen station or even a twist on the desi items we grew up eating and have a special place in our hearts.
Hosting a food festival in a city bustling with food lovers in the middle of a pandemic and with a surge in Covid cases was concerning but the team behind Karachi Eat did a good job chasing after and reminding attendees to follow SOPs. Bouncers were stationed throughout the festival to remind people to mask up and the seating was quite spaced out. There were also pockets of breathing space for us to get away from the crowd to eat our food in a socially distanced manner.
What's interesting is that tickets were not available on site — we saw many arrive only to be turned back by security. It seems like the virtual purchase of the tickets may have helped reduce the number of attendees as we observed that though the place was fairly crowded, it was much less crowded than pre-Covid festivals.
Entering the premises, we were checked twice or thrice for our vaccination cards before they let us through. There was also a small booth for booster shots at the venue, as promised.
There's one thing we can't not mention — no matter what happens, Pakistanis are never able to form proper queues and never will. Shoulder bumps, being pushed, being crowded and not maintaining distance are some thing that are inevitable, Covid or no Covid. Perhaps other festivals could take note and be more strict about restricting the number of people that can stand at a stall to avoid crowding.
Covid has certainly put a damper on events — festivals or otherwise — but if events and festivals are to continue, it's high time people realise the civic duty to comply with rules because there's only so much the organisers can do — it's a two-way street and both sides need to put in the effort to ensure safety precautions are taken. How many times must grown adults be told to pull their masks back up or keep a distance from others in a line?
Where's the variety?
Coming back to food — the whole reason we were at the festival in the first place. We were in for more disappointment when we arrived at the festival because several items on our to-try list had to be crossed off because the vendors decided not to sell the special items they had earlier advertised. The special items were ones that promised some level of creativity and those were the ones we'd made a beeline for, only to be turned back.
That's not to say that there was no creativity or flavour in the food — we're still thinking about some of the food items we tried — Al Alwaan's Bohra Thaali, Umami's chicken dumplings and Builder Burger's Mandarin Tenderdog were the stars of the show for us.
Though the organisers pulled it off and tried their level best to ensure SOPs were followed, we still think it was very risky to host events where huge crowds are expected because not everyone is ready to comply with SOPs. Festivals and events are all well and good but until we can ensure that everyone follows SOPs — which is near impossible — these events will be super-spreaders that contribute to the rise in Covid cases. Karachi's cases recently soared and there was little sense in holding the festival at this time. It could have been if not cancelled then at least postponed until the situation improved some.
The festival was also harshly criticised online, with critics calling it Covid Eat among a number of other creative plays on its name. While we agree that it was indeed dangerous to hold a festival during a pandemic when Covid cases are on the rise, there is also the argument that there is little difference between a food festival and the hundreds of weddings being held across the country where people mingle without masks. If one is not acceptable, why is the other?
The food festival may be over but Covid is not — we'd like to remind everyone to wear masks and practice social distancing wherever they're headed. Safety over everything else!