"You don’t have to be born in Lahore to dine like a true Lahori,” a friend had told me a long time ago, upon being served a whopper of a homemade breakfast by his mum, on what was one of my first few visits to the city.
Now, whenever I visit Lahore, his words echo in my ears, and I make a conscious effort to dine like a true ‘son of the soil.’ I’m half-Punjabi (neck-down to be exact) anyway. But I always make the effort of visiting androon shehr (old city) for an early morning breakfast, as that is the only time of the day when the narrow streets and lanes can be navigated by car (I’m not exactly big on trekking on foot).
Last December, I chanced upon the opportunity to again visit the alleged gastronomy capital of Pakistan, this time to attend the Bridal Couture Week. And, early the very next morning after its finale, the photographer and I found ourselves making our way to Gawal Mandi to seek out the traditional Lahori naashta (breakfast) of perray-wali lassi (buttermilk with milk-and-dough sweetmeat), naan chholay (chickpea curry with naan) and bakray kay paaye (curried trotters).
Our party of two decided that the most logical thing to do would be to drive down Lahore’s famous Mall Road to the food street adjacent to Tollington Market, and then get directions from there. Once there, a gentleman directed us to a lane not far away, where he told us to keep a lookout for Rafiq Butt aka Chacha Feeka lassi walay.
Nothing can beat the traditional Lahori breakfast, even if it can beat you down for the rest of the day
A few wrong turns and some fresh directions later, we found ourselves at the lassi place dating back to 1947, and surrounded by what seemed like remarkably well-preserved pre-Partition architecture. What also surprised us was there were a lot of young people around who had also come to relish the traditional yoghurt-based drink.
Soon enough, we ordered the ‘full monty’, ie the large ‘glass’ with all the trimmings and, before long, we were served two big cylindrical metal vessels (not glasses, mind you, for the term simply does not apply here) topped off with chunks of freshly-churned butter, brownish bits of desi perray and a generous dollop of malai [cream]. If it wasn’t a complete meal in itself, I don’t know what is!
After gobbling up all the goodness, we asked around for the next treat on our breakfast bucket-list, and were directed in the direction of the mazaar (shrine) of a local Sufi saint Syed Shah Abu-ul-Moalla.
Meandering the narrow lanes and countless potholes, we reached our destination — Marhaba Bong Paaye and Naan Shop. The place was abuzz with activity even at an early hour on a Sunday. The open-air kitchen staff was busily packing takeaway orders, while others occupied themselves with making parathas and naans served with the chholay and bakray kay paaye.
Soon we found ourselves staring down at a large tray of piping-hot chholay, naan, parathas and a very rich-looking dish of paaye. We began picking our way through the meaty treats of the paaye and then tearing off and soaking bite-size pieces of the naan in the paaye curry.
While the bread soaked up the rich goodness of the curry, we busied ourselves with scooping up the very tender and mildly-spiced chholay with handfuls of the paper-thin parathas. Had we not had the lassi before, it would have been a task gladly fulfilled, but making room for a full-blown breakfast treat after the heavy dose of lassi was easier said than done.
Nevertheless, it had to be done for the sake of culinary propriety and foodie adventurism, and we polished off every last morsel. For the rest of the day though, we were unable to look at any more food without a feeling of nausea and gagging.
With the traditional Lahori naashta having finally been done, we gave ourselves a much-deserved pat on the back and retraced our steps back to our hotel rooms, to sleep off our early-day breakfast binge in a food coma.
The writer is a member of staff
He tweets @faisal_quraishi
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, January 30, 2022