RAWALPINDI: Downtown Rawalpindi comes to life from iftar through to sehri, especially markets and bazaars where traditional foods are prepared all through Ramazan, when sehri replaces Sunday brunch.
People throng the Kartarpura food street, Saddar, Lal Kurti and the food outlets outside the city as well including those in Bahria Town with the lanes of bazaars alive with the chatter of food lovers preparing for their next fast.
The variety of foods in the Kartarpura food street attracts a lot of people with everything from sri paye to choley and lassi to cold kheer and kulfi being sold.
Restaurant owners and stall holders have made special preparations for the pre-dawn meal as well with the more popular dishes being ojhri or tripe with paratha or roghani naan and khoyay waley choley which are chick peas with butter and dried milk.
Diners are also spoilt for choice when it comes to deserts with kheer, kulfi, ice-cold lassi and traditional sharbats, including those of pomegranate and plum, on offer.
But all of these are not available at one eatery and diners have to make the rounds between restaurants and stalls.
Restaurant and stall owners start preparing for sehri at the Kartarpura food street as soon as iftar is over.
The staff at the two kilometre long food street starts putting up tables for sehri right after they are done with dealing with the iftar crowd and start putting final touches to the foods they have prepared well before hand, some of which require hours to be prepared, including the much popular sri paye and nihari.
“People start arriving right after midnight and at one in the morning, you will not be able to find a place to sit,” said Sufi Shahid, owner of a nihari shop.
He said all items at his restaurant are sold out well before the time for sehri is up because people also place takeout orders.
“We also offer special naans in Ramazan including kulcha, mince filled naan, chicken naan and traditional roghani naan for sehri,” he said.
“People love to have ojhri as well. Because they usually have stomach problems when they are fasting, people eat ojhri at iftar and sehri to clean their stomachs,” he said.
Goat sri paye is another popular dish, Mr Shahid said, adding that it is cooked on a slow flame with spices.
“Ours is a traditional recipe which we don’t share. It also tastes better because of the selection of spices we use. We also cook it on a slow flame,” he said, adding that it takes a whole day to prepare nihari and sri paye.
During Ramazan, tea shops are usually replaced with lassi shops with milkmen busy preparing curd for lassi in their makeshift shops.
“After having warm and oil laden food like nihari, people like having at least two or three glasses of sweet lassi. Most people believe that having lassi for sehri eliminates thirst for the day,” said Mohammad Haider, a diner at the Kartarpura food street.
He said the food street was most visited on the holidays.
“It took me two hours to get a table, be served and to be done with my food because of the huge crowd on the weekend,” he said.
Unlike other places where waiters offer tables, customers at the food street have to grab a table for themselves as the street is always packed, even more so during Ramazan.
“This food street does not have a parking and customers have to park out in the streets or in the Kohati Bazaar. But it is all worth it because the food is so good here. The chefs are familiar with the tastes people prefer in the area. While other markets may offer better seating, its all about food in the Kartarpura food market,” said a visitor, Sajjad Khan.
Originally published in Dawn, June 13th, 2016