Lahore. The city of my birth. The city of the humble samosa. That flaky, deep-fried triangular parcel stuffed with cumin-laced, spicy potatoes you buy from the dhaba; kiosk, from that little alley behind Liberty Market, where they sell glass bangles, twirled and twisted organza scarves and sparkly rhinestone-studded sandals. Greasy and stuffed into a khaki paper bag, you bring the samosas home and eat them hot, dipping them in a red, tangy-tart chili garlic sauce which comes out of that famous Mitchell’s glass bottle. And after that first bite, you slip your finger tips into the handle of your teacup and take a sip of cardamom-fragranced milky tea, to wash it all down. With each sip, the tannins burn your mouth even more.
That is my high.
And then we have Karachi. The city where they refer to the street hawker’s ‘pappu burger‘ with a more classy name- the ‘bun kebab‘. Us Lahoris know that it is essentially the same thing- a shami kebab tucked between two soft, pillowy buns, slathered with mint chutney, tomatoes, cucumbers for textural crunch and some onions thrown in for that extra edge.
Us Lahoris are quite particular about the provenance of our dishes, but we’ll let Karachi have their ‘bun kebab‘.
As long as they don’t call it a ‘pappu burger‘.
But more importantly, Karachi is the city where they whip up the best prawn masala. Prawns are flash-fried in an orb-like steel karahi with a heady punch of ginger and garlic; then they add tomatoes, stirring it all till they become sticky and jammy and start to cling to the glossy surface of the prawns; and finally, a pinch or two or three of secret spices.
This is the prawn masala from BBQ Tonight -pardon the cheesy website, it doesn’t reflect on the ‘I-want-to-eat-my-fingers-this-is-so-good’ quality of their dishes.
I don’t think it is possible to perfectly replicate BBQ Tonight‘s prawn masala. I think it has less to do with the saltiness of the ocean near Karachi’s border which seeps into the prawns; or the tartness of the tomatoes in Pakistan and more to do with the fact that I always have this dish when I land in Karachi at my sister’s home, surrounded by my family and friends. Scooping it up with a chewy, crackly paratha, I chatter away in my jet-lagged state with my sister, brother-in-law and best friends, AJ and KH, who gather around the table to meet me upon my arrival.
My fingertips all greasy from the paratha and spicy prawns, chugging it down with some Diet Coke, I know and feel that I am home.
Serves 2-3 with rice or bread and a side dish
*2 tbsp corn oil (or any other neutral oil)
*2 garlic cloves, sliced finely width-wise
*500g raw prawns, de-veined, shells and tails removed
*¼ tsp haldi (turmeric powder)
*1 tsp zeera (cumin) powder
*1 tsp sukha dhania (ground coriander) powder
*½ tsp red chili powder (or add more, to taste)
*2 medium-sized tomatoes, de-seeded and diced (1cm)- try to find tomatoes which are a bit firm
*2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
*Place a medium-size wok, or a 25cm (approximately 10 in) frying pan on medium heat.
*Add oil and garlic and sauté for two minutes, till fragrant. The garlic should not darken in colour.
*Add prawns, haldi, zeera powder, sukha dhania powder, salt and red chili powder and continue to sauté for three more minutes till the prawns turn opaque.
*Turn heat to medium-high and add tomatoes. Give the prawns a whirl with your spatula, and after one minute, turn the heat off. You don’t want to overcook the tomatoes, the skin should remain almost in tact.
*Sprinkle with coriander stalks and leaves and serve with crusty bread or steamed basmati.