There is no better way to capture the flavour of a city than through its street food. If you have a stomach of steel and taste buds with a passion for adventure, Karachi has some of the best Pakistani street food to offer.
A softer version of a burger patty, the kebabs sandwiched within these seared buns are either meat or potato-based or more commonly made of ground lentils, powdered cumin seeds and omelette. Condiments on the side include onions, chutney and ketchup. Bun kebabs are especially popular among budget-conscious students. Grab one from Chai Wala near Boat Basin in Clifton for a quick delectable nibble.
French fries are a national crowd pleaser. Growing up in Pakistan meant that the 45 rupee (USD 45 cents) treat was the most sought-after break time snack. The more oil stains on the cardboard box, the better and crispier they were. Doused in chaat masala, lemon juice, chilli powder or good old fashioned ketchup (or all of the above), try fries, Pakistani style.
You may be asking yourself, how did spiced corn make the list? Well, this is the single cheapest roadside favourite among schoolchildren who are down to their last Rs.10 (USD 1 cent). Kernels of corn are tossed in heated sand. Sprinkled with salt, chilli powder and lemon juice, this is a nineties throwback for any Karachiite. The whole kernel alternative is called bhutta. Where can you find it? Local sellers push their mobile roasting units from schools to open markets.
This famous golden triangle has been immortalised by Indian and Pakistani shops across the world. However, they are traditionally stuffed with spice-laden minced meat or potatoes. Deep fried and crispy, they are made for dunking in yogurt or coriander sauces. Nimco’s in Clifton is a premier destination for fresh or packaged samosas.
Pakistan sits pretty resolutely on the equator, which means you need to know how to stay cool. Faluda is a classic choice on those hot Karachi nights. Made from mixing rose syrup, vermicelli, sweet basil seeds and pieces of jelly with milk, it’s like sweet noodle soup, sometimes with ice cream.
Staying on theme with cool desserts, kulfi is Pakistan’s version of popsicles. With less emphasis on cream and more on local flavours like mango, pistachio and almonds, it’s a refreshing end to oil-rich food. You can find them in street stalls, grocery stores or even at the friendly neighbourhood mobile ice cream seller.
Berlin has doner kebabs, Dubai has shawarma and Karachi has kebab rolls. Indulge in tender grilled meat wrapped in a paratha (fried flatbread) and topped with a sweet or savoury chutney and onions. For the city’s best kebab rolls, visit Red Apple, one of the oldest and most revered restaurants that pioneered innovative rolls with cheese and dozens of customisations. A classic tikka roll will set you back anywhere from USD $0.83 to $2.
Feeling snacky but not in a greasy way? Chaat is a favourite for tea parties and informal tête-à-têtes. It is best described as a plate full of puffy, crispy carbs, filled with chopped green chillies, chutneys, chickpeas, yogurt and perhaps, some onions. Chaat, however, is as diverse as the city itself and every community has its own take on the national snacking standard.
Yes, that’s right – cotton candy. Another child pleaser, this item is not about sustenance but about the aesthetic novelty of fluffy pink and blue clouds whipped together in plastic packets. The novelty lies in the multicoloured, obviously counterfeit, rupee notes encased in the packets. Back when inflation was not as oppressive as it currently is, this was the easiest way to hold a 1,000 rupee note (USD $15).
The pinnacle of versatile street and restaurant food is embodied in the immortal chicken tikka. From drive-in food stops to roadside dining and wedding catering, this barbecued spicy chicken is Pakistan’s go-to. BBQ Tonight, a cornerstone of barbecue dining in Karachi, can attest to the influence of this national icon.