Eating out in Lahore: The posh, the plain and the almost bizarre

The beauty of Lahori food is that no matter in which environment you experience it, the redeeming features make you smile. The last few weeks have been unique in that on three different occasions the aftertaste was just about fine.

THE POSH:

Good company at a meal invariably makes all the difference. My first experience was with a person whose mind seriously interests me. The next was alone.

But when faced with starvation what better place than that super clean, hyper posh, Scandinavian cafe called Mocca, the coffee shop just off Gulberg's Main Boulevard just behind the Readings book shop.

My first visit was a 'salad-only' affair, and I must say seldom have I had a better salad than at this place. My choice was the Greek Salad, and in the near future I will repeat this. Zorba, you made my day!

But last week it was burger time, and I went for the real thing, a good old beef burger. I wanted to experience the Slavic way of doing a burger, especially since the origin of a beef burger is Germanic-Slavic.

Immigrants from that part of the world to the Americas gave it the shape it now has. With the burger went a simple Americano coffee, which is a lot of good quality coffee with hot water. The thicker the better. Simple.

I remember once having a mini Turkish coffee in Istanbul during my student day hitch-hiking trip. Imagine walking from Lahore to London and back.

I carefully looked at the small black presentation in the small cup, for it looked rather muddy. The waiter frowned, picked up the cup, quickly turned it upside down and flipped it back upright like a magician.

"Mister, it is the best in the world," he snapped at me in a heavy Turkish accent. I obediently went through the motions. Now you understand why I do not like Turkish soap opera. Back to Mocca.

But the burger came with thick chips, wee portions of a fruit salad with apples, and a few green mint leaves for presentation. The burger was thick and juicy. I mean it was the real stuff.

The bun was nice, and they seem to know the trick of making sure the bun matches the quality of the burger. Always give the bun a quick bake and you will be surprised at the dramatic result.

A pat of burger sauce (I think they use the Heinz stuff) and, voila! Nothing could be simpler. The coffee was strong and went straight to my starving mind.

Let me judge this eating out experience on the Michelin Scale of one to nine.

For food quality, it gets a whopping eight, for taste seven is just about there, for presentation seven, for service six, for cleanliness eight is a wee bit stiff though they deserve slightly higher (I have never associated tasty food with a spotless bacteria-free clinic), for ambience a solid seven will do justice, for menu variety six is fine and for prices they get a solid eight (excellent value for money).

For these eight variables they an average 7.125 out of nine, which is very good. Highly recommended.

THE 'ALMOST' PLAIN:

One of the delights of Lahore is to have a good, hot, spicy, delightful mutton karahi on a nice foggy evening in the company of an equally delightful friend, a comic of sorts, and that, for safety's sake, is best experienced in a car. Laughter and food certainly mix well.

Some might lubricate the experience, which is not possible in the company of the pious, which is not funny. So that's how I found myself at Lakshmi Chowk at Butt Karahi with a friend from the old Walled City.

The order was medium-spiced, loads of ginger, some green chillies with directions to fry it well. My Walled City friend said:

"If you make it otherwise, I will convert you into a peacock." The waiter smiled. My friend quickly added: "Do a good job or the peacock will be dancing." The meal was out of this world. Excellent and tasty and the naans were exquisite. An experience worth the troubleā€¦ and this is no joke.

NOT ENTIRELY MUNDANE:

One delightful friend from the legal fraternity (now kicked upstairs to a 'golden cage' as he puts it) is starved of good company and good food.

So one evening he rings up and says he wants to have 'dhaga kebabs' (string kebabs) at the tomb of Aibak. Who was I to say no to his Lordship? So we made it there and a delightful experience followed.

It was 'bizarre' because the coal-fired grill is placed over a dirty nullah that flows outside the tomb. But such niceties do not kill the fun of these unique kebabs.

Almost half a century earlier as a toddler my journalist father took me there. The chillies got to me then. Old Haji Sahib's son now does a great job, with good quality beef with papaya, anardana and green chillies standing out.

Always worth a visit! 'Khich Dragga'.