Why I love Pakistani biryani – from an Indian fan

When you are a big foodie like me, there are multiple cuisines that can make your mouth water and compel you to want to move away from a daily diet of just desi khaana.

For my husband and I, the cuisine of choice is always a variation of Asian offerings – Chinese, Thai, or the occasional Vietnamese on the days we like to step out for a meal. Constantly on the go since the last few years – from a two-year stint in Germany and now in the capital city of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, we have had the pleasure of indulging in some of the most delectable culinary experiences from around the world.

But it was only when we moved to the Middle East early this year did we get acquainted with the culinary kitchens of our neighbor across the border – Pakistan.

Keeping the political rhetoric and history of the two countries aside, and pulling off the layers of turmoil and turbulence that the two countries have been embroiled in since the time of Partition, what we see below the surface are commonalities that cannot be ignored. The overlapping of culture cannot be ignored between two countries that were literally cut from the same figurative cloth many moons ago. A fitting example of this is their cuisines.

The food of Pakistan is very similar to that of North India, the difference being that Pakistani dishes also incorporate flavors and elements from the Middle East as well as Central Asia. From a blend of Mughlai meats whose origins date back to Medieval India during the reign of the Mughal empire, Mughlai food consisted of a cocktail of Pakistani, Hyderabadi and North Indian spices and cooking styles.

During our constant pursuit for good food in the city of Abu Dhabi that is truly a haven of expatriate culinary experiences from around the world and also offers enough ‘desi’ options to keep us engaged enough to not long for our kitchens back home, we chanced upon the wonders of Student Biryani.

One spoonful of this rice-based delicacy had me hooked. The flavors, the spices, the cooking style that had surely gone into the creation of this magical dish had us entranced. Never had I ever tasted biryani that satisfied and tingled the taste buds the way Student Biryani did and ached for more with every bite.

When you arrive at Student Biryani in Abu Dhabi’s bustling Tourist Club Area, you are greeted by a bright red STUDENT BIRYANI sign over the door and a simple red and white awning underneath it. Nothing fancy, the two-story structure reeks of another era, in another land as if to transport you back not just to the culinary experience but also an ambience to create a befitting atmosphere.

One Haji Mohammed Ali started a small eatery in the middle of Saddar city in Karachi in 1969. The name Café Student was soon changed to Student Biryani and then there was no looking back. The brand blossomed and thrived.

The restaurant with its simple, pleasant interiors, booth tables, hospitable and friendly staff and an impressively large food menu is testimony to their focus on only the one thing that matters here every minute of every day – the food.

A gnawing curiosity as the trigger, I decided to delve into the origin of Student Biryani with the aim to try and uncover more about how and why it was started. And why it was called ‘STUDENT BIRYANI’. There had to be a story there!

I was not wrong. There was a story and it was a compelling one.

One Haji Mohammed Ali started a small eatery in the middle of Saddar city in Karachi in 1969. Catering to students of nearby schools in the area, it was first named ‘Café Students’.

The food was home-cooked, the biryani was made with love, passion and slowly it was hard work and dedication that allowed Ali to expand his business. In 1976 he opened a franchise that could seat a hundred people. The name Café Student was soon changed to Student Biryani and then there was no looking back. The brand blossomed and thrived.

Haji Mohammad Ali is no more but his legacy lives on and continues to fill the eager stomachs of its loyal patrons with its unwaveringly scrumptious culinary offerings even today.

There is no dearth of Indian and Pakistani restaurants in Abu Dhabi today that are always teeming with not just Indians and Pakistanis but also the myriad other expatriate residents that enjoy their curries, haleem and biryanis. Compact or expansive, downtown or suburban, these joints don’t really have a peak time traffic scenario. Any given time of the day they are packed to capacity.

A Pakistani driver who was driving me to work one day had drummed up idle chatter and the conversation steered in the direction of food.“India mein kya pasand karte ho Madamji?” (What do you like eating in India, Madam?)

“Butter chicken, dal makhani aur paneer. Aur haan bhar ki biryani.” (Butter chicken, black lentil and cottage cheese. And yes, home-made biryani).

“Arrey, aapka butter chicken toh kamaal hai. Lekin hamari biryani toh chakhiye. Sabh bhool jayengi.”

(Your butter chicken is delicious but try our biryani. You will forget all else.)

He quickly proceeded to tell me about Kareems restaurant that had a sizeable menu roster of both Indian and Pakistani food but the Pakistani was worth trying out too. Student Biryani had worked its magic and now I was all ears for any such dining out suggestions.

Beef, goat, chicken and mutton are the meats of choice on most Pakistani ‘Dastarkhans’ or large cloths spread out to eat on when the guests are too many or during celebrations. Some also deploy the use of ‘Takhts’ or raised platforms by sitting cross-legged much like the Afghans do. I hope to be able to witness such a gathering one day!

They say the ‘way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. Our hearts may not always be in the right place when it comes to our two nations but sometimes the way to an Indian man’s heart can be through some Pakistani biryani.

Interestingly both India and Pakistan have many staple dishes in common. Perhaps one of the most common of these is rice. A meat curry or a lentil with rice is not uncommon in both countries. ‘Nihari’ is another kind of meat cooked overnight to achieve the precise tenderness of the meat before consumption and is another Pakistani delicacy that can be found in parts of India too.

Some of my colleagues at work are Pakistani and most lunch breaks will bring the familiar and welcome waft of Pakistani meats indicating that Biryani is on the menu again. Being the only North Indian, I am quickly ushered into the small pantry by this motley bunch of varying nationalities all willing to share their meals.

For an hour everyday this tiny pantry becomes the nucleus of the promise of cross-cultural camaraderie through the wonders of our respective cuisines.

They say the ‘way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. Our hearts may not always be in the right place when it comes to our two nations but sometimes the way to an Indian man’s heart can be through some Pakistani Biryani. And sometimes a Pakistani heart aches for a good Indian Butter Chicken.


Case of exploding smartphones

KARACHI: Less than a month after it was released in the international market, Sam­sung’s most expensive smart­phone line or “phablets” have bombed or rather earned a bad reputation after people reported cases of their Galaxy Note 7 smartphones exploding unexpectedly.

The company issued an offi­cial statement urging customers to stop using the Note 7 immediately and have reca­lled the model from the market.

However, in Pakistan, this is not the case.

While the Galaxy Note 7 was unveiled on Aug 12 and released all over the world a week later — it has not been officially launched in Pakis­tan. However, it is available in markets here without a warranty and was “brought over in hand baggage or through the khaipia (smuggler)”.

The smartphone which costs between Rs85,000 and Rs88,000 apiece here, is surprisingly out-of-stock in mobile shops in DHA, Zamzama and Abdullah Haroon Road. Still most shop owners are not willing to admit that the model is faulty or people are unwilling to buy the Note 7 due to bad reviews and the exploding battery issue.

“Oh come on, these are just rumours started somewhere in America to hurt Samsung’s sales by those prompting the upcoming iPhone 7,” said Mohammad Akbar at a shop in Zamzama. “Earlier, the iPhone 6 earned bad reviews too because they said that it could bend and lose shape.”

Shabbir Qadri, a shopkeeper in DHA’s Khadda Market, said that he had sold 11 phone sets earlier, and was happy to report that none of his customers had returned them so far.

“Hopefully, they won’t be influenced by the media and not bring them back to me as it will be difficult to convince the smuggler, who we got the phones from, to take them back,” he said.

“It could be done but would involve a lot of effort as the company has announced it is taking the phones back and he [the smuggler] may return them to whichever country they were bought from in the first place,” he added.

“This cannot be done in Pakistan because Samsung didn’t even launch the phone here,” pointed out a saleswoman at the Samsung store on Chartered Accountants Avenue in Clifton.

A salesman at Hyperstar said that since they dealt with the companies directly, they haven’t sold any and weren’t planning on selling the phone till it was properly launched in Pakistan by Samsung. Meanwhile, shopkeepers on Abdullah Haroon Road said that they didn’t have the phone but could find a “fresh sealed piece if the customer could wait for an hour or two”.

“I think the octa-core phones have no issues but the snapdragon phones are explo­ding,” said one shopkeeper, adding “don’t worry, we will get you a snapdragon Note 7”.

Arsalan, another shopkeeper, claimed that there had been a case of an exploding battery in one of the shops.

“In one of the shops here they were charging a phone after they made the sale and it just exploded,” he said, adding that he would not sell a Note 7 to anyone even if they found smuggled phones because he didn’t want to risk any customer coming back with complaints.

“It will be a ghatay ka sauda [bad deal], which we don’t want to get ourselves involved in,” he explained. “If something goes wrong, the company here isn’t going to take it back since they never released it here.”

This just in: Atif Aslam will sing for Onir’s next film after all

Atif Aslam fans, take heart.

The singer has agreed to sing for My Brother Nikhil director Onir’s upcoming film, Shab.

The director confirmed the same in an interview with IANS, “I’ve been bombarded with my fans asking that I include Atif in ‘Shab’ music. Everyone was asking me to recreate the magic of ‘Bas Ek Pal’, so I think I have to give them ‘Aur Ek Pal’. He is going to be part of the film.”

Earlier, when Onir announced Shab’s music, fans were disappointed by Atif’s absence and pleaded the director to give them another hit like ‘Tere Bin’ from Bas Ek Pal. Onir promised his fans that he’d try his best.

It turns out that his efforts did not go in vain. Atif Aslam has joined Shab’s roster of singers, which include Mohammed Irfan, KK and Mithoon.

Shab, starring Raveena Tandon, is the story of a coffee shop girl Raina (Arpita Chatterjee) and her lover, an aspiring model. Sonal (Raveena) is a fashion patron who becomes his mentor. The film centers around their intense relationship.

Shortage of medicines worsens amid price freeze

KARACHI: A number of drugs, including some life-saving ones, are running in short supply as manufacturers say stagnant, low prices have rendered their local production unfeasible.

These medicines are prescribed for treating epilepsy, thyroid disease, neurological disorders, etc.

Some of the drugs in shortage are Actifed P, Cafcol, Panadol CF, Benadryl and Benatus syrups, Ventolin tablets (40mg), Flagyl, Freccium, Nicotex, etc.

Drugs that are available at some chemists but not available in some areas are: Arinac Forte, Thyroxin, Lomotil, Polyfax ointment, Panadol drop, Myrin Fort, Citlarca and Folic Acid.

Sources said some hospitals are facing shortage of Keyexalate, Colomycin, Neurobion, Zyrtec, Furolin, Merevan, Apresoline, Primaquine, Napa, etc. These drugs are used to cure hepatitis C and B, malaria and epilepsy.

Besides, some hospitals have run out of Pyrazinamide and Ethamdultal, two essential drugs to cure tuberculosis, or TB.

The shortage of these basic medicines may cause “catastrophic epidemics”, hospital sources said.

One reason behind the shortage is that around 20-30 per cent essential drugs are not produced in Pakistan because of a decade-long price freeze. Drug makers say it is simply unfeasible to manufacture some medicines.

Oxytocin and Methylergomet­rine Maleate, medicines classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as essential to control maternal deaths, are also in short supply. Out of the 10 companies that are allowed to produce these life-saving drugs, only three are manufacturing them. The rest of the companies have stopped production citing “high input costs and extremely low maximum retail price (MRP)” allowed by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).

Sources said that one of these companies, which has almost 90pc market share, is now forced to import these life-saving medicines at significantly higher costs.

These discontinued drugs are either smuggled or imported at a very high rate and are then sold to patients at prices much higher than those requested by the industry from DRAP. “Maternal mortality rate could grow manifolds due to the absence of these two essential medicines,” a gynaecologist at a government hospital said.

The industry is often blamed for seeking refuge in court’s stay orders, whereas it accuses DRAP of inaction which pushes the manufacturers to go to courts. At present, around 50 cases are pending at the Sindh High Court (SHC) regarding different matters, including pricing, registration and import approval.

The SHC was recently approached by a manufacturer after DRAP refused to raise the price of a life-saving injection drug or allow its import. The court then directed the regulatory authority to allow its import within three days. The drug, sold for Rs5 was to be imported at $1 per injection.

The industry earlier went to courts twice, in 2013 and earlier this year, against low drug prices.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Pharma­ceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PPMA) has said some 70-80 medicines have become disappeared from the market due to “utterly unfair pricing mechanism” due to which their indigenous manufacturing has become unfeasible. The pharmaceutical sector was the only industry in the country which paid general sales tax on certain inputs but it could not charge consumers for it, the association said.

It said the price controlling powers of DRAP should be confined only to WHO’s “Model List of Essential Medicines”, a globally accepted list that contains all life-saving and other emergency medicines. Drug makers have now been left with no option but to approach the superior court, it said.

PCB chief recovering after heart surgery

LAHORE: Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan has successfully undergone heart surgery in England and he is now recovering in hospital, a PCB spokesman announced here on Monday.

The chairman, who reached England during the fourth week of August, directly from Sri Lanka where he was elected as the Asian Cricket Council chairman, felt breathing problems following which he went through some medical tests that suggested a surgery.

“The PCB chairman has successfully undergone a heart surgery in England and is now recuperating in the hospital; he is expected to return home early after the final medical advice,” said the spokesman.

After the surgery, it will take at least two weeks for Shaharyar to fully recover and start travelling.

“It is the first time that Shaharyar had to go through [the] medical tests just because of the breathing problems; and a timely decision regarding the surgery helped him avoid any serious problem,” Shaharyar’s family sources said.

Meanwhile, the chairman also sent greetings to Team Pakistan on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha.

“The chairman in his Eid message from England [also] lauded the team on completing a successful tour to England. He said the Test squad being named the top team in the ICC rankings was the highlight of the tour,” a PCB press release read.

“On top of it, the tour ended with praise all around from the British public and knowledgeable cricketers.”