THERE has been a profound change in the eating habits of the people of Karachi over the last two decades. Eateries and fast-food restaurants have sprung up like mushroom in all nook and cranny of the metropolis.
These restaurants remain crowded during dinner hours almost every day mainly on holidays till late in the night. In many cases there are even queues of families waiting for vacant tables.
There was a time when eating outside the house or in the open on roadside was considered a social taboo. Only the affluent gentry used to enjoy dinner at the few prestigious hotels that existed in the city at that time.
Eating outside was against social norms and elderly people avoided it the most. A senior journalist working in a reputed English daily talking on the topic narrated his own ordeal. He said that in early seventies, one day while returning from office, he felt very hungry. On way through the Impress Market in Saddar, he saw a bunch of healthy ripe banana on a vendor’s pushcart. He purchased some of the fruit.
But as it was out of etiquette to eat on the road, he walked to a somewhat lonely street towards St. Joseph College. He took a banana out of the packet, peeled it and had taken only a bite when somebody greeted him from behind. He gulped the bite; off fell the packet from his hand as he turned embarrassed to find one of his close neighbours standing beside. But today socially it does not matter at all.
Off late, the city has started growing vertically. Many of the lower middle-class people who remain confined to small apartments in their multi-storied flats come out of their homes to dine at these eateries to escape suffocation for a while and enjoy the open cosy atmosphere.
Many families, where husband and wife both work in offices, returning home exhausted, find a respite in dining outdoor without indulging in domestic chore of preparing food at home. Also many people use tinned food or fast food to cope with the time.
The change in eating habits of the people has spurred the growth of businesses like bakeries, readymade foods and eating houses. Thousands of cooks and chefs are engaged in preparing tasty food and cuisine. In hotels and restaurants waiters are seen busy receiving orders from their customers and spreading tables with sizzling and mouth-watering delicacies.
With the fast-food restaurants crowded with people, a sense of competition has emerged among these eateries and their owners are trying to excel over the others by improving food quality. This competition has also given boost to the art of gastronomy. And the varieties of dishes are improving with taste and exotic aroma to allure the people.
With the eateries, a lot of other allied businesses are also prospering. Consumption of chicken, mutton, beef and seafood has increased manifold. Tons of white and red meet are being supplied daily to these fast-food restaurants in the city, and devoured by the gluttonous crowd that visits these restaurants.
There is hardly any area in this city which does not have some sort of food street of its own. Apart from the one time famous food street of the Burns Road serving nehari, paye, chapli kabab, brain masala, halim etc., now there are hundreds of such food streets across Karachi serving delicacies like chicken tikka, karahi gosht, behari kabab, reshmi kabab, broast, khatakhat and the like.
Apart from food streets, there are specific zones in Karachi where many such restaurants have been set up like those on the Super Highway, Korangi Creek, Boating Basin in Clifton and the latest among them the Grand Port near the Native Jetty.
McDonald, KFC, Pizza Huts and Hardee’s are among the foreign franchised restaurants and food outlets that have adorned the city with their illuminated hoardings and billboards and are serving sumptuous food. These eating houses which have found their way into Pakistan in the last decade attract thousands of people and are doing a roaring business all over the country.
Even the local eating houses, which have earned good reputation and profit over the years, have opened their outlets in big cities of the country and some of them are planning to set up their outlets abroad.
An example is the Barbeque Tonight starting off as a roadside restaurant in Clifton. A popular venue for people from all walks of life; it has become one of the most popular restaurants of the city. From a small restaurant it has expanded to a four-storey complex with a rooftop garden. It has its outlet in Lahore and its owner recently leased its franchise to a party in Islamabad.
Earlier there was a system to arrange cooks to prepare food for banquets on the occasion of functions such as wedding, birthday parties etc at the place of function. The host had to arrange all the inputs like rice, meat, ghee, spices etc for the food to be prepared. The cooks and chefs used to prepare the food which was served to the guests.
Soon a group of people including the chefs got the clue that the business was lucrative. They started catering food on such occasions. This mode became common soon and is being widely practiced currently. Foods prepared at these kitchens (matbakh) are brought to the venue of function and served.
This catering business has employed a large number of people in the trade rolling millions of rupees daily. Some of the chefs who had the resources and some acumen have opened their own food house (matbakh) where they prepare food on orders.
These chefs and those dealing in the business have opened a chain of such kitchens across the city and are catering to the food demands of the people, reaping the benefits.
Akhtar Pakwan belongs to the same category of caterers that had started from the scrap. Its owner had opened a small food house at the Nagin Chawrangi in New Karachi and started supplying food on orders. The business picked up and now he has a chain of matbakh across the city.
He has also established a multi-storey air-conditioned restaurant in the area. Chaudhry Matin is yet another example among many others in the city who has opened several cooking houses and restaurants in various parts of Karachi starting from a humble beginning. These people are now wallowing in riches and enjoying a higher status in society.
These eating houses and matbakhs are also contributing millions of rupees to the economy by collecting tax levied on food served at these restaurants. The government needs to keep a vigil over these restaurants to restrain them from tax evasion.