Birds of a feather
Before a certain goateed colonel from the deep south of the United States of America brought his flock of fried fowl to these shores, the hungry denizens of Karachi used to devour broasted chicken with great relish. And despite the popularity of the American fast food franchise, Karachians still have a soft spot for ‘broast’ – as it is referred to by the punters – of the local variety.
Practically every area in the city has quite a few broast outlets. Though this writer has neither the stomach nor the budget to sample all of them, an attempt has been made to list some of the deserving names from Karachi’s plethora of broast-wallahs.
Broast is actually something of a misnomer, as the proper term that applies to the method of preparing chicken served by most outlets is ‘broasted.’ That too is a trademarked term as broasting is a specific method of cooking pioneered by a firm in the United States in the 1950s, and only those outlets that use the firm’s equipment are technically allowed to use the term ‘broasted.’
However, the method has been replicated and what broasting basically is, is a combination of deep frying and pressure cooking chicken.According to our armchair Karachi historians, broast first made its arrival in the city sometime in the mid eighties. And suffice to say, it’s had a roaring ride ever since, as Karachians have taken quite a liking to the stuff. Even though the colonel and his cluckers from Kentucky entered the local market about a decade later in the mid nineties, local broast has held on and in fact prospered.
But technicalities be damned! How it is made and what the history of the fried birds in Karachi is, is of relatively little concern to us. What matters to us is how it tastes. And if you are lucky enough to be dining at one of the above-average broast joints in the city, it tastes damn good!
You see, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of broast joints in Karachi are just plain average. They might be fine in times of dire hunger, when better options are not available, but to truly savour the deep fried flavour of the ‘real’ thing, one must be a bit selective.
As a broast ‘chef’ told this writer, the two main varieties available in the market are ‘plain’ and ‘crispy’ broast. The latter has gained prominence after the arrival of the American fried chicken franchise. Now not out of any latent anti-Americanism, but I personally find the plain variety of broast to be far superior to the crispy type, as crispy broast can be a mask for badly made chicken. With enough marinade and given the deep-fried treatment, I’m sure even cardboard can taste great. Hence my partiality for plain broast, wherein lies the true essence of fried chicken.
Though broast connoisseurs swear by Karachi Broast, located near Nazimabad’s Chowrangi, I must sheepishly admit I have never tried it. Perhaps this disqualifies me from reviewing the quality of broast in Karachi. Perhaps not. Even those who ply the broast trade claim the aforementioned joint is the pioneer of the stuff in Karachi.
But one outlet this writer feels holds aloft the banner of plain broast with some aplomb is Khan Snacks. Located just before the Water Pump traffic signal on Shahrah-i-Pakistan, it is colloquially known as ‘Khan Broast.’ The eatery is divided into two portions: males sit on the first floor while families on the second. This writer visited the place after aeons with a friend and his family late one night and suffice to stay, it was the same old chicken, which in this case was a darn good thing. The service has improved, as our orders arrived in less than five minutes. Surprisingly, it took the cold drinks about 15 minutes to arrive, which was a bit odd.
The birds were done up in the plain style and the amount of grease had been reduced. The meat was tender and succulent, while the skin was crisp. Though a version of garlic sauce is served at similar joints, here a raita-like concoction was served, which was passable. The fries have also improved and were larger in size, as previously, one remembered being served limp, grease-covered excuses for French fries. Along with half a burger bun per serving, the quarter broast combo was complete. However, the notoriously dodgy looking and tasting ketchup should be avoided at all costs.
Other broast joints that deserve kudos include KBC in Saddar, along with Jan Broast, also located in Karachi’s commercial hub, though a snazzy new branch opened a few years ago in the Boating Basin area.
Despite my protests, a friend dragged me to an ‘average’ broast outlet in North Nazimabad. Now I’m no fascistic foodie, but I have standards. But it was a learning experience as it proved my point: not all broast is good broast. The crispy version at this place was far too salty and under the layers of deep fried skin, the meat was moist and unpalatable.
Once more, I stood vindicated.