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Attack of the Munchies!

August 04, 2014

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Gol Gappas are a perennial favourite for spice-lovers, but the capital has been starved for proper masala since Munchies lost its charm. Newcomers are now cashing in on the demand for chatkhara items.
Gol Gappas are a perennial favourite for spice-lovers, but the capital has been starved for proper masala since Munchies lost its charm. Newcomers are now cashing in on the demand for chatkhara items.

ISLAMABAD: Tucked away amidst a cluster of book shops lies the Munchies Snack Bar in Sector F-6 Markaz. Although the franchise has now successfully expanded itself to various parts of the city, the corner shop in Super Market remains an iconic place for all Islooites.

Servers and waiters sporting uniforms with the franchise logo – which looks like Pacman’s rouge twin brother – offer service that is ‘unparalleled’.

Rohail Salman, a recent college graduate, says he feels “wanted” at the Munchies outlet. “No where else does the staff swarm my car in such a friendly manner, like they do here,” he says, tongue-in-cheek, adding, “Although the waiters from another nearby outlet also approach my car, they always go back sulking when I say I want to order from Munchies.”

Anyone who grew up in the capital during the 1990s and the early 2000s has memories attached to this place.

This outlet was once the hottest place in town, and much like the Kohsar Market of today, you could always expect to bump into friends and acquaintances when stopping here for a snack.

Gol Gappas are a perennial favourite for spice-lovers, but the capital has been starved for proper masala since Munchies lost its charm. Newcomers are now cashing in on the demand for chatkhara items.
Gol Gappas are a perennial favourite for spice-lovers, but the capital has been starved for proper masala since Munchies lost its charm. Newcomers are now cashing in on the demand for chatkhara items.

Although famous for its chaat and gol gappas (or paani puri), the snack bar offers a vast menu which includes bun kebabs and paratha rolls. Sadly, over the years, as competition has increased, the outlet seems to have lost its charm and taste.

Mashallah Burger next door is the most obvious contender. Often dubbed the best bun kebab place outside of Karachi, the little-known but delectable eatery has fashioned itself after the famous Refreshment Centre in Rawalpindi’s semicircular Commercial Market.

The outlet is frequented by regulars and the waiters remember their faces well. CDA-installed benches serve as seating for customers and it is here, over plates of Samosa chaat or Anda Shami burgers, that many-an urbanised Islooite sheds all pretences and devours street food by the plate load.

At Munchies, the khatta paani that is at the heart of any gol gappa dish seems to be more watered-down today than it once was; perhaps indicating a change in gastronomical trends in the capital. All in all, the consensus seems to be that the outlet does not produce the same gol gappas it used to in previous decades.

This is why it has been unseated by newcomers such as Lahore Chatkhara. A relatively new entrant to the Islamabad market, the outlet wins out when it comes to ambience.

The prices of most items are about the same as most other outlets in the city but there is far more variety. Niche foods like Gujrati puri and masala dossas tantalise visitors’ taste buds like no other eatery. Here, the gol gappas have the perfect amalgamation of tamarind and spices and do justice to the outlet’s name.

Even when compared with the original outlet in Lahore, the taste and quality of food does not disappoint. The atmosphere and the outlook of the franchise assure the customers of the hygiene, something which cannot be guaranteed about most other snack bars in the city.

“The Lahore Chatkhara is just right. The elements are all in perfect harmony. Munchies’ gol gappas never seem quite clean and the chutney at Hyderabadi Chatkhara is too overpowering and garish,” says Saman Farooqi, a masala enthusiast and regular visitor.

Despite many other rising competitors, including Gulshan and Hyderabadi Chatkhara in F-10 Markaz, the Munchies outlets through out the city are crowded with customers.

Maybe because the brand name has a decade-long legacy to support itself in terms of marketing. For many, Munchies has better brand recall than any other outlet in the city.

“Munchies is the first name that pops in my head, whenever we decide on having something spicy like chaat or gol gappas,” says Zuhair, a delighted customer. “We have been coming here since we were kids. There is sort of a loyalty, you could say.”

Setting aside its drawbacks, the outlet, specially the Munchies gol gappas, still enjoys a large fan following in the federal capital. And the trend does not seem to be changing in the near future.

Published in Dawn, Aug 4th, 2014