For a Karachiite, the first thing that strikes you when you enter a restaurant in Lahore is the sheer grandeur of the surroundings — be it the view of Badshahi mosque from Andaaz, the riveting polo matches that can be seen live at the Polo Lounge or the vintage furniture at Coffee, Tea and Company.
|The rustic charm of The Polo Lounge. – Photo by author|
Relics of a bygone era, the Mughal style of living is ingrained in every part of Lahore — the architecture, the carved furniture, the paintings — and most importantly in the food!
|View of the Badshahi Mosque from Andaaz, Lahore. – Photo by author|
Going hand and hand with the opulent surroundings is the spaciousness — Lahori restaurants are meant for large parties and boisterous crowds. Even with the zinda dilli that is a part and parcel of every Lahori, there’s still enough space to manoeuvre and not overhear conversations from across the table.
The restaurant service reflects their attitude to life as well — the waiters are attentive, but the service time between courses is longer; the emphasis being on pampering, so one does not just enjoy the delectable food but also the ambiance and company.
|Coffee, Tea and Company in Lahore. – Photo by author|
On the other hand, Karachi is all about cosy eateries with a fast turnaround time — maybe it’s the high rent prices and limited amount of prime space available, but the end result is that we Karachiites are more reserved, fast eaters and experts at navigating knives and forks on a small surface area.
In Lahore, dining out is celebrated with passion — the clothes that one wears and the restaurants that one goes to is just as important as what is ordered. With the fine dining eateries being located in pretty much two main localities, the famous M.M. Alam Road and Y-Block in Defence, bumping into friends and family is typical; so it's all the more important to be dressed up in accordance with the latest fashions.
This could probably be the reason why there is comparatively less home-based food (caterers or bakers) and delivery options. In Karachi, business is booming and competition is very tough with new players entering the market every few days. It has also led to the advent of delivery portals like Urbanite, EatOye, FoodPanda and Delivery Chacha.
In Lahore, the food delivery culture is under development — delivery is available in specific areas, but not as widespread as Karachi, and there is only RoadRunner which provides services of pick-up and delivery.
|Karachi has more delivery portals compared to Lahore.|
Similarly, there are few people who operate in the food business from home — some of the famous ones are Muneeze Khalid and Reena who have both opened outlets and Le Reve who operates from home.
In Karachi, home-based caterers are so well-established that their numbers are on speed dial — Reema with her Thai menu and divine chocolate cake, Saira Faruqi for her khowsuey, Mrs Munaver for her strawberry shortcake, and Maha Javed for her gourmet burgers to name a few.
Although Karachi is considered to be a more experimental city than Lahore with options like Okra, Pompeii, Aylanto, Flo and China Kitchen, Lahore has its fair share of eclectic cuisine as well. There’s Udon House for Korean food, Opium for Thai, Cosa Nostra for gourmet Italian food, Dumpukht Lounge for Afghani and Nisa Sultan for Turkish to name a few.
|From L to R: Antipasto platter at Cosa Nostra, Smoked Chicken & Pesto Pizza on a Whole Wheat Crust at Cosa Nostra (top right) and Chocolate Puddle Cake at the Polo Lounge (bottom right). – Photo by author|
However, niche cuisines which are uber popular in Karachi don’t seem to make the same mark in Lahore.
A long-time resident of Lahore says that in her opinion Karachi is a truly metropolitan city with people from all backgrounds who experiment and change their palettes to adapt to the city. Lahore, on the other hand, is the cultural hub of Punjab and can be reached easily on a road trip from nearby cities and towns; there’s more focus on tradition and large family gatherings, and you just can’t build the same rapport over a knife and a fork, as when you eat chicken tikka with your hands.
Lahori food does have some fine dining culinary treasures — a chocoholic's dream that is the 'Chocolate Puddle Cake' at Polo Lounge, the deceptively sinful 'Daal Makhni' at Andaaz, the grilled to perfection 'Angus Steak' at Cosa Nostra with its array of fancy condiments, the delicately spiced 'Qeema Naan' at Dumpukht Lounge.
|Qeema Naan at Dumpukht Lounge, Lahore. – Photo by author|
But it is the back to basics desi food, specifically the street food that truly defines Lahore — steaming bowls of 'Hareesa', and 'Phajje kay Paye' at Laxmi Chowk; fried tawa machli eaten while shivering inside a woollen shawl in the chilly Lahore winter; the crispy 'Katlama' or the 'Desi Pizza'; bubbling pots of 'Murgh Cholay'; Khan Baba’s signature karhai made from fresh desi murghi; and of course the famous 'Butt ki Karhai' at Laxmi Chowk.
Going with the larger than life theme, the prices at the cafes and fine dining restaurants in Lahore are in the same line — what costs Rs1000 in Karachi will cost you roughly Rs1400-1500 in Lahore; Fuschia in Karachi is at an average of Rs1200 per head for soup, shared main and dessert whereas Yum at Lahore is easily Rs1600 per head for the same.
|The Polo Lounge. – Photo by author|
A meal at Kolachi will cost about Rs1000 per head, whereas the same at Andaaz or Cuckoo’s will again cost about Rs1500 per head; both rooftop restaurants specialising in local cuisine — the 'Malai Boti', 'Paneer Reshmi Handi' and the 'Bihari Boti' at Kolachi is just as good as the 'Tandoori Jheengay', 'Murgh Nizami' and scrumptious 'Daal Makhni' at Andaaz but maybe a glimpse of the remnants of the legendary Shahi Mohalla right next to the Badshahi Mosque has a higher price than the natural splendour of the sea.
|Paneer Reshmi Handi at Kolachi, Karachi. – Photo by author|
In the end, I have to say — Lahore is an experience, but only in moderate amounts as it can empty the wallet, and tip the weighing scale.
Karachi is what I call home — shopping with the girls, having a bite to eat and coffee in the same mall; having gourmet Chinese delivered anywhere in the city; going to a supermarket and just picking up a healthy salad for lunch; going online and ordering the same salad at work without making a single call; having a service that delivers the most mouth-watering Khowsuey right at my doorstep — and absolutely nothing can beat having BBQ under a beautiful starry night with a view of the deep blue sea.
Kiran Afzal is a researcher by profession, who enjoys food blogging and reading on the side.