The bun kebab — that simple-to-cook sandwich — has been the city’s main fast-food attraction for nearly half a century and has survived the test of time by being the only ‘dish’ one can have anywhere, anytime across the metropolis.

Served with aromatic spices and chutney to die for, mayonnaise and more recently French fries, bun kebabs were around when films were shown in countless cinemas across the city; they are still here when multiplexes have taken over and are likely to stay even if IMAX arrives in Karachi. Such is their appeal.

In fact there seems to be a definite connection between bun kebabs and cinemas; for example the now-defunct Khayyam Cinema was preferred over others because of the bun kebab-wala in the street behind it. Even today there is a bun-kebab stall outside Capri. Indeed every corner of Karachi has its own brand of bun kebabs.

Some vendors serve it in a burger bun while in some places the patty is placed in a samoli or hot dog-style bun, but the taste hardly changes. Be it at Pakistan Chowk, Boating Basin, North Nazimabad, Defence or Nursery, a bun kebab stays a bun kebab.

You can add an egg to make it special or have it in its rawest form — boiled chickpeas — but it stays a bun kebab — the ubiquitous street food of Karachi. Even the makers of Karachi’s very own flick Na Maloom Afraad realised the importance of the (anday wala) bun kebab and included it in a scene that was pivotal to the plot and made its way into the hearts and stomachs of the viewers.

And then there is its next-generation cousin — the burger that has taken the city by storm. In a few years the Western-style burger may become as popular as paratha rolls and bun kebabs now are. Till the 1980s there were only a handful of local burger joints in the city where people used to go out once a month or so. But since the advent of the international fast-food chains in the ’90s, the burger’s popularity has picked up.

Now the burger is the in thing, no matter how pricey. There is a booming business of burgers. First there were just chicken and beef burgers but they have now been followed by fish burgers as well. Today it seems that every mall in the city now houses burger joints in numbers.

Even fast-food joints that didn’t specialise in burgers now include them in their menus because when in Karachi, do as the Karachiites demand. The taste buds of those living in the city may have been developed by bun kebabs; but they have also grown accustomed to burgers and unlike all else in this chaotic city, at the moment both seem to live in harmony.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2015

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