ISLAMABAD: No one really remembers how or when pakoras joined the ranks of Rooh Afza and dates as a staple Iftar item in Pakistan. But each Ramazan, countless stalls pop up at every nook and corner where everything from aubergines to chicken are dipped in spicy batter and deep fried.
But in Islamabad, a city not known for its street food, finding the best pakora can be something of a challenge.
An obvious place to start is the Aabpara Market, the capital’s oldest commercial area, where an hour before Iftar, the easiest way to spot Babar Snacks Bar is by the crowds and, of course, the aroma of frying pakoras. The owner proudly tells us that he has been selling pakoras at this stall for nearly sixty years. “I cannot tell you my name because I am a government servant and I still have one year of service left,” he says with a chuckle.
“But mine is the oldest stall in Islamabad. We have green chilli, aubergine, potato and mixed vegetable pakora.”
The mixed pakora, sold at Rs200 per kilogram, is great if eaten fresh from the vat. Ingredients such as potatoes, onions, spinach and spices combine well with the gram flour batter. “Spinach has become very expensive, so we use it sparingly,” says the owner.
The more adventurous may opt for the deliciously tantalising green chilli pakoras. Combining the crisp batter with the spicy bite of the chilli, this pakora is guaranteed to wake up the taste buds after a daylong fast.
In nearby Melody Market too, numerous pakora stalls have been set up. The oldest among these is the Refreshment Centre, which is popular for its chicken pakoras. Sold at Rs800 a kilogram, these are only slightly different from fried chicken. Boneless chicken meatballs are dipped in traditional spicy gram flour batter and deep fried.
A true speciality in this market is the boiled egg pakora, seldom found at other places in the city. With a hardboiled egg centre and a spicy, crisp exterior, this kind of pakora is considered to be a cold weather treat, mostly sold in hilly areas such as Murree.
|Egg pakoras. — Photo courtesy: evernewrecipes.com|
Here in Melody Market, it is only prepared at one makeshift stall, step up on a cart parked near the entrance of the food park.
The owner explains that since this kind of pakora takes longer to prepare, bigger shops cannot keep up with demand at Iftar time.
But surprisingly, the city’s best mixed pakora is sold in the F-6 Supermarket, at the Super Fresh Juice Centre . A number of SUVs with are parked around the small stall as drivers wait for their snacks to be packed in brown paper bags. While the rate for mixed pakora in most places in the city is around Rs240 per kilogram, pakoras at this shop are sold at Rs200 per kilogram.
The spice mix is perfect and the size of the pakora is small, which ensures a thorough cook for all the ingredients, while keeping the gram flour crisp. “We have been selling pakoras every Ramazan for almost 25 years and the business is good. We are completely sold out by Iftar time,” says Asad Mehmood while he gently drops the batter covered vegetables in bubbling oil.
“The ingredients are of course key. We use good quality oil and fresh vegetables,” he adds.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2015