The novelty of winter in Karachi is as fleeting as a politician’s promises. On such cold nights, there is no choice but to bury yourself in layers or huddle under the comforter. However, the good news is that you can warm up with a countless variety of hot drinks that the vendors sell during this short, cold spell. There is a long list of delicious beverages to choose from: street-side espressos, hot chocolate, Kashmiri chai, chicken yakhni and garam doodh are all available in the market currently.
“We start to serve Kashmiri chai as soon as the first winter wave arrives,” says Jameel of Quetta Zam Zam Hotel located at Bahadarabad Chowrangi. “This is popular during this season because it keeps you garam [warm]!” Jameel also uses a “special masala.” He wouldn’t let on as to what it is except that he get his ingredients from Empress Market.
Jameel keeps stirring the chai and lets it brew and boil. This Jameel says, lets the masala integrate with the milk and thicken it. After five instances of brewing and boiling he serves the pink chai with a sprinkle of chopped walnuts.
I take a sip: the crunch of the walnuts, the sweetness, the slight hint of cardamom and the mild thickness of the milk come together to titillate the taste buds.
How rich can a milk drink be?
The air inside is heavy with the smell of milk. The new and improved Super United Dairy on Dr Daudpota Road sports a combination of two special features this cold season: Kastoori doodh and Chuaaray ka doodh or garam doodh.
Hafiz, the owner, sits behind the counter facilitating customers as he talks to me. “Garam doodh is sold all year round but Kastoori doodh is sold as soon as the first chill arrives,” he tells me. According to Hafiz, zafraan (saffron) was their special ingredient and the drink was once dubbed zafraan kastoori doodh but as the price for the spice increased, it was eliminated from the ingredients.
“Now we just add egg, Ovaltine, small and large cardamoms, cinnamon and almonds.” He serves me half-a -cup of this concoction and I could immediately taste all the spices — the most apt description of its taste is that it’s the desi co-opted version of the English eggnog. This intense drink costs 60 rupees per pau (quart).
Garam doodh is another popular beverage at Super United Dairy. This drink is lightly brewed for hours beginning in the afternoon and dates are added to increase the nutritional value and sweetness of the drink. Those who want to sweeten their drink further can add a piece of jalebi into the bowl too. A plain and simple bowl of garam doodh costs 30 rupees and an additional jalebi and a date to go with it raises costs to 60 rupees.
It is past 10pm and the frequency of customers continues to increase at this milk shop (which is open 24 hours a day). Many clients are stopping over on their way home from work. Nearly all the orders are for the garam doodh or doodh jalebi.
Hafiz points out that their popularity is partly due to their no-contamination policy (read: no watering down of their drinks); a standard that he has strived to maintain for the last 18 years since starting his shop. He says: “While other shops add water, we don’t. That is how we maintain quality.” This is quite evident from rich thickness in both dairy products.
Hafiz, the owner, sits behind the counter facilitating customers as he talks to me. “Garam doodh is sold all year round but Kastoori doodh is sold as soon as the first chill arrives,” he tells me. According to Hafiz, zafraan was their special ingredient and the drink was once dubbed zafraan kastoori doodh but as the price for the spice increased, it was eliminated from the ingredients.
Please sir, may I have a bowl of soup?
If sweet drinks aren’t your thing, don’t worry. There are plenty of savoury and spicy beverages to choose from. During winter, several soup stands can be spotted in the metropolitan. Feeling chilly? Stop at one and select a bowl of chicken corn soup or yakhni (a kind of spiced chicken broth).
Located at Burne’s Road is Khan Food Corner (KFC) and depending on your preference, yakhni is available with or without a boiled egg. Behind the helm is Zahid.
The soup is ready in the early hours of the morning and can be bought for the reasonable price of 30 rupees — for an additional 15 rupees, you can also add an egg to your dish. Zahid sells his signature soup from December onwards over the next four months.
The yakhni is prepared earlier in the day and then brought to the soup stand where it is allowed to brew with chicken pieces and eggs for the rest of the night and into the early hours of morning. It’s a bowl of spicy brilliance served with salt, black pepper and chaat masala. And all that spice and hotness is enough to drain out any clogged sinus pathways.
The vendor’s customers are mostly people passing by the road on their way home. “Some are from the mohallas, others from Ranchore Line, Garden and even Saddar and Clifton. Sales especially spike on the weekends since more people move around the city,” he says. According to Zahid, sales of the soup fluctuate with the temperamental weather of the city.
As I talk to KFC’s entrepreneurial owner, a rickshaw driver settles down with some soup — a bowl of warmth that’ll sustain him into the cold of the night.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 5th, 2017