Is healthy, nutritious, calculated eating the ‘it’ trend in town? Maybe not yet, but there is potential, definitely. People are more than ever conscious of what and how much they eat. Eating habits do take time to evolve and where food is passion, people will want to try out anything new provided it is promoted smartly.

A venture called Grab Your Meal – aptly abbreviated as GYM – opened in the DHA in May. Located a couple of lanes behind the bustling Y block market in a residential neighbourhood, this small eatery is not hard to locate though they need to update their map location on their Facebook page.

As per young proprietor Umair Ijaz, the idea of GYM stemmed from his own need for healthy, grilled food that he could have as fast food that he couldn’t find anywhere in Lahore. He insists the food he serves is not only for the fitness conscious who hit a gym every day, but for anyone who wishes to eat healthy, hygienic, grilled fast food with nutrients because “it’s 2017 and about time people started watching what they were eating”.

Meant to be a take-away fast food joint primarily, GYM does have a handful of bar stools in case you want to dine in. Upon entering the tiny space, you’re welcomed by a spacious live kitchen with a grill and brick oven behind a counter. The Mediterranean-themed menu is limited for now and lets a customer create their own meal – a sandwich or a bowl -- in a step-wise manner.

The first step is to choose a bread baked freshly in their brick oven – in case one wants a sandwich -- from whole wheat honey oats, whole wheat seeded, white garlic and white seeded. Next, you choose your meat from spicy Mediterranean chicken, Middle Eastern chicken, beef meatball, chicken meatball and lamb meatball. The meat is grilled on rock salt. You move on to select the base from hummus, baba ganoush, spicy salsa, plum sauce and guacamole with avocados, and fresh veggies from iceberg lettuce, pickles, carrot, olives, broccoli, cabbage and beetroot. The last step is selecting your sauce(s) – they suggest you choose a maximum of three to avoid losing the flavour – from the hot Portuguese peri peri, Turkish mustard paste and yoghurt, Arabian honey and herbs, Middle Eastern tamarind, Lebanese pickle and olive oil, French tarragon, Italian olive oil and basil leaves, Indian mint, green chilli and pomegranate seeds, American BBQ, garlic and Thousand Island. Almost all the sauces are prepared in-house they say.

I started with a sandwich and asked for exactly the one printed on the menu as it looked really appetising: spicy Mediterranean chicken, carrots, broccoli and hummus in a whole wheat honey oats bread. First bite, second, third and I couldn’t taste a thing, but the bread; it was bland – a letdown. Maybe it wasn’t the right combo of meat and sauces. The chicken may be cooked well, but lacked the spice it was supposed to have and the sauce didn’t help either. On the plus side, the fresh honey oats bread was absolutely delicious and I had all of it, but it dominated the meat and sauces inside, which I left after a few more bites. For a little over Rs500 a meal, including baby-baked potatoes and a drink, it’s not too bad provided you get the combination of bread, meat and sauces right.

Next, I tried the meal in a container. For my meat, I requested the staff if I could get small portions of all five meats. For the base I chose hummus, the baba ganoush with fresh pomegranate and the hot salsa; all of the fresh veggies; and the fiery peri peri and Lebanese sauces.

Half of the plastic bowl had fresh pickled veggies and the other half with the bases with the meats sitting on top drizzled with the sauces. The spicy Mediterranean chicken – slices of a boneless thigh with paprika, cayenne pepper and olive oil – was slightly hard but the flavours were great; the Middle Eastern chicken – shredded thigh with white pepper and seasoning – was succulent and tasty; the minced beef meatballs marinated with mustard grain had a lovely char on top, were cooked through and delicious; the minced chicken meatballs marinated with garlic and parsley were juicy and mildly spicy; and the minced lamb meatballs marinated with mustard grain were tender, aromatic and delicious.

The combination of salsa and peri peri sauce ended up being an explosion of spices, but I’m not complaining. On the whole, the bowl was way better than the sandwich, which the manager claimed was – surprisingly -- more popular. I was told each meal contained a calculated 180 to 200gms of whichever meat was ordered.

To wash down the spices I ordered their refreshing ginger honey drink, which I loved. GYM soon plans to introduce grilled fish and prawns to their menu, which would be a great addition. Being true to the fast food concept, a meal is ready in less than 10 minutes, however the staff could be a little more helpful and not confuse a customer. While the concept of eating right and avoiding stuffing yourself up may not be novel, it surely will contribute to encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles incorporate healthy, nutritious food to their diets.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2017