Takeaway is a popular option at TFC - Photos by Syed Zubairuddin Shah
Takeaway is a popular option at TFC - Photos by Syed Zubairuddin Shah

Come December and beyond, as the winds get nippier and pick up pace, Karachiites instinctively know it’s time for soup. This is because of an ingrained sense of ancient wisdom and logic (read: seasonal flu).

Winters in K-Town may be a mere whimper and pale in comparison to the northern parts of Pakistan during these wintry, frost-bitten months, yet Karachiites like to dress up in their woollies at the first hint of chill in the air, just to keep the tradition alive. Even when day and night-time temperatures in the coastal city drop only by a digit or two.

When it comes to soups, nothing and I mean nothing can beat all-time mass favourites such as chicken corn soup, hot and sour soup and Peshawari chicken yakhni. But then many haven’t sampled the thin Thai soup at Tasty Food Centre (TFC), located at Hussainabad’s populous food street.

Thailand with all its ‘guilty’ pleasures may be off-limits because of the pandemic, but Karachiites can still savour a desi Thai soup to beat the winter chills

Accompanied with a sketchy image of the original owner of the start-up, Mahmood Ahmed, who bore a striking resemblance to KFC’s Colonel Sanders, TFC’s tagline ‘Okhai Masjid ke mashhoor soup-walay’ [The famous soup-makers of Okhai Masjid], proudly announces their popularity among the local Okhai Memon community.

The pride and joy of Hussainabad’s  food street
The pride and joy of Hussainabad’s food street

Just a stone’s throw away from the Kaka Bawani Vocational Centre and all-women Meena Bazar (that is, if you have a very strong throwing arm), TFC panders to lovers of the staple chicken corn soup (with the option of egg for 120 rupees or plain for 100 rupees), but peddles Thai soup as well at the same prices. Soup is available only during the winter months, with TFC dealing in fresh juices and milkshakes during the sizzling summer months.

I first found out about the Thai broth at TFC last year through a dear friend who took up residence in the Federal B. Area whereabouts. He hauled me over to TFC out of sheer pity upon seeing me suffer from a severe case of the sniffles, thanks to the severely polluted, cold and dry Karachi air.

Thai soup with curry leaves, sliced boiled egg and paaprri
Thai soup with curry leaves, sliced boiled egg and paaprri

After two jumbo bowls of Thai soup, with sliced boiled eggs and a side of crunchy paaprri, I was a changed man. The sniffles had been vanquished and replaced by profuse sweating. Needless to say, I was back again the next night to gorge on the life-saving brew, and have remained a loyal seasonal customer ever since.

An aromatic blend of curry leaves, varied condiments, shredded chicken, whole red chilli peppers and oh-so-much-more (including Mahmood Ahmed’s secret ingredient) goes into the making of this very desi take on Thai soup, which Mahmood Ahmed and now his sons have been selling for the last 22 years. The sons may have taken over from the father, but there’s been no change or decline in the standard or quality of the soups, especially the Thai.

Prep done and awaiting eager customers
Prep done and awaiting eager customers

Word-of-mouth and urban legend has it that Mahmood Ahmed used to work as a sous-chef in the kitchen of a well-reputed hotel in Karachi. He started this soup stall upon his leave from there and the rest, as they say, is culinary history. Their loss is our gain, I guess.

The writer is a member of staff.

He tweets @faisal_quraishi

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 26th, 2021

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