The tempting street foods that make great snacks, especially on a cold and foggy night
ome winters and the vendors of various food items pop up in many parts of the city roads and streets. They smartly identify the ‘hotspots’ where they will attract greater public attention and then park their stalls there — every day of the week, for the entire length of the season.
As you step out in the street, the aroma of freshly dry-roasted corncobs and peanuts hit your olfactory receptors and makes your mouth water. You also find stalls of sweet potatoes (shakar kandi) simmering on a hotplate (tawa) over a handmade coal stove. Then there are those selling hot bowls of chicken corn soup, cuppa tea and coffee. Some are found selling garam aanday (hard-boiled eggs).
All these items make our signature winter street food. They make great snacks on the go, especially on a cold and foggy night. For the daily commuters or random passers-by, these are too tempting to let pass. Sana Rasool, a communications officer at a public sector organisation, says that winter is the “best time to dine out, or even just snack up while driving around.”
She also speaks of the street vendors who “brave the cold to earn bread.”
She is right. The city routinely receives hundreds of jobless laymen who travel long distances to come to Lahore which offers them some hope for survival at least this season.
In the last week of October, Shahbaz Khan travelled to Lahore from Mansehra, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Due to heavy snowfall in his hometown, public life comes to a standstill, he tells TNS. Lahore gives him the chance to make a living by selling dry fruits and chestnuts in the streets.
He says he rented a cart from a wholesale dealer of chestnuts, peanuts and corn; and now parks it daily on MM Alam Link Road, Ghalib Market, where he dry-roasts the items on open fire before serving them smoking hot to his customers.
Khan, who has been in this business since the 1990s, dreads brief winters in Lahore as they “put us out of work too early.”
He recalls how until the early ’90s, winter would begin as early as in the second week of October.
Yaseen, Ghulam Haider and Khan Muhammad are from Haveli Lakkha. Every day from 11 in the morning till midnight, they occupy different corners of MM Alam Road and sell shakar kandi.
“It’s a three-month gig; then we return to our village in Okara,” Yaseen says. He adds that the earnings from their work in these three months are supposed to last them the year.
Talking about their typical workday, he says, “At around 5 in the morning we go to the mandi (wholesale market) and get good-quality products. We wash these at the place we’ve rented, then boil them in an LPG-powered oven. By 9 in the night, we are sold out. So we return to our rented place, go to sleep.”
At night, Lahore’s markets, including the Main Market in Gulberg, Shadman Market in Shadman, and Moon Market in Iqbal Town turn into food streets.
Khurram Nawaz, a Punjab University graduate, has a wheel cart-driven chai stall in Barkat Market, Garden Town. He makes several kinds of tea each of which he’s given an interesting name — such as karrak chai, pyari doodh patti and mughliya chai. His Kashmiri queen chai, also called sabz chai, is his hottest selling item. He boils water and milk on an LPG-powered oven and serves tea in disposable cups with straws.
In summers, his cart turns into a margarita drink corner.
Traditionally, a tea stall is a place where people come in groups and enjoy hot cups of tea over happy discussions on politics and so on. But Nawaz’s stall is without a chair. So, his customers walk up, skim through the menu, place the order, grab their cups, and leave.
Street vendors, especially those who move their goods on a pushcart, have got hawk eyes: once they have spotted a potential customer, they’ll hover around him, and may even approach him/ her directly and offer to taste the Amrikan badaam or Iranian almonds etc. Their persuasive skills are worth applauding.
Many people think these snacks are healthy foods, but nutritionists advise caution. Dr Shehla Javed Akram, a nutritionist with 30 years of experience, says it is best to avoid sabz chai if it has excessive amounts of salt.
“Our population is generally predisposed to hypertension (high blood pressure). So, it’s not advisable to consume a lot of sodium-enriched foods,” she says. “Similarly, roasted nuts aren’t recommended. Pick unroasted ones instead, but keep in mind that most people gain weight during the winter solely because of mindless snacking.”
The writer is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship