Udon House is one of Lahore’s coziest and tiniest comfort zones…essential in times of crisis
I took Amjad Sabri’s death harder than I thought I would. I think every Pakistani did, Karachiites more so. I vouch that there was a lot of comfort food eaten the night Amjad Sabri was killed. Biryani, in particular for Karachiites. Comfort food just makes everything feel a little better.
That’s what I was thinking about while driving down the safe streets of Lahore. Finding a decent biryani was out of question but comfort food for Iftar was a must and in my one year of living in Lahore, I had discovered that there is one small, khokha type restaurant that does the deed.
Udon House is a small Korean restaurant located in the heart of Lahore’s busiest areas. When I was first introduced to the restaurant – during my first month in Lahore – I adored it just because it was the tiniest (small, laminated chairs and tables and plastic leather-coated benches, tiny kitchen with a tinier Korean lady cooking) restaurant that I had ever seen. It is one of those places where intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals, New York returns and actual foreigners would come by for a quick lunch or dinner. A simple, no frills, hole in the wall comfort cure.
I reached fifteen minutes before Iftar and entered an empty restaurant, greeted by the news on the television and the smell of what was to come. The stomach grumbled and the restaurant quickly filled up. Soon they were turning people away. I ordered what I always order – the all-time classic chicken curry – but decided to throw in an appetizer and a new arrival as well: vegetarian rice balls and the new Bulgogi soup.
The chicken curry at Udon House is a beautiful shade of yellow with peeks of red carrots, potatoes and chewy brown shitake mushrooms. The chicken always seems to hide in the curry; it’s an adventure fishing it out and sadness prevails when there isn’t any left. I always order it with extra gravy – the more the better to coat the white rice with. There has never been a time when I haven’t finished the rather large dish it is served in. Korean curry isn’t like its Thai counterpart, or Indian for that matter. It isn’t spicy but it has a tinge of heat at the end of every bite. The yellow shine is because of the most predominant flavour of turmeric but it isn’t overpowering at all. Just like with every comfort food, it is difficult to describe but it totally hits the spot. Every single time.
I hated the vegetarian rice balls. They were served when I was halfway done with the curry and I dived in to see if they would be a home run too. Sadly, it was a definite strike out. It was exactly what it’s called: a ball of rice with vegetables in it but served with an over powering soy sauce. I ate less than half and reached for it again when I needed more rice for the curry.
The new Bulgogi soup was served last and I looked at it with suspicion. After the rude vegetarian ball surprise, I wondered whether my favourite Lahore restaurant was a one hit wonder. The soup was served in a steaming bowl and continued to mist our table for a good minute before it revealed itself. Large bites of beef, with even large chunks of tofu, it looked bland. I swerved in a spoon and lifted it to inspect the contents. Glass noodles, hint of green onion and a clear broth; it seemed promising.
And it was sweet. Not literally, but it sang a sweet song in my stomach. The beef wasn’t chewy but wasn’t soft. Beef served just right with chunks of smooth tofu and the sheerness of glass noodles; it was a delight to eat. I was already very full with the curry but my stomach decided to make space for the soup - a clear broth of very subtle flavours. Slightly salty and slightly sweet, it played like an acoustic, easy listening song and I enjoyed every slurp. Would I order it again? Probably not. I will always want the full-bodied comfort that the curry brings me, like an Amjad Sabri qawaali, but the soup - interestingly – is like a perfect goodbye. Soothing and sweet, a "I don’t know if I will ever see you again but I am glad we met" farewell.
As I write this review, I realize one sad yet bittersweet truth about us. We are a nation whose primary entertainment is food. We love food and food in Pakistan loves us. But I think that we might not realize it, but more times than many, we reach for food to comfort us in our dark days - of which there are many. It helps with our helplessness as we watch the news and we fill ourselves with comfort, hoping and yearning for better days. Udon House, this small little hideaway, gives me exactly what we need.