How many times have we wanted to indulge in desi cuisine - those paratha rolls, bun kebabs, chaats and lassis - without running the risk of gastric infections resulting from bad hygiene? Speaking for myself, umpteen times. It’s also a question that arises when you have out of town guests, especially relatives visiting from ‘abroad’; those who question the credibility of bottled water and avoid having water-based products (like watery chutneys of dubious nature) outside of the house. Where does one then go for desi food cravings, one always wonders?
The posh East End has been one option in Karachi but then it is too formal and too expensive for a quick pani puri fix. We do have the Mirchi, Chatkhara, Gazebo and odd joints here and there but they don’t always guarantee a feel good dining experience.
Enter Khaadi Kanteen.
The Khaadi Kanteen, nestled within the gigantic Khaadi outlet in Comm 3 (an upcoming shopping area opposite Bilawal Roundabout in Karachi), opened mid-June and has been a popular hangout amongst food lovers in the city ever since. Commissioned to Desi Gali, an eatery already existing in Bukhari Commercial area, the Kanteen specializes in street food and brings to Khaadi an authentic desi food experience that synergizes with the overall Khaadi ethnic experience.
What’s on the menu?
It starts off with the usual affair of chaats, a range that includes variations of Papri Chaat, Dahi Puri, Paani Puri, Sev Puri and more. There’s a special called the Disco Kakra, which you may have experienced at the Desi Gali stall at Karachi Eat. It will make your senses dance. For those who want something new, there is a crispy Okra and Palak Chaat too. It is quite sensational for the vegetarians amidst us.
I have to say though, that the chaats at Kanteen are not the strongest feature on the menu. They are crispy and spicy and innovative but for someone like me - who likes an abundance of yogurt and meethi chutney on every chaat - I found them a little dry and salty. Maybe I will ask for extra dahi and chutney next time.
If chaats are too healthy for you then the menu extends to every dieter’s nightmare - the Aloo Fries that will send you straight to sin city. I confess that I did not sin.
What excited me, though, was a section called Small Plates. My friends and I are not big eaters and usually when dining out, we prefer to order an array of appetizers instead of large individual meals. The Small Plates cater to that whim perfectly. The Hunter Beef and Spinach Dip is a must-have item, as are the Mini Chapli Kababs, a trio of juicy kababs served on lachaydar parathas. That should be enough to fill anyone up, actually.
Order the meethi lassi to wash everything down, before you can’t eat more.
The Chapati Rolls and Bun Kababs are very decent but there’s one thing on the menu that I would keep going back for.
The Tawa Chicken, listed under Lazeez Khanay, is the absolute winner on the Kanteen menu and you’ll keep going back for more. Cooked in a medley of yoghurt and spices topped with green chilli and coriander, this chicken will tantalise your taste buds without numbing them. It comes with a thin roomali roti and is enough to satisfy the desi foodie in you and send you home singing Sajjad Ali songs. If you’ve tasted the authentic Tawa Chicken in the Walled City of Lahore then this will transport you very close to it.
The Dum Qeema is another hot favourite on the menu and while it was wholesome and delicious, it didn’t have the smoky aroma of a koyla dum, that I expected, given the name.
The Lazeez Khanay offer a range of foods including Burmese Khao Suey, Lahori Fish, Iranian Chapta Kababs and more, none of which will disappoint though some will excite more than others, depending on your personal preferences.
The reason why Khaadi Kanteen is so unique is because of the experience in entirety. The interior is a reflection of the Khaadi ethos; it’s woody and green, organic and gives off an ethnic feel-good aura. There’s a very nice semi open air smoking area while those who prefer to keep their lungs healthy can sit inside. I did find the Kanteen a little warmer than it should have been but then one can sit near the vents for a direct draft of air conditioner.
Avoid Friday lunch and Sunday dinner time, unless you’re ready to endlessly wait. Seems like everyone just got a craving for Disco Kakra!