|Karachi’s cuisine is some of the best in the world Photos: Iman Mufti|
The best desi food in Karachi? The choice is endless. We have some of the best barbeque in the world – sizzling, spicy and tender. Your taste buds are in for a treat whether you choose seekh kebabs, malai boti, behari kebab, kheeri or chicken tikka. Perfect with fresh parathas or piping hot naan straight from the tandoor. Moving away from BBQ, is there anything like a perfectly balanced Karahi or Biryani? Or you can go for fiery, glutinous Nihari generously sprinkled with ginger, coriander and chillis. Finish up with halwa poori, shahi tukra or kulfi falooda and you have a meal fit for a rajah.
|Fresh barbeque at Meerut Photo: Iman Mufti|
So where can you find the most authentic Pakistani cuisine? Be prepared to venture away from the rarefied atmosphere of 5 star places for the best desi food in town. Although posher versions of Karachi’s favourite eateries are popping up at Port Grand and in Clifton, there are those that swear that too much hygiene kills the flavor. The majority of the most renowned Pakistani food restaurants are quite basic. We’re talking plastic chairs, bare formica tables, maybe a few flies and a school cafeteria vibe – and that’s in the ones that have a family hall. Elsewhere you may end up dining in your car.
|School cafeteria style seating at Zahid Nihari Photo: Iman Mufti|
For a classier atmosphere without compromising on taste you can head to BBQ Tonight, Kolachi, Abdul Ghaffar in Port Grand or Zameer Ansari in Ocean Mall. But once in a while it’s good to leave your nakhray at home – great food is worth a little discomfort. Despite being basic, the best desi restaurants serve great, flavorsome, tasty food and they have such a high turnover that freshness is guaranteed. You can go for takeout but the taste is not the same – there’s nothing like eating food fresh from the fire.
Waheed Kebab House
|Waheed Kebab House off Burns Rd Karachi Photo: Iman Mufti|
Situated off Burns Road (otherwise known as Karachi’s food street), Waheed Kebab House is famous for its ‘Fry Kebab’. These are sautéed in butter not ghee, look like a plate of runny mince and have a mind-blowing taste.
|Seekh Kebabs at Waheed Kebab House Photo: Iman Mufti|
|The menu at Waheed Kebab House|
Their dhaga kebab is another firm favourite and their nihari is rated by many. They also serve a wide range of BBQ items including kheeri, beef boti and chicken tikka as well as qorma and daal.
|Ocean Grill – Zameer Ansari’s upscale branch at Ocean Mall Photo: Iman Mufti|
Zameer Ansari now has a posh branch at Ocean Mall but the original is located in the Delhi Mercantile Society, Bahadurabad near Alamgir Masjid. Their BBQ is some of the best in town. Must-try items include their dhaga kebab, reshmi kebab and chicken malai boti. Add a little chutney and a freshly fried poori paratha for a memorable meal – even if you do end up eating in the car because seating can be an issue.
|Kulfi at Zameer Ansari’s Ocean Grill Photo: Iman Mufti|
Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House
|The original Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House off Tariq Road|
Although they have a upmarket branch at Port Grand, the original Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House is located in a side lane off Tariq Road not too far from Naheed Supermarket. It’s a multi-story restaurant right next to Riyaz Masjid and has a family hall as well as a rather nice rooftop for family groups.
|Sizzling Chicken Tikka at Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House Photo: Iman Mufti|
Their behari chicken and gola kebabs are stupendous and their dhaga kebab and malai boti rival those at Zameer Ansari. They also serve bun kebabs and paratha rolls for those wanting a street food fix. Their desi sweets are also pretty awesome and their sujji ka halwa is divine.
|Fresh Nihari at Zahid Nihari Photo: Iman Mufti|
Nihari is something that Karachi-ites are passionate about. That fiery, sticky sauce, the melt-in-your-mouth meat and the fresh garnish of ginger and coriander give a spicy hit like no other. While Javed Nihari in the federal B area and Sabri Nihari on MA Jinnah Road have many fans, Zahid Nihari on Tariq Road serves possibly the best nihari in Karachi. Succulent and more-ish, the nihari is the star of the menu although they also offer biryani and kheema. You can choose nihari with added bone marrow or brain and they even sell tin-packed nihari, which is popular with overseas Pakistanis.
|The original Meerut at Gurumandir Photo: Xishan for Google Earth|
The original Meerut Kebab house is at Gurumandir though there are several locations now ranging from North Nazimabad to DHA Phase 4. The seating at the original is basic but plentiful. Their Kheeri is amazing but tends to run out so go early if you want to sample it. They also serve great behari kebab, seekh kebabs, malai boti and kebab paratha. Well worth a trip.
|Fresh Poori Parathas at Meerut Photo: Iman Mufti|
|BBQ Tonight at Bilawal Roundabout, Clifton|
Located at Bilawal Chowrangi, BBQ Tonight is a Karachi institution. With four floors of seating plus rooftop seating, it’s absolutely massive but retains the same quality of food and speedy service that made it famous. Its very clean, with waiters in white cotton gloves, and is one of the few places where you can trust the chutneys if you have a sensitive stomach. Their mutton chops, seekh kebab, behari kebab and beef ribs are excellent. They also serve delicious prawn masala and Afghani boti.
|Reshmi Kebabs at BBQ Tonight Pic: BBQ Tonight Facebook page|
|Kolachi has a great ambience and fabulous food|
Kolachi rivals any of Karachi’s top restaurants, both in terms of atmosphere and quality of food. Located at Do Darya, Kolachi’s terraced seafront setting is simply beautiful. The menu includes a wide range of barbeque and other Pakistani dishes. Their fried fish, Sajji, Handi chicken, Hunza Kebab and Peshawari karahi are all particularly delicious.
|A selection of Kolachi’s delicious food|
Most of these restaurants serve traditional desserts including halwa, kheer and kulfi. However if you are looking for an iced treat to end your meal you may want to venture farther afield. Try gola ganda from one of the many vendors at Dhorajee, or a crunch kulfu from Iceberg in Saddar. Alternatively head to the original Peshawari icecream in Saddar – their Anwar Rattol, Shareefa and Pistachio icecreams are unrivalled.
|Gola Gandas are a sticky confection of shaved ice, vivid syrups and condensed milk – the ones from Dhorajee are amazing
Pic: Iman Mufti
If you live in Defence or Clifton and don’t want to venture too far afield, you can head to Boat Basin. They have very good bethak-style tandoori places and restaurants selling all kinds of authentic, delicious Pakistani food. Try Roll Inn for Paratha rolls, Flamingo for Chaat and Tandoori for Karahi. Nihari Inn’s nihari and kunna are very good and there are several places that sell great bun kebabs and halwa poori. There’s even a branch of Hanifia, with its famous hunter beef buns.
|Burgers are all very well but sometimes nothing but a bun kebab will do Pic: Salima Feerasta|
These are some of Karachi’s most famous desi restaurants but there are many little restaurants all over town serving amazing local food. Everyone has their own favourites – from Anwar Baloch’s Karahi to the kali mirch karahi at Afridi Inn to the epic malai boti at Delhi Kebabish. Which are your go-to restaurants for the best Pakistani food in Karachi?
This article of mine first appeared on Dawn.com