Sizzling spicy foods on display in Gowalmandi reminds of what Vasco de Gama shouted after setting his foot on South Asian soils on the dawn of May 21, 1498, “For Christ and spices!” No data for consumption of spices in Gowalmandi Food Street are available but a proprietor of one of the biggest shops in the street told, “On the average I sell about 120 Kilograms mutton and over 40 kilograms of chicken every day. People prefer to eat mutton karahi and chicken barbecued. A milk shop proprietor said, “My daily milk consumption – in the form of chilled milk, yogurt, Kheer, khoya, lassi — is over 2000 kilograms.”
In the street, every body is lead by aroma of the food in front or on the fire. Variety of languages greets your ear. Unfazed by noisy crowd and the bustle, the waiters will get the orders and you will get the whole picture while sitting in an open street nicely lined with thin upright tiles, though sometime orders may change. I was served Makhan Mutton Karahi when I had ordered chicken leg piece — an ultimate achievement in food in this part of the world. I did not mind this deal at all but the large family that had ordered the sumptuous dish had to wait longer and made lot of observations.
Over the years, the Food Street has become a major tourists’ attraction in Lahore for locals as well as foreigners. One can always see them eating, roaming around or standing near a huge black vat, where Peshawri Chappal Kababs are made, and taking photographs. Davis, a ‘Khalis Angreez’ who was in Lahore in connection with book exibition and I met him in the Food Street asked lot many question and remarked, “In west there is hardly any place where one can see food being cooked. It is so mouth-watering just to watch”. Sikhs from across the borders are also seen wearing “what is it in the Food Street” look. Davis opined that Food Street (and Pakistan in general) is one of the most inexpensive places in the world as far as food is concerned.
On my last visit to the food street, I had enough on my own plate, literally, to deal with but I could not help noticing what was happening on an open-air dinning table being shared by another family — mother, father and five children. Each one of the children had thought of something different to order but they ultimately settled for Tez Massala Mukkhan Mutton Karahi and Chicken Tikkas followed by chilled Kheer served in thoothees.
Once the ordered food was laid out, the disciplinarian mother served the helpings in plates of her children and husband, of course giving him the best and the biggest share (a good old-tradition withering rapidly). Mother told the children to start their supper with the name of Allah Almighty, the most merciful and the most beneficent. After counting the pieces in his plate, the younger boy instead of eating innocently remarked, “Mama! Just like home, you are giving me lesser even in the Food Street. She looked at her food-obsessed son sternly and spontaneously pointed out, “And just like home, you are looking what others have got instead of concentrating at what is in front of you even in the Food Street.” The dialogue reminds me of my own mother. What has the place got to do with parenting? It remains the same. I keep thinking.
Gowalmandi Food Street is an experience packed with dining options. Who says that you have to wait for Basant or Food Festival to go there? It has become a permanent cultural feature of Lahore, hard to ignore for any one.