Food Prints: A research on Pakistani cuisines
28th April, 2012
Shanaz Ramzi is an extraordinary person. She wears many hats and wears all of them well. She writes on a wide variety of subjects and does a good job. She works for a TV network, which is trying to branch out into print as well. She edits its publications and looks after the network’s PR. She attends weddings, engagements, valimas and birthday parties, has a wide circle of friends, and what is more she runs a household efficiently. More than anything else she happily baby sits two cuddly grandchildren.
Behind every successful married woman is a supportive husband. Zulfiqar Ramzi, stands by her all the time. But now let’s talk about the icing on the Shanaz cake. It’s her debut book, Food Prints: Overview of Pakistani cuisine. It’s not a run of the mill cook book, nor was its launch a routine affair. The event was refreshingly (read deliciously) different from the normal book launches. To begin with, there were a wide variety of mouth-watering snacks from chapli kabab from the north of the subcontinent to masala dossa, a delicacy from the south, now a part of Karachi’s cuisine. All food and drinks (except lassi) were served hot and fresh from counters set up on the lawns of Frere Hall. Guests relived their childhood savouring gola gunda. The list of goodies is large and my space restricted. Before I forget, let me add that Frere Hall’s imposing structure, bathing in floodlights, lent grandeur to the scene.
The event jointly hosted by the publishers, Oxford University Press and BBCL, was meticulously planned by Pervez Iqbal. The mistress of ceremony was an accomplished chef, Shaista, who had been a chef in some well known and some hardly known New York restaurants. She is now doing a show for one of the food channels. She regretted that there was no book on Pakistani cooking. Food Prints, she claimed, would fill in the gap somewhat. No one will dispute that, but one felt that she monopolised the mike a bit too much and spoke mostly in first person singular, even when she was inviting other speakers.
The main speaker of the evening, the author, revealed that it took her seven years to complete the book. First her publishers wanted her to do a book for kids, but she was determined to come out with something well researched and which could be of use to not just Pakistanis but food lovers of other countries as well. Her speech, laced with humour, was lively.
Cuisine like any other aspect of a culture can be properly appreciated if it is viewed in the contexts of history and geography. The first chapter ‘A look at Pakistan’s Geography and Anthropology’ examines the cuisine of each province separately and takes Karachi, the most cosmopolitan part of Pakistan, as a separate entity. This chapter like the rest of the book is interspersed with lovely pictures, some specially shot and some from existing records.
In the next chapter ‘Cooking the Pakistani Way’, Ramzi introduces some local utensils like the karahi, the handi, the tawa, the hawan dasta and the seel batta. She also introduces baghar and tarka, which are different from simple frying. She talks of dum cooking and bhoonna. In yet another chapter she writes about ingredients like elaichi, garam masala, cinnamon, cumin etc. which add distinct flavour to Pakistani dishes.
Subsequent chapters are devoted in detail to the cuisines of different regions. Even a person initiated into culinary art is likely to learn about dishes that he or she may never have heard of. For instance, not many people even in urban Sindh would have heard of Dho do, which is a special thick roti, prepared with masala and garlic paste and consumed with mint chutney. If you move up from Sindh to Hunza, you will run into not one but five seemingly ‘alien’ dishes – Kurutz, Barusshapik, Barus berikutz, Chapshuro and Khamuloot pie.
In the chapter on Karachi, you will get to read about the dishes that the immigrants from India and the people from the rest of Pakistan have popularised here. So if there is ghulawat ke kabab from Lucknow and gola kabab from Delhi, there is chapli kabab from Peshawar.
There are seasonal foods, like those you take on a rainy day or on festivals like Eid, Christmas, Diwali and Nauroz.
Towards the end of the book the author shares recipes of her favourite dishes, which include her and this reviewer’s favourite pizza, the chicken tikka pizza. What a great example of fusion cooking!
The last section outlines the recipes of some very popular dishes, from Dilli ki nihari and Punjab ke paye to sambusa brought by the Tajiks – a cousin of our samosa.
The beautifully designed book was printed in Malaysia, had it been done in Lahore, where they recently printed the outstanding coffee table book Churches of Pakistan, Food Prints would have been affordable. At Rs 2,200 many people will be reluctant to buy it. The next edition of this priceless book, figuratively speaking, should be printed in Pakistan.