The dream city of Lahore is known for its enticing food and if it is served under the shadows of historic grandeur the taste is enhanced with the add ons of the momentous ambiance and serenity. Set inside the famous “Taxali Gate” Walled City of Lahore — near the historic ensemble of Badshahi Mosque, Hazuri Bagh and Lahore Fort — is the mystifying Fort Road Food Street for people looking for something different. It’s a hub of true Lahori food in a surreal setting. Urooj takes us through the sight, sounds and tastes of delicacies, in her weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Lahore, also known as the cultural capital of Pakistan, boasts a rich heritage, much of which were passed down from the Mughal Empire. The city’s architecture boasts of forts and city gates as old as the 11th century, Mughal style gardens, Victorian style universities and public buildings built during the British reign. A rich culture, a combination of traditional and modern shopping areas and the availability of a wide variety of food make Lahore an exciting cultural experience. The city is also renowned for its historical importance in the creation of Pakistan. With a population of 10 million, it is the second largest city in the country, and the fifth largest in South Asia. It continues to expand and progress at a remarkable pace.
Lahori dinner, Lahori breakfast, Lahori lassi and what not! The dream city of Lahore is known for its enticing food and if the food is served under the shadows of historic grandeur the taste is enhanced with the add ons of the momentous ambiance and serenity. Set inside the famous “Taxali Gate” Walled City of Lahore — near the historic ensemble of Badshahi Mosque, Hazuri Bagh and Lahore Fort — is the mystifying Fort Road Food Street for people looking for something different.
In short, a hub of true Lahori food in a surreal setting.
The Fort Road Food Street, today, is everything from traditional appetisers to a variety of scrumptious Lahori cuisines, and topping it off with great tasting dessert, all restaurants are definitely for a food connoisseur. Cooco’s Den, Haveli, Riwaj, Samovar, Fort View Restaurant, are experts of their own recipes and presentation.
As you enter, you step back into time, like a scene from Midnight in Paris, you were transported into a time forgotten and remembered in the pages of history books. Once the home of the nobles of the Mughal dynasty, later then turned to the red light district of Lahore by the British this is deep varied history of the Walled City. However, as you enter this historical space now,
you are hit by the aromas of smoky barbecues, freshly made bread, simmering rich spicy curries and freshly made KataKat, a steamed and fried stir fry, there is a sense of history in the well preserved buildings, they speak of a time of richness, a time of sorrow; a time of much change from its heights of royal influence and protection to times of taboo of the dancing girls of Lahore…. But now it’s brought a face of respectability and access to all, through a celebration of the spirit and passion of all Lahori’s – Food. The key attraction in the Food Street in the Walled City is the well-known restaurant Cuckoo’s Den, owned by the controversial and daring artist Iqbal Hussain, who has supported the retired dancing girl’s through his charity, by selling his art in his restaurant – his art is both moving and dark and captures the pain, sadness of lost lives…The restaurant itself has been around for 22 years and has contributed in lifting the image of the area and led to its development into a Food Street as it is today. The 9th inch steep steps that lead up five flights of stairs to
the roof are worth every treacherous step as the views are truly spectacular. Boasting iconic and inspiring views of the Badshahi mosque, the Lahore Fort and the Minare Pakistan far beyond, in the night lit sky, Lahore is visually stunning. You will find yourself intoxicated by the culmination of the sounds of the Katakat in the distance, traffic from afar, views of exquisite Mughal architecture, enveloped in the sweet smoky aroma of barbecue combined with the wafts of agarbatti (incense) – In the background one could hear the faint beating of the tabla and the chattering of people taking in the scene. Baskets are lowered down to the kitchen quickly to pull up food to the rooftop from the ground floor kitchen, used in the old days to bring up shopping, laundry and the likes. If you are there early, you can start it with gulab jamans, firni and kulfi – Lahore comes alive post 9pm, and an eating extravaganza which lasts until at least 2am.
The illumination on the buildings is elevated with the presence of the street performers and musicians. From an infant to the old, every age group has something to see at Fort Road Food Street. The jugglers performing their skills, the soft heart touching melodies of violin, flute, toomba, and sitar take the visitor into an eternal trance. Sometimes, usually on Thursdays, one can listen to the beats of dhol coming from the nearby Shrines (of Sufi Saints which are located densely inside the Walled City of Lahore). Any visitor would pay only for the food but the local traditional melodies, performances and the profound setting, are all complimentary.
Just behind the Fort Road Food Street is located the famous Heera Mandi (meaning “Red Light Area”, also known as Shahi Mohalla or The Royal neighbourhood) of Lahore. In the Mughal era, Heera Mandi was famous for dancing and music. People would go there for a visual and musical treat. Beautiful girls used to sit in balconies, and ply their trade, the oldest profession in the world.
The name Heera means diamond in Urdu and was used by locals to describe the beauty of the girls in the market. The courtesans who worked in the area as “heeras” diamonds. The name eventually stuck and the market was called Heera Mandi. However, some historic accounts say that the bazaar was named after one of the Sikh courtiers Heera Singh during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule, as a tribute to him.
The old but real food street behind the haveli – so much so is this in blatant contrast, dusty, crowded, with motorbikes racing through, the smells of exhaust fumes and tantalising aromas of grilled meats, daal tiki’s, chicken and paiy (goat’s trotter curry) wafting through the air – this is the “real” Lahore. You will be greeted with hospitality to Phaja Siri Paiy restaurant, and will be served warming spicy goat’s trotter curry with fresh naans, a Pakistani delicacy that is cooked for upto 17 hours to achieve a rich, deeply spicy, rather sticky broth topped with garam masala (spices) and nothing beats soft warm naans soaked in the sauce and eaten warm. Next, you can walk through an array of cheap street stalls of tawa chicken, keema ki tiki, chicken tikkas and khikar kay channay (chickpeas eaten cold made without any oil) – through all the hustle and bustle of a noisy busy narrow street flanked with every kind of Pakistani street food, and eventually into one of the many small old established musical instrument stores which support Lahore’s red light district dancing girls musicians – beautiful sitars, tables, pianos, violins and guitars.
Nowhere in the world can a food street with so much to offer be seen. Sitting on the street or any of the roof top, one can feel the grandeur of Mughal, Sikh and British Colonial eras while tasting the tantalising food and enjoying live cultural melodies and street performers. Fort Road Food Street is not just an eating hub, but an experience of historic proportions regardless of how many times you go there.
Cooco’s Den Food Street Lahore:
Lisa Ahmed trying Lahori Food
Pix from Net.