Disclaimer: This review will make you hungry and you may put on a couple of pounds just by reading it.
Last week’s brunch stirred up memories of my father’s old country house and all the traditional Pakistani food I sometimes took for granted in my carefree years. One of the problems with having a vivid imagination is that you tend to dream a lot but it is even worse that you often end up remembering every little detail after waking up.
Normal people dream of fantasy worlds with super heroes, fast cars and designer clothes but I mostly dream about food. Yes it is a little weird, thank you but I can’t really help it so I have learnt to accept it; this secret love affair I have with food. So this week, I dreamt of cardamom scented halwa (a dessert made of semolina, butter and almonds) chana (chickpea) masala and piping hot puffed up puris (deep fried flaky bread) straight from the gigantic karrahi (wok) at my father’s old house.
This is Dubai however and though I would love to fly down to Lahore for a quick breakfast at Abbu’s (my dad’s) house, harsh realities of living the dream life of a salary slave dictate that such trips cannot be taken on a whim. So I ended up turning to Zomato, my best online resource for information on food and restaurants in Dubai and performed a search for ‘Halwa Puri’. One of the results that popped up was for ‘Little Lahore’ a restaurant in JLT.
In reality, there is nothing ‘little’ about Lahore or it’s population of 10 million people. It is a bustling metropolis which attracts tens of thousands of people from smaller towns and cities, all adding to it’s vast selection of flavors but there are some dishes that are undeniably Lahori and among the top 3 is the traditional Lahori nashta (breakfast) known as halwa puri.
So my quest for this traditional breakfast (nashta) took us to Little Lahore and I remember we almost had to go back out again to read the name on the sign but decided to stay as soon as we saw some photographs of famous Pakistani folk singers and cultural icons on one of the walls. This was unlike most Pakistani restaurants in Dubai. Many of the new places have adapted their interiors to their changing clientele but you may still find pictures of food on the walls reminiscent of old desi restaurants in Dubai. Little Lahore was different. Clearly somebody had taken the effort to move on with the times. The clean lines and chic design could have been out of Wallflower magazine. Had it not been for a photograph of the Badshahi (King’s) Mosque of Lahore above our heads, we would never have felt this was a Pakistani restaurant.
The minimalist menu consisted of some pages on a wooden board. Mishal was a little disappointed because there were no pictures on it. My wife is an environmental engineer and she doesn’t really need to look at pictures to order off a menu but we just couldn’t remember going to a Pakistani or an Indian restaurant where the menu had no pictures of food on it. Ok, Ashiana by Vineet and Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar had no pictures on the menu perhaps but restaurants owned by Michelin Starred chefs do not count.
There were 2 breakfast combos on the menu. One consisted of halwa (semolina and butter dessert), puri (deep fried bread), chana (chickpeas), aloo bhaji (stewed potato) and lassi (yogurt smoothie). The other came with a paratha (fried flatbread), Pakistani omelet, bhuna keema (pan roasted mince meat), achar (pickled baby mangoes) and lassi. We decided to go for one of each.
The puris (puffed bread) were divine but a typical Lahori might find the chickpeas and potato to be under spiced. We were sure that this was a conscious decision by the chef. Just as the modern interiors were meant to open up Lahori cuisine to a wider audience, the light spices of the Lahori Nashta were meant to make this breakfast appeal to a wider palate. This one change could make halwa puri Dubai’s go to post hangover breakfast meal. If Manakish is what everyone in Dubai craves after a big night out, halwa puri and chana is what they will crave for the morning after. Dubai now has an official breakfast and not only is it not McDonalds, it also happens to be vegetarian.
The paratha (fried flatbread) had a crisp external layer which gave way to the soft bread inside. A Pakistani omelette usually has diced tomatoes and onions and some fresh coriander. Thanks to the light spices, I actually tasted the egg and every vegetable in every bite. The mince was once again low on spices but I could taste the ginger it had been roasted with.
The yogurt smoothie (lassi) was available with either salt or sugar and we had one of each. Both variants were equally refreshing and were able to wash all the fried food down effectively.
This was not the meal that I dreamt of and it was certainly not the breakfast they served at my father’s old country house. I am not sure if a purist would enjoy this halwa puri or bhuna keema. Strangely though, we were not dissatisfied. My craving for traditional chana puri remains and I may very well have to fly down to Lahore to fulfil it but if this is a modern take on the traditional Pakistani breakfast, so be it. If little Lahore wants to do for post hangover breakfasts in Dubai what Zater o Zait did to post party 3 am hunger attacks, so be it.