By Asad Aamir
September 17, 2013
When in Pakistan, do as the Pakistanis do. Decoding our culture is difficult due to the diversity Pakistanis are blessed with. You’ll always meet people here with a story; they all have a story to tell. And so do I.
After having breakfast and reading the Smoker’s Corner on Sunday, I went to a butcher shop.
Traditional butcher shops are not a place to visit for the fainthearted in Karachi. They have an acquired smell, resulting from carcasses of goats hanging right above the butcher’s counter and an even row of chickens lined across, with feathers plucked and skin removed. The sections are divided into three: mutton, beef and chicken. The butchers wear bloodstained shirts while they work methodically.
I’m offered a cup of tea by a gentleman whose hands are covered with dried blood. I don’t drink tea so I politely decline the offer. While waiting for our meat to get portioned, I speak to the shop owner’s son. He’s a few years older than I am. I ask him about the meat purchasing process and he gladly responds.
Breeders from all over Sindh bring their cattle to the Mandi (wholesale market). This Mandi gives breeders the opportunity to showcase their product. The buyers visit this market and make the purchase. He said that the meat provided at his shop was of superior quality; I didn’t doubt him as we were one of his regulars.
He spoke to me about his passion for meat. The prerequisite of being a Pakistani is an unhealthy obsession with meat. He fulfilled the criteria and now he’s in the business. He told me that people in Karachi love their food which is why they still come to a traditional butcher shop and carefully select the cuts of meat they want. He told me that this is part of our culture. I expressed my concern as I told him that many people nowadays want a streamlined process. They don’t want to know where their meat came from or what the quality is like. However, that did not stop him from delivering the best quality of meat possible. He said that there are people out there who will never settle for frozen chicken in a packet.
After the butcher’s, I went to the Sabzi Wala (vegetable shop). My Sabzi Wala has an active sense of humour which never fails to entertain but he had many concerns with how things were in recent times. We spoke about the types of garlic in the market. Usually they keep Desi garlic and one other variety that comes from China. I told him about the crisis India’s facing due to the shortage of onions. I asked him if we should be afraid too.
He laughed and informed me that most of the onions in Pakistan come from Balochistan and the quantity is high this season. He was upset with tomatoes that Pakistan imported from India though. He proudly said the Pakistani tomato is far more superior in taste. He said he hated giving away a product that he wasn’t happy with.
I went to the barber next. I had to wait as, on a Sunday, barber shops are usually packed. I spoke to my barber about the meaning of life and he responded accordingly. He told me that Quaid-e-Azam rules Pakistan. I asked him to further explain and he said, “The only remains of him are on our currency. Money rules Pakistan.” Before we branched out to politics and conspiracy theories, a seat was free. On Sunday, the barber to seat ratio is high.
I explained the type of haircut I wanted and he understood.
Consider yourself blessed if your barber understands and delivers. A barber is like a best friend, once you find a good one, you stick to them. My barber was passionate. He made sure that I was pleased with the outcome and he didn’t disappoint. You find people loving what they do everywhere; usually in places where we never look.
Chaotic as it may seem, Karachi is home. Karachi is a place to learn. Karachi is passionate. Falling in love with this city and its people is unavoidable. And like most love stories, your heart will be broken but that doesn’t stop you from loving.
Asad Aamir is currently pursuing a Bachelors degree in Culinary Arts. He is discovering Pakistani cuisine and thinking of innovative ways to bring Pakistani food on the world map.