According to certain estimates population of Karachi now exceeds 20 million that also enjoys ethnic diversity. As the influx of people from other provinces continues, all sorts of food outlets are mushrooming. While the demand for different food varieties is on the rise, the preferences of locals are also changing fast. Added to this is the demand for ‘ready to eat’ food because of rising number of working women in the metropolis. The acute shortage of cooks and their phenomenal demand for salary, force the residents to eat out, rather than getting the food cooked at home. This on one hand saves the working women from cooking and washing dishes and on the other hand offers an opportunity to all the family members to eat the food of their choice.
In an attempt to find out what is being demanded and what is being made available, different localities with diverse income groups were visited. The extremities were little shocking but provided the evidence that anyone can buy one meal from Rs50 to Rs3,000 depending on the money available in his/her pocket. The number of food courts operating in Karachi now runs into hundreds and thousands. The ethnic diversity has also resulted in availability of specific types of dishes in certain localities, with some areas offering enormous choices. The roadside restaurants attract the largest number of visitors, especially during lunch hours on any working day. Food on wheels is common because of low cost, ample availability offering. It appears that Bun Kabab, Biryani and Haleem remain most preferred choices because of attractive price.
In almost all the residential areas Halwa Puri is served and number of visitors is very large on weekends. In certain localities it appears as if women have stopped preparing breakfast. The visitors could be divided into two distinct groups: 1) groups comprising of male only and 2) families. Yet some groups comprising of females only are also visible. All male groups could be further bifurcated into two distinct sub groups a) bachelors and b) married but having fun with friends.
Bachelors eat out because of their ‘majboori’ (helpless/compelled) as they neither have time nor cooking facilities at the places they live. The largest number of bachelors could be found at ‘Chai Paratha’ outlets scattered throughout the city. Initially these outlets were established for catering the needs of ‘poor’ but now such outlets could be found in posh localities. Lately, photos/videos of a Chaiwala got viral at social media. Many youngsters, both male and females, stormed the outlet to get a glimpse or ‘selfi’ with this Chaiwala.
Married man stated that on holidays usually friends assemble and eat. Some of the most common expressions were, “Our wives don’t approve gatherings at home and endorse we should go out, eat and make as much noise as we like. They also want to have rest on weekends, usually sleep for longer hours and also demand that we should bring nashta (breakfast) for them”.
All female groups mostly comprises of working executives. They go out to eat wearing all sorts of contemporary dresses and ‘make up’. Two points are most visible: 1) taking selfies and 2) making a lot of noise. When asked the reasons for this kind of assemblies the replies were very interesting and could be clubbed as, “For five days a week we get up early in the morning and that habit also wakes up even on holidays. Since all the family members wish to sleep longer, we have no reason to stay at home. We have formed ‘all female’ group only to avoid allegations of going out with boyfriends. One of the reasons is that married executives are often bogged down with family engagements and many are scared of their wives, who don’t approve going out of their husbands with females”.
It was also found that initially, a large number of restaurants were established on superhighway connecting Karachi with Hyderabad. These restaurants were primarily established to cater to the needs of commuters and truck/bus drivers. With the passage of time seating arrangements and quality of food has improved, so has the price. It also dawned that the residents of the most posh localities go to these restaurants. Most of these outlets still serve karhai, tikka, kabab (most demanded local food items) and have acquired certain types of fames. An important observation was that some of these outlets have branches within the city, but facilities on the superhighway attract a larger number of visitors. This offers them two opportunities: 1) going out of the city and 2) eating in the open.
An emerging phenomenon is going to farmhouses on the weekends. It is common that families book a farm house and the rent for the day ranges from Rs5,000 to Rs30,000 depending on the facilities being offered that comprises of air-conditioned rooms, swimming pool, standby generators, etc. Some groups cook their own food at the farm house, but others get the food delivered. At times families prefer to stay overnight at these farm houses, but it also poses potential threats of robbing and kidnapping for ransom.
If one start writing down stories about changing eating habits of people of Karachi, it may also be said that these habits change the way weather changes. However, most of the eating items remain common. Those who can’t afford to go out have the option to order and get the food delivered at home. While people get the food of their choice at affordable price, resultants are making tons of money that encourages more people to open outlets offering eatables.