Turkish Food In Pakistan – Babagoosh Turkish Doner!

Whilst travelling, my motto is, as is the same for many people, to try new cuisines and explore; be it cuisines from Arab countries, Eastern European, central European, Asian, or all the way deep in the heart of Latin cuisine. The list, variations and flavours are endless! However, travelling can pose as a difficulty on one’s bank account so we search for authentic cuisines in the comfort of our own countries and cities.

During my annual visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, I have recently come to notice restaurants, cafés and other establishments popping up almost as frequently as in Karachi and I try my best to sample and assess as many as possible within the given circumstances and timeframe. Moreover, there weren’t any malls in Islamabad up until the last few years when two, ‘Centaurus’ and ‘Safa Gold’, were opened for the residents of the Twin Cities, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. During this specific visit in July 2015 I revisited a favorite which I stumbled upon the previous summer when I wanted to explore Safa Gold mall, which, at the time had not been completely set up. There were numerous vacant spaces in the mall and its food court, but a few places had opened up in the nearly half empty mall, one of which was ‘Babagoosh’.

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I was a bit hesitant to try it based purely on the fact that food from food courts are rarely amazing, and are rarely edible without feeling queasy afterwards. But I took a chance, and I am so thankful I did! Babagoosh, an establishment which served Turkish Doners, had only three items, with only a beef, chicken or vegetarian choices, but that was more than enough!

NO holding back! Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

NO holding back!
Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

I examined their counter and witnessed a beautiful sight; the meat rotating on the vertically-placed thick metal rods, slow cooking and I could see from where I was standing the fat glistening down the large beef mixture as well as the chicken mixture on a rod next to it, so as to keep it moist and not dry out. I ordered the Beef Doner Kebab and it was overflowing with the deliciously slow-cooked meat I saw cooking just moments earlier with salad and two sauces. I enjoyed it so much that my family and I visited this mall primarily for the Doner from the food court approximately 3 times a week; and sometimes, my family members went alone or with their friends. This Turkish Doner was the highlight of my trip in 2014, which made me THAT much more excited to visit in 2015!

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015. Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

My FIRST visit during my trip in 2015.
Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

During this particular visit in 2015, I can honestly say that the taste of the Doner Kebab and the Doner Platter were far better than what I had the year before. The Doner Kebab is round pita bread which is lightly toasted and cut in the middle, but not completely until the end, so as to make a pocket. Within this pocket is layered your choice of either marinated, slow-cooked beef or chicken which has been sliced by a serrated knife and slightly thinly; but not too thin so as to make it similar to paper. Then layered on top is the thinly cut salad comprising of lettuce and cabbage. And the final addition is the two sauces; one which is white and other red. Both sauces complement one another so beautifully and add such a wonderful depth to the flavour of the overall Doner; and also openhandedly added on top as a finishing touch. Both sauces are creamy; the white sauce is more of a garlic aioli and the red sauce is a slightly sweet and spicy concoction wherein the chili flakes can be seen, if looked at carefully enough.

It should be pointed out that Turkish food, like most food in that region of the world, is not spicy, but rather, filled with flavour and kept simple. The ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves and shine with the help of other ingredients; they are not hidden away in spices or coated in heavy batter then deep fried, etc. Like a symphony, where each ingredient is equivalent to a different instrument with its own part to play thus adding more depth to the overall creation, or in this food-based scenario, the flavour. Captivated and spellbound by its melody which continues ringing in your mind in the distance even when a lengthy amount of time has passed since you last heard it; subconsciously and unintentionally humming its tune. Similarly, for one year, I constantly thought about the Doner and how it may have changed, maybe for the better; but so excited to sample and evaluate their progress in the 12 months that have passed.

Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

That being said let us return to the harmonious song sung by this Turkish Doner kebab which had me slowly trusting food from food courts once again. These three elements were so generously packed into the pita that it was overflowing from the mouth of the pocket of the pita and you were forced to first eat it with a forkin order to be capable of taking a proper bite without having the sauces smeared on your cheeks and nose (which is something I learned hence, I am informing you well in advance =p )! This Doner kebab is accompanied with a beverage and golden, crispy, thick-cut fries; which are smothered in the sauce of your choosing, or both, if you’d like.

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015. Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015.
Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

The second item on the menu after the kebab was the Doner Platter, which consisted of the same elements you would receive in your Doner kebab, plus the fries and these were placed in three separate sections of a rectangular take away container. On the far left were those beautiful crispy fries in nearly the same amount you would receive had you ordered the Doner Kebab; the salad rested on the far right with a slice of tomato placed on top; and in the center, the focus of the whole box, was the meat of your choosing! I chose beef so the various slices of marinated beef; soft, tender, and juicy, were layered one on top of the other until it reached just as high as the salad and fries. Then, if desired, the sauces were poured on top of all three sections. I usually had a small amount in my Doner Platter, which lightly grasped all that it touched while slowly made its way down the ends of the beef and salad slices, like thick lava. And because you can never have too much of those mouth-watering sauces, I requested some extra in small containers to pour, to which they happily obliged. There was so much in the take-away container that once the top was closed, the top would get some of the sauce on the top inside. The Doner Platter was even more generously placed and also a bit more in price, but honestly, worth every single penny! I went there two times in one day, at some point! It is highly addictive and the highlight of my trip, regarding food.

Pita in the back. Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

Pita in the back.
Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

Pita in the back. Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

I look for value for money and in most situations I am satisfied spending the amount requested for the item(s) ordered, be it in Pakistan, Canada, Dubai, or elsewhere. However, in Islamabad, I was not very satisfied compared to what the prices once used to be regarding ‘value for money’ in many of the new restaurants, cafés, etc. that have recently opened in the last few years. Even at the most simplest of places where you would expect that the prices would be more reasonable based on their ambiance, seating arrangements, and location were just as overpriced as those in 4-star expensive hotels. Sadly, I felt like I was cheated many times EXCEPT at Babagoosh. In a city such as Islamabad, where the standard of living is so high that you would also be expected to pay even more for dining out, even at the most simple places, Babagoosh is ONE place where TWO assumptions were disproved; firstly, that you must overspend for food that could have been much cheaper and feel instant regret when the bill arrives; and, that food from food courts in malls may having a fighting chance after all! I not only went several times on my own in the last two years, but I also took family and friends. Furthermore, I frequently and persistently endorsed it to friends and family who had not yet visited, and spoke so regularly and with such high praises that people visited this location from Karachi and even Canada particularly at my request! Subsequent to every person’s visit, one conclusion was very common amongst all: they thoroughly enjoyed it JUST as much as I did. And for most, it became habitual to visit Babagoosh whilst in Islamabad; for those who resided there or those who visited.

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015. Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015.
Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

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Lasagna with a Twist – Urban Chef

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Chicken Lasagna with a slice removed. Layers of delicious-ness!

 

Traditional lasagna always varies from maker to maker; no two lasagnas are ever the same. However with the pressure of making lasagna that is well-balanced, also comes the pressure of competing with flavors of those tasted earlier.

Though I love all kinds of food, lasagna is one of my favorites and I rarely come across one that I can speak highly about. Thus, the curiosity as to the flavor and technique led me to order the (Barbeque) Chicken lasagna from the Urban Chef, which was accompanied with a 300g sample of dahi baray [a dish consisting of balls made from ground lentils, which are deep-fried and served in a chilled, thick, sweetened whisked yogurt sauce]. The lasagna was placed in an aluminum rectangular container, which boxed up in a cardboard box of a slight larger size with the logo of the Urban Chef on top. The lasagna, to my surprise, was hot in temperature as if I had taken a few minutes to let the lasagna sit subsequent to taking it out fresh from the oven.

 

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The boxes the lasagnas came in.

The sample of dahi baray was wonderful! The yogurt liquid in which the dahi baray themselves floated in was not exceedingly sweet; the dahi baray had soaked up a sufficient amount of the liquid whilst resting in it, but not so much that they broke apart. They maintained their shape, but at the same time, were moist, and not dry. In this scorching and unforgiving heat, this was just the pick-me-up needed. It was light, fresh, cool, and refreshing. I enjoyed every spoonful, from start to finish! At the end, I wished that I had some more!

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Dahi Baray. Yum!

Now let’s move on to the pièce de résistance, the star of the show… the lasagna! Immediately after opening the cover of the container, with regards to the elements everyone looks for in any lasagna, one box was check marked, right from the get-go, the cheese layered on top. The sections of melted, lightly golden brown and crusty cheese were browned in such a way that each slice to be cut would get a taste of the beautifully baked cheese. In every lasagna, people struggle and, at times, nearly combat one another for the edges. And the edges in said lasagna were just that; lightly browned, just like the layer of cheese, but due to the moisture being removed whilst baking, the edges were thus, slightly crunchy.

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Check out that gorgeous lasagna with the beautifully browned cheese here and there. YUMMMMMMMM

When cut into, the knife easily went through the obvious layers within with little resistance, which made clear that the pasta sheets were not overcooked to the point of turning into complete baby food. Then the time to see Urban Chef’s masterpiece in the form of a slice clearly revealed layers of lasagna pasta sheets; roughly chopped, almost cubed, pieces of chicken with a slightly red marinade that seeped deep into the meat, béchamel and cheese. The chicken chunks were clearly marinated in advance based on how deep the color went. It was a unique lasagna; not your everyday, traditional lasagna. It was one that I have never seen before, a Barbeque Chicken Tikka lasagna. When one thinks of types of lasagnas and their variations, the most that come to mind are changes ranging from meats, to purely vegetarian, and now a new culinary trend of ‘dessert’ lasagnas. And when I initially heard the title of the lasagna, immediately what came to mind were the flavours of a standard barbequed, overcooked and dried piece of chicken; however, the flavour was only ‘tikka’ so much as the intensity of spice and flavour. I would like to point out that I enjoy spicy food but not to the extent as the way it is cooked nowadays wherein there is little to no balance and mostly just red chili powder to the point where the dish is nearly inedible. The chicken in the lasagna was spicy, but not exceedingly spicy; it had that nice ‘kick’ to it and was balanced with the béchamel and cheese so that it was ‘turned down’ a little. The mix of all the components of this lasagna were perfect and in harmony.

I admire the Urban Chef’s creative spin on a classic and did not anticipate such creativity and triumph, especially with the word ‘tikka’ in the title, but it was definitely worth the gamble!

I enjoyed the lasagna and the dahi baray very much; so much so that whilst writing this review, my stomach is growling for more. Come Saturday, Urban Chef can expect to get another order from me for this lasagna!

If you enjoy lasagna and/or spicy food which is unique, then this creation from the Urban Chef should definitely be on your list!

Oh My God, let’s order Oh My Grill!

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Burger joints have been popping up everywhere! Some have failed to impress, while others have almost reached that level of a ‘perfect’ burger. The general comments on the new ‘Oh My Grill’ (‘OMG’) burgers were all the same, ‘Wow, it’s amazing!’, ‘I love it!’, etc. but lacked description. What was this craze all about? This led me to order 3 individual burgers from OMG on a spur-of-the-moment lunch for myself and the family on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, OMG does not deliver, however, the ‘Food Genie’ delivery service was kind enough to make an exception and deliver to the area in which I reside on the weekend and without a minimum order amount, which was against their policy. The Food Genie operators were very helpful and patient; the individual who delivered it on time, as assured, within 90 minutes, did so with a smile on his face and replied politely to my ‘Thank You’. The food was delivered piping hot and fresh, as if I had ordered it right there and then from OMG; which I later learned, was due to the new triple insulated bags in which they carry the food to be delivered.

The burgers ordered were the Classic Burger (Double), the Classic with Aged English Cheddar and the Gouda Burger. Both, the Classic with Aged English Cheddar and the Gouda fell under the heading of ‘gourmet’ burgers, due to the respective cheeses chosen and the size of their burger patties, I assume. Furthermore, they were also larger in size, as compared to the Classic Burger (Double). The burger buns of the aforementioned gourmet burgers were visibly lightly seared on the grill, with grill marks on both, the bottom AND top buns.

The Gouda burger had a 250 gram beef patty, covered with a heaping and substantial amount of Gouda cheese, crispy bacon, which wasn’t burnt, but lightly crimson on the edges, topped off with their OMG sauce. The imported Gouda cheese had a firm, yet slightly elastic texture, not too overpowering in flavor, and coated the burger patty completed.

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Gouda burger

The Classic with Aged Cheddar also had a 250 gram beef patty, but the cheese chosen for this burger was, as the name suggests, Aged English Cheddar, fresh tomatoes, crisp onions, thick and sweet ketchup, which eventually mingled their OMG sauce. Sharp cheddar, also imported, with a slightly earthy flavor, firm in texture and beautifully paired with the fresh tomatoes, crunchy onions and the mixed blend of ketchup and the OMG sauce.

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Classic with Aged Cheddar

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Classic with Aged Cheddar

Finally, their Classic Burger (Double) contained two patties, each 100 grams, processed cheese, onions, tomatoes, ketchup and their OMG sauce. Each patty was nearly enveloped with the cheese and very moist inside. This burger was not only small in size, but also not much of a contender when up against the above-mentioned gourmet burgers. And how could it be? It was a nice burger, small in size, but compared to the other two, it was no match.

Oh My Grill

Classic Burger (Double)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh My Grill

Classic Burger (Double)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though each burger was exceedingly juicy, the Classic with Aged English Cheddar burger stood out as the juiciest! Each bite resulted in a mouthful of flavors and not a single piece of dry beef; still makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

Though the prices of the individual burgers were a bit on the ‘high’ side, these are burgers that would be most enjoyable if eaten at the establishment itself or as soon as possible. Moreover, the overall textures and flavors were impeccably paired and constructed. The buns of all three burgers were soft and light, almost like pillows in which the juicy patties were nestled and coated with such thick layers of cheese that they were oozing off the sides! The freshness of the onions and tomatoes appropriately complimented the burgers’ rich sauces and meaty patties. The combinations were unique and didn’t leave a heavy feeling, which is most expected after eating burgers and the like.

For the Love of Cakes!

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Two-textured chocolate cake with the Opeth Logo on top

 

 

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and am more of a savory food-lover; however, I do love a good dessert every once in a blue moon. I am in favour and support of small & local businesses, rather than the large franchises, chains, etc. My opinion is that the little guy deserves a fighting chance against such colossal establishments. Therefore, you’ll see that the places I taste, test & evaluate when I want to munch on something for myself, or in the event of certain special occasions, are those of the home cooks who create masterpieces out of their residential kitchens and sell them and depend on word of mouth/social media. You never know the gems you uncover when you take such risks; and THAT is how it all begins and how most of my gastronomic decisions are made.

 

The month of May has been quite an eventful month; trying out as many new places that have popped up as my bank account would allow; each week more unique than the last. This post will be focused primarily on the cakes I have tested and tasted in the past one month; ranging from moist red velvet with cream cheese frosting, to two textured chocolate cake, and a tangy, tart and sweet and surprise in a, what seemed to be, chocolate cake. Oh, the diverse range I was lucky enough to try made this month very exciting and, dare I say, ‘fruitful’ (though there were little fruits consumed), not only for myself, but also the food enthusiasts, followers and friends I have.

 

The cake expedition was set off by two special and important upcoming days; Mother’s Day and a very treasured friend’s birthday, both a few days apart. It was decided months in advance that the small birthday celebration would take place on the Sunday, i.e., the 10th of May, prior to the actual birthday; and, at the moment of deciding that, Mother’s Day completely slipped my mind. As a lawyer, foodie and host of both events, you can imagine how hectic the two weeks prior to the May 10th weekend, and the day itself, must have been.

 

Whilst looking for cakes as special as the person for whom, in my eyes, should be celebrated on Mother’s Day, I stumbled upon a page on social media where the designs of the cakes were prepared with pure artistry by ‘Absolutely Caked’. Now, I know that when a dish/item is created, it is always intended to be ‘art’ in some form; however, this particular page caught my eye with the intricate details and in the hand-painted illustrations on fondant discs which were placed on the cakes ordered. In addition to that, there were also the hand-crafted stunning gum paste flowers which were indistinguishably similar to their real counterparts; from one bloomed rose on top, to entire branches of cherry blossoms wrapping around the cake.

 

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Mother’s Day Cake with a hand-crafted gum paste Calla Lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With clever names and flavours which I have seldom heard of, I chose the ‘Marie Antoinette Guillotine’ cake, based partly because I am a history buff and because the combination seemed quite intriguing. Furthermore, I also requested that a Calla Lily be crafted and provided a picture from the internet of a beautiful white & purple Calla Lily which started at the bottom the petals, near the stem as deep eggplant purple and slowly faded and turned to a soft egg shell white, which was to be placed atop the cake.

I was flabbergasted with the impeccable detailing in the Calla Lily, which was almost an exact replication of the image I sent. When the cake was cut in to, there was a precise ratio of the elements inside; a soft vanilla sponge with a layer of tangy lemon curd sandwiched in between, covered with a nearly half-inch thick layer of chocolate ganache. If the chocolate was to be eaten on its own, it would be far too rich, however, there was such a sublime balance of tangy, sweet and tart. Delicious! Though the size of the cake compared to the price was a bit small compared to others I have tried, it is definitely a cake on which you wouldn’t mind spending a little extra money for special occasions and/or people.

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Marie Antoinette Guillotine Cake

For the next day, I chose another at-home baker, ‘Kakes by Karimi’, who would make a cake and half a dozen cupcakes for my friend’s birthday. When asked for a suggestion as to a delectable cake, I was requested to try their ‘two-textured’ chocolate cake which was a chocolate cake and chocolate frosting, but the modification which made this specific cake special was in the perfectly tempered chocolate disk in between. The cupcakes were red velvet with cream cheese frosting; and the designs for the cake and cupcakes were of awe-inspiring, amazing and famous band logos. For all you metal heads, you must not be strangers to the following bands & logos; the cake had a logo of ‘Opeth’, and the six cupcakes had the logos of ‘Tool’, ‘Megadeth’, ‘Dream Theater’, ‘Pink Floyd’, ‘Rush’ & ‘Iron Maiden’. Because I was very specific about the detailing of the logos, they were printed on paper and then placed on the fondant, which were removed at the time of consumption. Though I would have liked it to be edible, in order to avoid disappointment, the logos were printed as mentioned above, which I didn’t mind at all once I looked at the finished products.

 

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Opeth ❤

 

The cake was outstanding and one that chocolate lovers would approve of; the chocolate tempered disk snapped perfectly as the knife cut down towards the bottom of the cake. The cake didn’t even live to see the next day!

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The cupcakes looked just as marvelous with the logos printed in the same manner on fondant rectangles and rested gently on the cream cheese frosting.

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The Perfect Birthday for a Metal Head! \m/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the cake was so delightful, I had high expectations from the red velvet cupcakes. They were soft, and the icing smooth; however, with regards to the overall sweetness, there was much left to be desired. At the time of deciding flavours, I was told that the red velvet with cream cheese frosting is slightly different than those sold in the market and not as sweet, but I didn’t anticipate that it would as less as the ones received. If I do place an order for cupcakes or cakes in that flavour again, I will definitely request to make it a teeny bit sweeter. That being said, I enjoyed it all, as did my friends, however, if there was a winner, the cake surpassed my expectations and was the clear champion!

 

Last, but definitely not least, was a cake ordered from ‘MSA Bake Away’, whose story begins about two months earlier, at the end of March for an anniversary in the family. A 3-LB red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting was chosen and the design was also provided. On the face of it, it was beautiful and tall; once it was cut into, the layers of red velvet sponge were, as the name suggests, velvety smooth and easy to cut through; with the knife sliding through the layers with cream cheese frosting in between holding it together and a generous layer on the outside; how overwhelmingly wonderful!

 

 

3lb red velvet cake for an anniversary in the family in March

3lb red velvet cake for an anniversary in the family in March

 

Going back to the opening statement made in this post, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but that cake lingered in my mind for nearly two months and I began craving it! Such an addictive, delicious and moist red velvet cake, with a generous amount of cream cheese frosting, at such an economical rate was hard to come by; quality, quantity AND easy on the wallet!

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The cake ordered in May – 2lbs of red velvet and cream cheese frosting!

 

In the third week of May, I called MSA Bake Away again and ordered a smaller, 2-LB red velvet cake which I requested be identical in every way possible to the one provided in March. The cake was fabulous & brought me back to the astonished feeling I had subsequent to my first bite the same in March! The sponge, just as soft and moist; the cream cheese frosting, just as abundantly coating the cake itself; the flavour, unchanged and consistent to the one that made me fall in love a few months earlier; and the price, still reasonable and realistic. MSA Bake Away has gained a loyal customer who is now going to attempt to slowly try as much off the list of items made based on the consistent and trustworthy quality of the past two cakes.

 

A slice of the cake from May

A slice of the cake from May

 

 

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nom nom nom!

 

If cakes and desserts are the ‘food group’ you prefer, then these three definitely be up your alley! The generic and common desserts made from large bakeries on every corner lack a few important things which the aforementioned home cooks have provided in every bite; love, time and creativity. Creative, artistic, practical and can make a person who doesn’t eat many desserts fall in love and crave them.

Highly recommended and encouraged!