Karachi’s Mexican Cuisine – Bienvenido A Habanero!

‘MexicHabanero an food’, synonymous with spice; your mind automatically thinks of chili peppers, tequila, corn, beans, pineapple, and so much more. Authentic Mexican food is unlike any other, however, there are numerous variations of the same, but Mexican food still remains one that is very much enjoyed.

The front of the Habanero Menu

The front of the Habanero Menu

A new place that recently popped up in Karachi is ‘Habanero’, situated off Khayaban – e – Shahbaz; upon entering, there is a certain atmosphere which is immediately set; a clean and quaint spot. On your right there is a mosaic of, what appears to be, an image of a hardboiled egg cut in half. On the opposite side of the restaurant there are pictures of various dishes. There are also welcoming staff members to greet you as you walk in and escort you to your seats.

Interior with the mosaic on the wall on the far left.

Interior with the mosaic on the wall on the far left.

On the table, you won’t find the common bottles of ketchup or chili garlic sauce. No, there are two small bottles of Caribbean hot sauces, from the company El Yucateco; by the name of Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero. One bottle is red habanero, with a deep red shade; and the other in a bright green, of green habanero. [Just FYI, Green habanero peppers are ones that are unripe and the common colors are red or orange, which are ripened.]The two bottles of Chili Sauce from El Yucateco

The two bottles of Chili Sauce from El Yucateco

Just for those who aren’t aware of various types of chili peppers, a habanero is an extraordinarily hot pepper, which has been rated 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville Scale, which is a measurement used for the spicy heat of chili peppers and other spicy foods.

This is what a habanero pepper looks like

This is what a habanero pepper looks like

Just so you have an idea as to its intensity and heat, on the Scoville scale, a jalapeno pepper has only 1,000-4,000 Scoville Heat Units. And rated the world’s hottest chili pepper since August 2013, is the Carolina Reaper, which is a hybrid/crossbreed of the Habanero and the Ghost chili, and exceeds 1 million with 1,600,000-2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Scoville Scale of a few chili peppers

Scoville Scale of a few chili peppers

Coming back to the two bottles of hot sauce on the table; I had a feeling that they would be awfully spicy based not only on the intense colors of each bottle, but also the strong spiced smell of the sauces. I placed a few drops in my plate and used the tip of one prong of my fork to taste it; and it was a sudden explosion of red-hot heat and chili. Definitely not for the faint of heart!

Scoville Scale used to measure the spicy heat of peppers

Scoville Scale used to measure the spicy heat of peppers

At Habanero, I ordered a quesadilla, nachos – Spicy for the starters, and for the main, enchiladas. I was a bit hesitant to order nachos due to the fact that some places that I have been to who claim to serve nachos use Doritos (yes, the chips you get from your local gas station or store) instead of tortilla chips. Habanero, on the other hand, used tortilla chips and they were fresh and crunchy; clearly not left over or stored for a prolonged period of time.

Starter - Nachos - Spicy

Starter – Nachos – Spicy

Layered on the tortilla chips were refried beans, marinated and seasoned ground beef, nacho cheese sauce, pickled jalapeños, sweet corn, grated cheese, tomato salsa and sour cream. The nachos were delicious and fun to eat since most Mexican food requires a ‘hands-on’ kind of an approach.

The sour cream, nacho cheese and tomato salsa which were poured on the nachos, were also given in small bowls on the side, in case we wanted more… which we did! Long story short: not a single drop went to waste.

Closer Close-up of the Nachos

Closer Close-up of the Nachos

Because the nachos were labeled ‘spicy’ on the menu and the waiter warned us of the same, we hesitantly took small bites, just so that we eased our way into the spicy flavours. However, the ground beef was far from spicy; rather it was quite bland. After speaking with the Manager, we notified him what a letdown the meat was and how it was exceedingly mild and nearly tasteless. He explained to us that people initially wanted it spicier and then it became too spicy and they were forced, due to the customers’ feedback, to make it the way that it currently is. He informed us that he would happily make another order if we weren’t satisfied with the current one.

One of the walls

One of the walls

Though the offer was quite tempting, we decided to simply voice our opinions and how it should neither be too spicy, nor too bland; a balance should be struck; and left it at that. And moved on to the next dish!

“Birds’ Eye” View of the Quesadilla =P

The quesadilla was cut into quartered triangles and were nicely fanned out, accompanied with that delicious salsa and sour cream. The tortilla used was very soft and not gummy or pasty as you bit into it, with meat in the middle and cheese. The tomato salsa was amazing! It was bright red; so vibrant in color and taste.

Starter - Quesadilla

Starter – Quesadilla

There were two large Enchiladas, smothered in cheese and a tomato-based sauce, and pickled jalapenos on top. When placed in front of us, we were overwhelmed and trying to figure out where to begin! Though there were two enchiladas, side by side on the plate, they were enormous! It became apparent that this is a dish for two people, rather than one.

Main Course - Enchiladas Yes, there are TWO under that thick blanket of cheese and salsa

Main Course – Enchiladas
Yes, there are TWO under that thick blanket of cheese and salsa

Main Course - Enchiladas

Main Course – Enchiladas

After slicing into it, it we were greeted with juicy pieces of beef steak, marinated and absolutely delicious. There was a mix of various spices; grated cheese, chopped onions, salsa; and it wasn’t too spicy. One thing that really could have been taken into account was the bottom of the enchiladas.

Main Course  - Enchiladas Yes, there are TWO under that thick blanket of cheese and salsa

Main Course – Enchiladas
Yes, there are TWO under that thick blanket of cheese and salsa

The bottom portion of the enchiladas, which is the portion that stayed on the bottom when the pan went under the broiler in order to melt the cheese, was very soggy and gummy. It was actually a bit difficult to eat due to its thick and had an unusual texture.

Habanero, as a new establishment, is very nicely set up with courteous staff; and I wish I had the chance of trying the aforementioned dishes prior to the changes made as per customer demands. If you wish to try Mexican food, then this place would be a great place to visit IF you notify the waiter/manager that you would like it to be spicier than what it currently is. If they have already amended the spice levels, then a new review is in order. Moreover, the sauces, however, are exceptionally wonderful and full of flavour!

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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

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!