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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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.

BURGER MAFIA

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The back wall with white stones on the bottom

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Triple Cheeseburger!

 

When driving towards Burger Mafia facing Saba Avenue on Khayaban-e-Shahbaz, the yellow-painted wall is unmistakably noticeable. Next to a take-away window, a small door conceals on the other side, a loud and colorful wall, as if you were walking in the streets of downtown; yellows, blacks, reds; traffic lights, tall buildings; posters of famous ‘mafia’ movies, such as Scarface with Al Pacino and Mario Puzo’s, the Godfather, just to name a few.

Waiters dressed in ‘gangster’ attire of the 50’s, when long black trench coats and fedoras were all the rage and commonly associated with gangsters, courteously escorted you to the table and, from time to time, visited to ensure that your experience is pleasant.

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The side wall with one of their waiters in the shot

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The burgers ordered were juicy and large, placed on a lovely white dish/platter, similar to the shape of a paddle, with a small round dent wherein the ketchup accompanying the burger was situated. Not your average coleslaw, which had a slight orange tinge to it, but tasted quite nice; fries which were crispy; and a sauce streaked on the bottom of one side of the plate. The burger patty itself was very juicy, and the ground beef clearly made and shaped by hand; a generous amount of beef and very unique taste; the flavour profile clearly kept the Pakistani/Desi clientele in mind. Not your average burger patty! The burger buns, in which the patty was resting, were noticeably soft and the juices from the patty and the sauces from within the burger were soaked up by the buns; thus, all the flavours from every bite were in every subsequent bite.

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One of the highlights of this new burger joint was…the bottomless drinks! Yes, that’s right, all-you-can-drink soda while you enjoy the music, food and ambiance created by the polite and friendly staff AND owners. The owners were kind enough to seldom visit our table to not only explain their vision, but also to make sure we enjoyed the food and experience. No more dilemmas of arranging and timing every sip thus, forcing yourself to drink your beverage so slowly so that it lasts for your entire meal! You may easily finish it in one gulp, if you please, and then ask for another, without hesitation or fear that it will be added to your bill.

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Double patty burger with bacon

The overall dining experience at Burger Mafia was pleasantly entertaining with well-mannered and polite staff who were very attentive; the burger patties, created by hand and with care; the buns, soft and light; the sauces, very tangy and complimented the burger nicely; unlimited refills of the beverages and an experience worth having! If you are searching for this kind of experience and taste then Burger Mafia is where you should go!

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!