It was a hot afternoon and I am dashing from one meeting to another with my stomach grawling for a quick bite. The car stuck in a traffic jam, nothing unusual for Karachi or any other big cities of Pakistan. And here, there is this guy with his cart by the roadside. I just rolled down the car windows and got myself a steaming hot helping of sand roasted ‘Sweet Potatoes”, sprinkled with some zesty spices and cut into creamy white yummy chunks. Gave me a boost of instant energy, loaded with minerals, vitamins, while still in my car. I am all set for the next round of hectic meetings and good until my dinner time. I just paid twenty rupees!!!
Despite the advent of all international fast food chains; burgers, fries, sandwiches, pizza and such, our desi roadside snacks are still serving us with pride. Yes the traditional snacks carts and vendors by the roadside, streets, at signals and outside schools are still in business. They are very cheap, carrying a tinge of typical rural Pakistani taste, yet healthy. Most most importantly they are a part of our culture and heritage.
Pakistan is blessed with an year round crop of amazing variety of produce, most of these snacks are made out of locally grown fresh fruits, vegetable and kernals. The cooking method employed to prepare most of these use little or no oil or spices. The common cooking method used includes sand roasted, grilled on coal or open fire, boiled, steamed or just cut and served fresh; thus no fats, oils and are fairly healthy. The most popular ones seen almost in all neighborhoods include, the popular ‘grilled corn on the cobs’ roasted on charcoal grills, these have always been a part of every little village and elite neighborhoods. The very delicious sand roasted “salted chick peas’ and ‘corn kernals’ appeared on the roads with the influx of Afghan Refugees in early eighties. One good helping of these snacks costs anywhere from 10-50 rupee, and are a favourite to rich and poor equally. They are completely prepared right in front of our eyes, and in many cases we can choose which fruit or vegetable are used.
The ‘samosas’, and ‘nimko’ are all time favourites too, but since they are fried, it calls for careful selection from where we are getting them, and need to be sure of quality of oil used. Once we know a few places that does them good, we can quickly grab a handful or a few in an oily newspaper piece and eat them on the go.
To wash them all down, there is no dearth of road side carts or stands selling freshly squeezed juices of fruits that are in season, or the year round Sugar cane juice. A big tumbler of fresh orange, grape fruit, pomegranate, or lemonade, will never cost us more then eighty rupees. Hygiene can be a big concern here, since these involve water and fresh fruits. Majority of these stands and cart owners have now started using bottled mineral water, good quality fruits and clean utensils. One might insist on checking on the cleanliness of the utensils, and ensure fresh fruits are pressed, the vendors are very sweet simple people and they truly cooperate. Unfortunately we remember to tip off waitors at expensive restaurants but forget these humble vendors.
Most of these snacks are prepared, cooked, sold from an average 8x8 push carts often very beautifully and ethnically decorated. Since they don’t have freezers or storage, their goods are to be sold every day and fresh goods appear every morning. The cart owners push them to different locations throughout the day depending on where there are possibilities of good business. Talking to some of these vendors, it appear that their family at home help them as well in cooking, organizing, some basic preparations and help set up their carts. Most of them hail from rural areas, and earn anywhere from Rupees 300-500 a day.These cart owners are very much a significant part of our society and business, can do with some support, training and