KARACHI, Nov 2: It is not easy finding cheap or reasonablypriced meals that are also delectable when working in this busy metropolis called Karachi. And who`s got the time to head back home for a quick lunch and then rush back to work? That`s when the fast life comes back to bite and that too in the growling stomach.
But help is at hand when delightful home-cooked meals are brought to you in sparkling stainless steel tiffins or lunchboxes.
`They also deliver in plastic bag packets,` says Moazzam Bin Majeed, a shop owner at Zainab Market in Saddar. `But afterdelivering for a while at one market or the other they disappear not to be heard of again. It may be that they have found more clients at some other market or someone got sick after eating their food.
`The price of Rs20 to Rs30 per person also seems too low for good-quality food so we have to think twice before buying from them. But I have to admit that the besin ki karhi that I bought from one such dabba walla was out of this world,` he says. `Some men turn out to be great cooks,` he adds.
Men? The lunchboxes may be delivered by men on bikes but the real person behind the food isalmost always a woman in a home kitchen. `Yes, my wife and sister do the cooking at home and I bring it all here,` says Jamil Khan, a busy man with a row of small shining tiffins hanging from each of his bicycle handles outside Jama Cloth Market. `We charge Rs80 per tiffin,` he discloses. `There is daal, sabzi and machhli, too, on some special days,` he adds.
The menu for today`s lunchbox in Mrs Kulsoom M. Ali`s kitchen is biryani, zarda, raita and salad. The moment you step into the gates of the apartment building in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, there is no need to ask for directions to her home.
Let the aroma from her kitchen lead the way.
Inside, the lady is busy filling up one tiffin portion after the other, biryani in one, zarda in another and packets of Raita and salad in the third. She makes sure each portion has one boti and one piece of potato. `If it is meatballs, I will put one in each and suppose the meatballs are small in size that day, I`ll put in two each,` she explains.
`The small lunchboxes are meant for one person. I also pack tiffins for four and six people. But my charge for one person is Rs125 so for four it is Rs500 and so on, she says. `But two people can easily share one lunchbox as our portions are quite generous,` she adds.
`Look, groceries are so expensive these days and we use the best rice, flour, meat, vegetables, oil, etc. There is no compromise there. So shopkeepers usually don`t approve of our rates but we deliver food for offices in Gulshan, Defence and on Sharea Faisal. Also we supply to Bahria College and Askari-IV.
`We usually have customers who pay us on a monthly basis to deliver the lunches to them every week day. We have two lunchboxes or tiffins for each person so when delivering one we can pick up the empty one from the previous day. You can`t really expect men to return washed and clean tiffins, which is fine as we would have washed them again ourselves anyway. We have also writ-ten the names of our customers on paper tape on the tiffin handles just so there is no mix-up as some prefer spicy food while others don`t,` she says.
`On days other than when we have biryani, the menu for each meal must have some curry, some rice, roti and a sweet dish such as kheer, halwa, shahi tukra, etc.
The food is delivered by Mrs Ali`s husband while her daughterin-law helps her in the kitchen.
`We make sure everything is ready by 12.30pm so the food gets delivered on time. My daughter used to help me as well but she is married now and can`t be here all the time,` she says.
About how she got into this line of work, Mrs Ali remembers with a smile. `I have always enjoyed my cooking. My mother taught me how to cook when I was a little girl. Then I also experimented with new recipes I read in booksand magazines. My husband read about the dabba wallas of Mumbai in some old magazine some four years ago and discussed the idea with me. We were facing financial difficulties at the time and decided to go into this business,she shares.
`At first, we charged Rs. 75 per person, then went up to Rs. 80, then Rs. 90 and Rs. 95 and now it is Rs. 125 per person. We have Ramazan packages, too. I still remember my first customer, MrZahoor, in Korangi. He liked the meals so much that he started telling everyone about them.
That`s when others in his office building also started ordering from us and one thing led to another.