#44 Pakistan: South Asian carb chaos

About a week ago, an old friend from Pakistan—let’s call him Sid—stopped by NYC for a far-too-brief visit. He’s had a damned interesting life: he grew up under rough conditions in Karachi, which had been turned into a war zone by rival ethnic gangs in the early 1990s. His father died when Sid was in his early teens, but Sid managed to land a scholarship to a two-year international high school in the United States. That was the relatively easy part: Sid’s family was thoroughly broke when he finished high school, and he had nowhere to go. My pal spent a year wandering through the United States, volunteering for various organizations, dodging immigration authorities, and trying to cajole a college into giving him a full scholarship so he could avoid the mess back home in Karachi.

tandoori chicken and chicken seekh kebab... roti and naan not pictured

Impressively, it all worked out. Fifteen years later, Sid is now the go-to man for a London-based hedge fund. After winding his way through Iowa, Georgia, West Virginia, upstate New York, and Manhattan as a young adult, my once-destitute friend has earned himself three college degrees, a master’s degree, a gorgeous Italian girlfriend, and U.K. citizenship. Amazing.

The last time we crossed paths in NYC about ten years ago, Sid and I gorged ourselves silly at some of the Pakistani places in Murray Hill. Stupidly, I blew it this time: we ate good French food (thumbs up for Cafe Charbon) and crappy pizza during his visit, but never went out for Pakistani treats—and I forgot to even ask where his old haunts were. But by an odd twist of fate, I was picked up by a Pakistani cabbie a few days after my friend left; the cab driver sent me to his favorite place, called Lahori Kabab in Curry Hill. As soon as I walked in, I recognized the place: Sid and I used to eat there every time I visited NYC back in our student days. It was the first place I’d ever eaten Pakistani food, ten or twelve years ago.

potatoes and peas, served with lentils and rice, naan, roti, and more rice... anybody want some rice?

It would be easy enough to mistake Lahori Kabab for an Indian restaurant: the awning says that the place serves Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi food, and the menu contains plenty of classic dishes (chicken tikka, aloo gobi, channa masala, dal, biryani) that appear on the menus of every Indian joint in the United States. Lahori Kabab’s menu is diplomatic: beef is off the menu to avoid offending Hindus, and all meats are halal in honor of the Muslim crowd. I love chicken and lamb and vegetables as much as the next guy, but I was mildly disappointed by the lack of beef—I was hoping to try Lahori beef karahi, which is often lauded as the national dish of Pakistan. But I had to settle for chicken, vegetables… and assloads of carbs.

closeup of the truly amazing lentil-rice-chicken sludge

In my effort to try as many flavors as possible, I opted for a tandoori combo platter ($10.99), which included rice, naan, a tandoori chicken leg and thigh, a few other random bits of charred chicken, and chicken seekh kebab (surprisingly un-spicy oven-barbecued chicken-and-onion sausages). I also picked up a mixed platter ($8), which came with rice, whole wheat roti, and any two non-tandoori items —I chose a lentil-rice-chicken mix, and a vegetarian slurry of peas and potatoes. I added a piece of chicken chapati ($3), which was a deliciously large, spicy piece of flatbread… except that it was made from chicken instead of dough.

Lahori Kabab has a few dimly-lit tables in back, but it’s mostly a take-out place, run by a cordial Pakistani gentleman whose quick, darting movements made me think of a small lizard. (That’s a compliment—the dude was speedy and precise.) I didn’t want to annoy the crap out of the Pakistani cabbies by taking flash-photos of everything on my plates, so I dragged the meal home, and assembled some super-combo plates for myself and my fiancée, who was buried under 3,000 pages of environmental law textbooks when I got home.

chicken chapati

As soon as I made sample plates for both of us, I realized something: there were way too many carbs on this plate. We had roti (whole wheat flatbread), naan (fluffy white flatbread), and tons of rice… all served as accompaniment to a potato-and-pea dish and a lentil-and-rice dish. Our carbs were served with carbs. Were we supposed to scoop the lentil-rice dish with the roti? Were we supposed to eat our potatoes on a bed of white rice? Do we tuck the surplus white rice into a piece of naan? I love carbs more than almost anybody on this planet, but it was too much for my little brain to handle: what do you do with such an embarrassingly large selection of carbs?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining: all of our food ranged from good (the tandoori chicken was tasty but a little bit dry; the chicken seekh kebab was on the bland side) to great (the lentil-rice-chicken sludge was fiery and absolutely amazing), and I wouldn’t hesitate to head back to Lahori Kabab. But only if I really was in the mood for carb-induced post-meal paralysis.

I think I’ll go eat a salad or something now.

Lahori Kabab on Urbanspoon

Lahori Kabab
124 Lexington Avenue @ 28th Street, Manhattan
Subway: 28th Street (6 train)

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