ISLAMABAD-Unlike Islooites, Pindiites enjoy larger helpings of food. The city holds its head high in pride when it comes to scrumptious street food. The best way to taste the street food of Rawalpindi is to visit the old areas—Kartarpura, Haripura, Bhabhra Bazaar, Kashmiri Bazar, Akalgarh, Sarafa Bazaar, Saidpur Road and Kohati Bazaar where cheap and best is the tagline and unforgettable is the taste!

There is divine relish in devouring the kulchas. Crisp and flaky from the outside and hot and tender within, this maida roti is the fair maiden of all rotis! The kulcha is worthy of all tales written in its splendour. At times stuffed with a blend of potato and onions, spicy with chopped green chillies and flavoured with zeera and dhania, the kulcha is sheer indulgence to the taste buds.

Traditional foodstuff, armed with loads of spices and excitement, is the prime target with tender kulchas with or without a bit of butter that the residents aim at. The whiff is unmistakable. Having freshly baked tandoori kulchas with platter full of delightfully cooked channay, nihari or paye spiked with green chillies, is a blessing in disguise. This is not the end of the culinary extravaganza. One can also take home the kulchas as the stuff is good. But if you wish to eat it fresh out of tandoor, be prepared to sit on tightly adjusted chairs placed around the tables in the small shops.

Rawalpindi is replete with tandoors baking kulchas round the clock but there are just a few places other than the noted bazars and roads of which the kulchas are worth it. Served at almost every dhaba and fancy restaurants in the city, the best and more rustic versions can be found in old city areas where a variety of lip-smacking kulchas from morning till evening are served.

“We have been in the business of kulcha baking for over three decades now,” said Ghulam Rasool, a nanbai/tandoorchi at Haripura Mohallah, Rawalpindi.

Allah Ditta, hailing from Kashmir, set up his tandoor long ago when Kartarpura was an ordinary serene residential area. It has now been converted into a tiny niche with the tasty, fresh and clean food outlets served straight from the tandoors, cauldrons or daigs with a lingering taste of burning charcoal, the kulcha is manna straight from the heart of Punjab. Today, the sense of pride and satisfaction for the reputation of this nook in the market is rock solid.

“My relatives, my mother-in-law, friends and the Kartarpura people helped me set this place (tandoor) up,” said Allah Ditta, having a long breathe. Having transported a kulchawallah from Muzaffarabad to teach him the techniques, Allah Ditta then decided to plunge his own hands into the tandoor to get a feel of how this special roti is made. Now the crowd surrounding his tandoor never thins. A first time visitor to the tandoor never fails to be intrigued by the large number of people standing around this small tandoor. The kulchas are savoured with delight by food lovers.

The mastery in making such a soft and delicious kulcha is hidden in preparing dough. The dough for the kulchas is prepared by using water and heaps of pasteurised butter. This is flattened out by a couple of swift strokes of the hand and again smeared with butter. Finally, a handful of white tils are sprinkled on top of the flattened dough and the delicacy is ready to be baked in the tandoor. As butter is one of the main ingredients of these kulchas, it is no wonder that they are so sinfully delicious!

“The popularity is obvious. Even when we have guests we bring them here for breakfast and lunch and they love the food. It is all the ratio of salt, butter and the making of dough by keeping it for setting for a reasonable time to make the kulchas taste good, but the flavour is in the hands of its creator,” said an elderly woman.

Riaz Sudhan, a kulcha vendor at Kashmiri Bazar said that he had been making kulchas for the past 10 years. The response has been very good ever since he started this work. People come from far-off places to enjoy his kulchas with a variety of food sold in the bazar, he said.

“I feel satisfied when people come here from far-off places of the city with their families to enjoy kulchas. Over the past 10 years, there are many families who have now become my regular customers. And I make it a point to provide the best food to them,” proudly said Riaz Sudhan.

Talking with Mukhtar Ahmed at Bhabhra Bazar no doubt proved to be an educative conversation. “We have been associated with the business of kulcha making for generations. We do good business round the year. Almost every area in Rawalpindi has kulcha shops but the Bhabhra Bazaar kulchas have unique flavour hence are quite popular. 

Hailing from Kashmir, Mukhtar Ahmed said that the variety of kulchas we have in Kashmir is a gift from Central Asia. People from Tehran, Samarkand and many other Central Asian areas used to swarm into Kashmir due to the Silk Route trade. They brought in a line of exotic bread makers with them. The bread makers were known as nan-wais or nan-bais, wherein ‘nan’ means bread and ‘wai’ or ‘bai’ means a maker, said Ahmed.

“The most exotic bread in those times was the ‘shirmal’ with saffron sprinkled over it to give it a nice fragrance, colour and flavour. The flavour continues to remain the same over the years. Unmindful of their history, today’s bread makers continue to serve people with some of the most outlandish breads,” remarked Ahmed.


–The writer is a freelance