Thursday, 19 February 2015

[Travel]: My Kinda Kabul

The experience of any city is created by the ‘user.’ You can make any city our own. Even in a city as close as Karachi, Kabul is deemed ‘exotic’ and adventurous.  As a Pakistani, it is closer to home than most of us would imagine. However, Kabul is not for tourists, it is for travelers. But there is a romance in the air that is unmistakable. If you are in Kabul, explore something besides the ruins and war relics.

Food Trail
Kabul, like Karachi, has only one kind of nightlife – a foodie kind of nightlife. But it can be a little bit more risqué/fun that Karachi. While Karachi asks you to bring your own, Kabul serves its own.  Kabul has a decent variety of cuisines being served across the city. Thai, Chinese, Indian, Croatian, Middle Eastern and many more.
Kebabs are everywhere in Kabul!For traditional Afghan food head to Sufi . The restaurant is frequented by expats and visiting delegations as an introduction to Afghan food and will cost you about $10-12.  For a flavor of the aid-worker/foreign journalist watering hole try L’Atmosphere – a French restaurant serving crepes, pizzas, pastas, salads and soups. The bar area is rather popular  for obvoious reasons. The food is a bit pricey but the music is nice – starting with classics in the early evening and ending with Lady Gaga and Pitbull at night. A meal and drinks will set you back by $20.  To eat where the locals eat, try Barg Restaurant in the Khair Khana bazaar.  Barg serves Western fast food and local fare. The ground floor is for men and the upper floors are for families. Meal and drinks will cost you no more than $7.
Golden pakoras and fries at Mandavi

Kabul also has fantastic street food – pakoras, fries, deep fried ‘aloo paratha’ and spicy corn on the cob – from 5 to 10 Afghani.
It is not uncommon for most ‘meetings’ to take place at lunch. It seems most offices, organizations and even ministries have their own mini-catering units, manned mostly by women. These lunches will be the best food you find anywhere in Kabul.
Home made mantu at the FES Kabul office
There are plenty of bazaars all over Kabul. The cool weather makes it easy to spend hours in a bazaar but the dust doesn’t help. Mandavi, is a whole sale market selling almost everything you can imagine – vegetables, fruits, clothes, shoes, motorcycles, mattresses, biscuits – from Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, Iran and China. Of course, the one thing you must buy from here are the dry fruits – go for the local produce instead of those imported from Iran.

Dried fruits and seeds at Mandavi

The legendary Kandhari Anar
If you’re looking for more contemporary’ shopping then head to the Laisa Marium bazaar in the Khair Khana locality – you can find traditional Afghan outfits here, colorful, embroidered kurtas for men and women. It’s also a great place for people watching. The Shar Nau area is great for loitering around and get posters of Afghan heroes and local handicrafts. Most of the malls including Kabul Mall and City Center are also located in the area.

By far, the most interesting thing about Kabul is it’s people. The city is rich with stories. Nearly every Afghan I have spoken to in Kabul has lived in Pakistan and speaks Urdu fluently. The people on the streets are friendly and love telling their stories – even if they are a bit exaggerated. Striking a conversation is not difficult. Kabul is a microcosm of Afghan society – Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and the foreigners from all over the world. Take the time to visit sporting events, cafes, barber shops, beauty salons and markets and talk to people to get the real flavor of Kabul.
Semi-final game of the first ever Afghan Premier League football tournament
Kabul has a thriving music scene – both local and foreign. There are some plenty of venues that host and groom young musicians. The French Cultural Center in Kabul, recently hosted the Sound Central Festival – an alternate music festival featuring bands from Central and South Asia and beyond.
The Venue is a space for young musicians to get together and jam. The Venue is run by Humayun Zadran, an avid music supporter working on several music related projects including ‘The Bridge’ – which currently brings Pakistani musicians to Afghanistan. If you are a rock music fan, look out for performances by Kabul Dreams. Kabul Dreams consists of young Afghan men, who are average musicians at best but rock and roll needs all the encouragement and support it can get. White City is another Kabul based rock band consisting of an Australian, a Brit and a Swede, who describe themselves as ‘rock therapy.’

The dust never settles in Kabul. There is a permanent slow moving haze. In October, the air is chilly and dry – dry enough to cut skin. Kabul is not an easy city – moving around the city is difficult and slow; the weather can be harsh; a woman’s laughter might offend someone on the street.   – but it is a city that will embrace you only when you begin to embrace it. I would love to return to Kabul and get to know it even better, because this was one of the hardest goodbyes I have had to say….
Reluctant good bye

[Travel]: Marini's on 57, Kuala Lumpur

I know you may be a bit tired of me raving about everything Malaysian and particularly from Kuala Lumpur... but... it's my favorite city in the world. I make a trip there every year and the city keepsreinventing itself and there is always something new to do in Kuala Lumpur. My last trip to KL was over Christmas and New Year and my dear friend Hee Wei Han took me to a hip, new bar called Marini's on 57. 57 for 57th floor of the third tower of the Petronas Twin Towers. Well, technically the 'third' tower is not a part of the famed Petronas Twin Towers but it is an adjoining tower that is a part of the property.

But first, a selfie in Suria KLCC

Marini's is a restaurant and a bar that gives an unprecedented view of the Twin Towers. We went there on a whim so there was no way we could get a table at the restaurant on Christmas Night. So, as most disgruntled people do, we headed to the bar instead. And surprise, surprise... it was not as expensive as I would have imagined.  Besides, the view was nothing short of stunning.

But as luck would have it, KL decided to have one of it's signature down pours. I loved it but my gentleman friend was rather disappointed that I could savor the view for longer. I thought the rain made it quite brilliant.

The art deco furniture and neon lights make it a fun, young (but not too young, thank god) place to spend a splendid KL evening. The crowd consists of well-heeled locals, expats and tourists with cash to burn. The age group is definitely 28 and above. There are no Rihanna remixes but the DJ does spin some smooth electronic jazz and progresses on to house music. The music could have been better, but that's only because I am a better DJ. 

It's not straight forward getting to Marini's on 57, but then you have me on your side. Head to the Versace store in Suria KLCC and find the dedicated elevator right next to it. You will be personally escorted all the way to the bar. Dress well, not skanky! An average drink will cost you about RM 50. 

Would I go there again? Every single time I am in Kuala Lumpur!


Saturday, 14 February 2015

[Music]: Songs For Your Valentine

While Lady In Red, might be the most requested song of the night at the local hotel lobby/bar, please remember that there are better classic love songs out there. It is very often the simplest of lyrics and melodies that make for the greatest expressions of love.

1. The Beatles - All You Need Is Love

Wouldn't it be nice if all of us just believed in that. And all we ever wanted was love - untainted by jealousy, sex, money, contracts and labels. This is one of my favorite love songs of all time - simple lyrics with an even simpler melody, one that you can sing at the top of your lungs and not be afraid of sounding terrible. Because all you need is love! To hell with the haters!

2. Justin Timberlake - Mirrors

I'll take one of those for Valentine's Day

Tell me you watched that without being moved to tears. Okay, maybe that's just me. Taking the idea of the 'better half' up a notch to a partner who is but a mirror reflection of yourself and your desires; a relationship that lasts a life time; and JT dancing in a black suit sounds perfect to me. The song was released in 2013 and you might say it's not a classic. But, it will be! I already see it becoming a wedding and Valentine classic.  Consider this:

                                      You reflect in this heart of mine
                                        If you ever feel alone and
                                   The glare makes me hard to find

                                       Just know that I'm always
                                        Parallel on the other side

Yes. Justin.

3. Elton John - Your Song

Such a picture perfect family!

It's Sir Elton John and he's written YOUR song. This song should be the song of every financially strained young couple very much in love. It talks about buying a big house together (only if you had the money) but regardless of being poor, life is still wonderful being with you. Your Song is also about the process of song writing as a labor of love. Once again, simple lyrics combined with one of the most expressive voices of our time is I wonder if Elton sings this to David often because that would just MELT me...*sigh*

4. Elvis Presley/Andre Bocelli - Can't Help Falling In Love

The world's best wedding singer

Elvis really ensured that all of us have a wedding dance song to last an eternity. And for generations of artists and American Idol contestants to cover. This cover by the Italian tenor Andre Bocelli is especially wonderful because of the man's angelic voice, depth of expression and gorgeous gray hair. What I actually really love about this version is the performance video shot in Vegas. The people in the audience singing along are such a joy to watch and are a fantastic reminder of how disgustingly sweet it is to be in love, even if you are single....

5. Etta James - At Last

Because love can end well too sometimes! Etta James' At Last is a definite contender for the most popular wedding song. The song is about a girl's dream man finally becoming hers. And she is not ashamed to be over the moon about it! Incidentally, this was also the first song that President Obama and Mrs. Obama danced to after his big promotion. The song was performed by Beyonce and Ms James was rather unhappy about it. Such drama mamas these Americans!

This list it to inspire you and get your (creative) juices flowing. If there is a song that is on repeat in your head, comment below and share it with the rest of us too!

And if you still haven't done anything special for him/her this Valentine's Day, you can still make it up to them with this freebie from TCS Sentiments!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

[Food]: Fika On The Roof, Karachi

Karachi seems to be going through a bit of cafe frenzy in the last couple of months - with E Street and adjoining lanes hosting the majority of the new places. The fact that the lane is now crowded and whizzing with buses has not stopped the newbies and monoliths of the food business to set up shop there. The latest one there is Fika. Fika (I have been told) is a Swedish word that means just hanging out and chilling over a cup of coffee.  Fika has an extension on the roof called, Fika On The Roof. I went there on Friday to be pleasantly surprised by a very ethnic Pakistani interior and decor - nothing Swedish about this space!

But first, the food!

Mezze Platter

Moroccan Beef

Being of Middle Eastern descent myself... I am always apprehensive about trying so-called Middle Eastern cuisine anywhere in the city. My Iraqi mother has set the bar rather high at home. But I still can not say no to hummus - many times, it is my gauge of an eatery - it's my How Good Is The Hummus Test. The Mezze platter at Fika On The Roof includes hummus, baba ganoush, mutabbal, a tomato chutney, garlic sauce, olives, pickled green chillis, cucumbers, carrots and of course pita bread. The serving is good for four to share. The star of the platter is the tomato chutney. The baba ganoush is just right. The hummus is not as good as my mother's just yet.

For the main course, I had the Moroccan Beef as suggested by the owner Abid Merchant. It was a good piece of beef - well spiced and marinated. However, it should have been more tender. There was an excellent rice pilaf to go with it.

The Gulabo
This is an interesting dessert - vanilla ice-cream with gulab jamun. It is good for those who cannot decide between a desi and an angrezi dessert I suppose. However, the textures are too similar and everything is too sweet when put together. It does not have the brownie and ice cream effect.

There are also some really interesting menu items like Anda Paratha but I could not dare to order any thing else after that ginormous meal. The menu is a mix of local favorites, burgers, sandwiches and grilled meats.

What really held my attention through out the practice dinner was the decor, the ambience and the music. Fika On The Roof  could be a Karachi dhaba or a specialty cafe in Europe. The decor has been designed by Pakistani artist Muhammad Zeeshan who is the pioneer of rickhsaw art, as opposed to truck art. So everything is rich, neon and Pakistani. The space also has an interesting playlist - Bollywood! From Baby Doll to Bappi Lahiri! 

I am glad that eateries are finally realizing the importance of having outdoor spaces and Fika On The Roof seems to be the perfect hang out for a cup of tea and anda paratha this winter. Check them out here for complete details.

[Business]: TCS Hazir

Since I quit the 9 to 5, I am having trouble organizing myself between different commitments, meeting deadlines and well, staying sane. I am a high school teacher, a radio show host, a PR & marketing consultant and the kitchen help at my mother's catering business - YummyMummyAndMe. I find myself constantly trying to save time and do several things on one trip and at the same time. Enter .... TCS Hazir...

With an extensive outdoor and online campaign, here's what I have understood from TCS Hazir's communications:

  • Instead of you going to the TCS office to send your mail, TCS will come to you, hence, Hazir
  • They will pick it up from your doorstep within 60 minutes of you placing your order
  • You can send documents or packages of up to 25 kg
  • Charges start at Rs 100 for pick up
  • The service is available in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad for now.

Is this the guy who will come to pick up the package?

Now the service sounds most excellent in principle, especially for small businesses like mine.  In the case of sending out invites, letters, menus and small packages even, I end up saving money on fuel, time and hassle. I hope they don't charge for each document separately! 

The service could work really for those who have home based businesses of non-perishable items or well just about anything that TCS agrees to deliver. However, the lack of cash-on-delivery services as a part of TCS Hazir might be a hindrance in developing that market.

Have I tried the service yet? Nope. You will have to check with TCS for further details about the exact logistics of the process. Will I use it in the future?  Sure I will.  

*waits for TCS to start a food delivery service*