Street food sellers bring authentic taste of south India to Pakistani port city

Special Street food sellers bring authentic taste of south India to Pakistani port city
Muhammad Mustafa makes dosa, a South Indian pancake, at his cart in Karachi, Pakistan, on November 12, 2021. (AN Photo)
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Updated 15 November 2021

Street food sellers bring authentic taste of south India to Pakistani port city

Street food sellers bring authentic taste of south India to Pakistani port city
  • Traditional dosas prove popular in Karachi’s Madrasi Para neighborhood populated by Tamil Hindus from southern India

KARACHI: A small band of street food sellers have been keeping alive the authentic taste of southern India in a Pakistani port city.

For almost 15 years, Frass Adnan has been selling dosa pancakes near the Char Minar roundabout in Karachi’s Bahadurabad neighborhood, the smell of fresh vegetables and smoked potatoes filling the air around his Dosa Point food truck.

Adnan lives in Madrasi Para, a neighborhood in the Cantonment area of the port city, where the population is made up mainly of Tamil Hindus who migrated from southern India in the early 20th century before the independence of Pakistan when Karachi was being developed during the British Raj.

“My mother hails from Madras and she is the inspiration behind Dosa Point,” he told Arab News.

The dosa, a thin pancake or crepe made from a fermented batter predominantly consisting of lentils and rice, originated in south India. In Karachi, one pancake sells for around 500 Pakistani rupees ($3). A regular chapati in Pakistan costs around 20 cents.

Adnan said the price of the dosa was reflected in the time it took to make. “The paste is made wet at night, grinded the next day and then fermented for 12 hours. It is frozen and then defrosts. It takes almost three days to prepare one dosa.”

Community estimates show at least a few hundred migrants still living in the Madrasi Para neighborhood, which is located behind the city’s Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. Most of the residents are Hindus, but many also belong to the Christian and Muslim faiths and have integrated with the Urdu-speaking migrant communities. Speaking southern Indian languages in the area is becoming less common.

Kamachi Kanthaswamy, a 63-year-old woman from Madrasi Para, said: “The south Indians of Karachi belong to different faiths including Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, and some of our rituals are different, but what unites us as a larger community of Tamils is our food.

“I have taught it to my daughters. Every woman in our community can cook it. Some also sell it. But I’m happy that our food is getting space in the city’s food centers. People should taste our food. It’s delicious,” she added.

Muhammad Mustafa, who learned south Indian cooking while working in Dubai, moved to Karachi after losing his job due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic lockdowns. And he wasted no time acting on his wife Nimra’s advice to start making and selling dosas from a food stall.

“To our surprise, every second customer has some south Indian roots and has told us our dosa tastes better than what they cook at home,” Nimra told Arab News at the couple’s food truck next to a sign that read, From South to Your Mouth.

Mustafa’s dosa fillings include chicken, potatoes, crispy onions, and spices and when ready, his wife serves them to customers with a side of sambar daal and coconut chutney.

One customer, Muhammad Saleem, whose mother was from Madras (now Chennai), the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, said he was relieved that there were still some places in Karachi where authentic dosas were sold.

“Dosa, idli, and many other varieties of south Indian dishes are occasionally cooked in our home because my mother migrated from Chennai, but there are only very few eateries in the city where we can get it now.”