“Lahore, Lahore ay" (Lahore is Lahore). This is a saying I had heard often because Lahore is famous for its culture, architecture and, most of all, delicious food. Whether be its chargha, murgh chholay or fried fish; hunks of barbecued meat or mithai drenched in asli ghee; paya, hareesa or chaanp, Lahoris relish their food with passion. Lahori food is comparatively different from the rest of the cities. Karachi is known for its spicy food, Lahore has a moderate tolerance for spices yet the city has numerous scrumptious dishes that beat the rest.
No doubt the lassi is Lahore's version of beer. In real, it's not a beer but a mixture of milk, yogurt, sugar and paray (a native sweet). Mostly people drink it with breakfast during hot summer as lassi gives a soothing cool feeling. If you will drink two glasses, for sure you will feel dizzy and out of the world.
The best Lassi in Lahore is offered by Rafiq Lassi Wala on Railway Road near Food Street Gawal Mandi. Commonly known as Feeka himself, he is always spotted in a silk shirt and a black-bordered dhoti or loincloth. He would sit there with his legs crossed, a coloured portrait of his hanging right behind him. He is famous for his specially enriched, thick-creamed yogurt lassi or buttermilk. He would make his yogurt at midnight, adding the fermenting agent to the milk while it is still a little warm. By morning, the yogurt is ready and so firm that if the big clay dish in which it is made was held upside down, the yogurt would stay exactly where it is.
It is a treat to watch how Feeka prepares his famous lassi. He places the required quantity of yogurt in a shaker, throws in a couple of pairas and stirs the yogurt vigorously with his madani. He sprinkles the mixture with water occasionally and then adds some ice, which he further stirs for 15 to 20 seconds
It is a treat to watch how he prepares his famous lassi. He would place the required quantity of yogurt in a shaker, throw in a couple of paras, a cream-enriched delicacy, and stir the yogurt vigorously with his "madani', a wooden implement used for stirring milk to obtain butter. He would sprinkle the mixture with water occasionally and then add some ice, which he would vigorously stir for 15 or 20 seconds. After he is done, he would pour the lassi ceremoniously in a large glass. The soft white butter floating at the top is like a lotus on the waters of a lake.
Whenever I have a chance, I visit Feeqa Bhai's shop in Gawal Mandi as it refreshes and energises me for the whole day. I think when the summer heat is beating down on you, it's important to keep cool and hydrated. And there is nothing better than an ice-cold glass of lassi to beat the heat. Amazingly at every time more than a dozen people are standing in front of the shop, and a few can be seen sitting on a wooden bench waiting for their paray wali lassi.
Though delicious, the special Lahori lassi might be a bit too sweet and rich for those who are not used to it. If anyone does not finish the butter or khoya then Feeqa Bhai feels offended. The price per glass is about Rs 75.
Do bring a disposable glass with you. Lassi is undoubtedly a most refreshing beverage, especially in the summer but if you plan to indulge in paray wali lassi, keep your walking shoes handy.
Last but not the least, people who are addicted to fine dining eateries which are located in pretty much two main localities, the famous MM Alam Road and Y Block in Defence, dressed up in accordance with the latest fashions, please avoid visiting this Feeqa Bhai's shop.
The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2017.