LAHORE: Opening a café on the very first day of Ramadan flies against conventional wisdom. Yet that is exactly what Ahmed Chema did. But then he has never been a man to play by the rules. After all, at Andaaz, his flagship restaurant here in Lahore’s red light district – he recruits all staff locally. Meaning that he hires sex workers and offers them the chance of rehabilitation into society. Though he is clear to stress that this is not charity. He works his staff hard. And after around two years he offers them the chance to buy shares in business. Chit Chaat is run along the similar lines. As in it is the same team running things behind-the-scenes. Tucked away in the heart of old Gulberg, Chit Chaat has something of a Christmas tavern feeling about. With painted green walls and stencilled stars there is no denying the festive ambience. Especially in the evenings when the fairy lights come alive and bathe everything in a gentle golden glow. Chit Chaat is a celebration of food. The back to the basics kind. With the Chema twist, naturally. The menu boasts everything a diehard Lahori could ever dream of. Yet the café’s unique selling point is that everything is affordable. Which is in direct contrast to the high-scale Andaaz, which has just won the tripadvisor certificate of excellence for the fourth consecutive year. Then there is the catchiness of having a local name for a local eatery. Not to mention the cleverness of taking this and fusing it with English and arriving at a pun, that fits in well with the idea of taking one’s time with friends over food for a chit chat. Boom Boom! Chema wants us to know that he feels just as passionately about this new venture as he does about Andaaz. This is because he treats every new project as a learning curve not only in terms of the business side of things – but also when it comes to upping his game day after day in the filed of culinary arts. Ahmed Chema is young, dynamic, enterprising and charming. But above and beyond all that – he is a foodie to the core. Which explains why he doesn’t complain about his sudden double workload which sees him dividing his time between Andaaz and Chit Chaat every single day. He is never happier than when he is cooking it up. And for him, this begins even before he sets foot in the kitchen. Meaning that the time spent translating his vision into recipes and then finding the right menu placement combinations are all part of the adrenalin rush. He is nothing if not hands on. Chit Chaat is not just for the young. It’s for everyone who likes to sit and have a chat whilst having chaat, and who like their food to both smell and taste good. There are a few statement quirks in terms of the interior décor, such as a traditional jukebox and hourglasses on each table that Chema picked up somewhere abroad. The latter, he laughingly says, is his gift to the customer. Because orders must arrive before the glass empties of sand. A truly unique idea! So, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I started off with beverages. And let’s just say that even if the food weren’t up to much – I’d still go back for the drinks! I had a little of each of the four sherbets on offer: the Jal-Jeera, the Thandai, the Lemonade and the Saltish Lassi. My personal favourites were the first two, both of which were unbelievably light and refreshing on the taste buds. Indeed, I would happily gulp down the Thandai every day of Lahore’s scorching summer. Not that I need a reason – I can honestly see myself not being able to get enough of it. Of course it would have been most unseemly to dine at Chit Chaat and not order chaat. So next up was the Channa Chaat: a single serving, I believe, is sufficient to do justice and more to the entire concept of chaat itself. It not only tasted delicious but it’s the best chaat I’ve had in Lahore for quite a while. Also, it doesn’t hurt that it was presented well. For those in need of something a little more filling, I would recommend the Chicken Roll, the Beef Tikka Pizza, the Flying Saucer Sandwich, the Bun Samosa, the Liberty Burger, and the Chicken Wings. These come personally recommended by Chema and I have to agree that they are all must-haves. For someone like me who is not too fond of beef – I surprised even myself when I had to admit that Chit Chaat’s Beef Tikka Pizza is my firm favourite meal from the menu. Now for the best part: dessert. I tried the Lemon Cronut as well as the Cream Roll. The Lemon Cronut is sugary, filling and very tangy – just how Lahoris like their sweet treats! The ambience is what the Lahoris call awami – local food within an environment free of artificial airs and graces. In short, Chit Chaat is one of the most welcoming eateries in the city. Actually, as I sit here writing this I notice that I have begun to drool. But then you know your taste buds are in good hands, when the team behind Andaaz treats you to their new venture. Published in Daily Times, July 6th , 2017.