Aida Khan

The London-based pioneer of Pakistani cuisine talks to Fleur Rollet-Manus about Pakistan’s incredible scenery, menu must-tries at Shola Karachi Kitchen and the judicious use of spices

Any travel plans coming up?

As a new restaurant owner, travel is, sadly, quite limited these days. Although we’re headed over to Bangkok and Koh Samui for a family break soon. I can’t wait to try Jay Fai’s restaurant [Raan Jay Fai] for the first time and I’m looking forward to digging in to some garlicky fried chicken at Soi Polo. After that, we’ll be staying at the Anantara in Bophut, Koh Samui, which is surrounded by gorgeous beaches and street-food venders selling delicious corn on the cob and papaya salads. We’ll make time to venture to Chewang to eat at Mit Samui, purely for their outstanding chilli crab.

Pakistan is one of the year’s top destinations – what are your favourite places to visit?

Pakistan has one of the most stunning and diverse landscapes to explore. I’d definitely recommend visiting Karachi for its coastline, Lahore for its fascinating history and culture and the Shigar Valley for some incredible trekking opportunities in the Himalayas.

What dishes should travellers be seeking out while there?

Everything! Start off by heading to Behari Kabab in Burns Road, Karachi for sizzling barbecued meats, be sure to sample street-food dishes in Gawalmandi in Lahore and, when Saturday arrives, try a traditional weekend breakfast of halwa puri. It’s an incredible savoury chickpea curry followed by sweetened semolina halwa that’s mopped up with the puri, a delicious deep-fried flatbread. You’ll find it throughout Pakistan.

Any tips for experimenting with Pakistani cooking?

Be bold. Use spices to enhance, but be careful that they don’t mask the flavours. I often find people overuse turmeric as it seems to represent South Asian cooking. If using turmeric, just use a pinch for fragrance and colour, which should be enough. Also, try cooking low and slow. The depth of flavours found in Pakistani cooking can be achieved if you cook for longer over a low flame. Our daal is cooked for a minimum of four to six hours to ensure all the spices break down slowly. The result is an unbeatably rich, intense texture.

Where’s the best place you’ve eaten recently?

In London, it’s Coal Office at Coal Drops Yard, hands down. The space [by Tom Dixon] is absolutely beautiful and chef Assaf Granit plays on Middle Eastern flavours in a really creative way. Their use of a coal oven fascinates me, too, especially since it’s such a vital element of Karachi cooking.

We’re eating at Shola, what should we order?

Pakistani food is meant to be enjoyed as a group, so the menu consists of sharing plates. Start with the chicken pakora, okra fries and Karachi bun kebab topped with an egg. Followed by goat biryani, barbecue lamb and palak paneer (puréed spinach) with plenty of parathas (flatbreads). One is never, ever enough.

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