I first went to Waris Nihari House with my parents and siblings. I was very young, maybe twelve or so, and recall that my sisters and mother stayed inside the car eating while my father, brother and I asked for a table outside, beside the car. Back then I had a tendency to say that something tasted amazing without even taking a bite. I was eager to be pleased, and foreshadowed my impressions by my assumptions. I don’t even remember how the nihari tasted back then, only that I have been dreaming and raving about it ever since.
Nihari courses through my veins, and I’m sure it’s the same case with a lot of the readers of this post. Good. We’re on the same page. I need not waste my time with people who cannot understand the prevalence and significance of nihari in the desi food cannon. I’ve been eating it religiously for as long as I remember, and have learnt to distinguish the bleh from the yay. Listen to me, I know a good nihari like a sommelier knows good wine.
Nihari is a stew- some would say curry- that is mostly prepared with beef or lamb (though some ‘fanatics’ exclusively stick to the chicken variant). It’s cooked in the respective bone marrow of the animal in question for 6-8 hours (less for nihari prepared at home or in a pressure cooker), resulting in an extremely flavorful stew with tender morsels of meat. It offers (often sharp levels of) spice that complements rather than takes away from the intense savor. Cuts of meat used for the recipe are often close to shank or sirloin, as they fall apart more easily than others. Long pepper is the most predominant spice in nihari, allowing for a unique kick.
I have revisited my childhood dream of Waris scores of times ever since, and have- much like the Cane’s advocates in my previous post– been raving and raving and raving about how the nihari unhinges my inhibitions every time I stuff myself with it. And stuff myself I do; my appetite somehow doubles, even triples when I think of nihari. Actually eating it is another story. Like they say.. Pait bhar gaya laikin dil nai bhara. (I will not bother to translate)
Crammed in a small shop
on by the road off Akbari Road, near Urdu Bazaar, Waris lies waiting. With no air conditioners, no proper seating, no (apparent) sense of hygiene, and no semblance of good service, it’s truly a humbling experience for five-star diners. But people who frequent smaller, more authentic Pakistani restaurants know that perks are for losers. We’re just here for the grub.
Now I know I tend to rant on and on and on about my past experiences, the physical location and the ambiance of all the restaurants that I visit, but this here is something else- without an essay on the where, the why and the how, I cannot do Waris justice.
Sitting on staine grey lawn chairs, one sees the vulgarity and beauty of unfiltered existence simultaneously. You see children rolling abandoned tires down the streets, everyday men singing beautiful songs of another time, pigeons nestling in the crevices of Mughal era architecture. There’s also trash everywhere on the street, malnourished animals bleating and baaing and hee-hawing, smoky automobiles rushing by with rations and what not. Love it or hate it, it’s a spectacle, and a glorious one in my books.
Food takes a handful of minutes- no more- to arrive. Metal bowls accompanied by plastic plates and cheap quality paper napkins arrive, along with the customary assortment of seasonings and garnishes that include chopped green chilies, coriander, lemon wedges and sliced matchsticks of ginger. The metal contains the main event; oily, aromatic, simmering nihari, complete with a generous serving of meat. The white plastic plates are for the bulbous khamiri roti, a fermented chapatti of sorts. The napkins are used with a blatant disregard for the environment, but this is inevitable when you’re eating with your hands.
Waris does not make the spiciest nihari, and for a meal that prides itself on spice, this is a bold move. Instead of this heat, Waris goes for deep, mind-numbing savor; much like texting and holding a conversation simultaneously, eating this nihari and holding a conversation is next to impossible. Through what is a humbling experience, the nihari becomes one with your tongue, coating and coaxing your glands to reciprocate it’s simplicity; individual fragments of meat play an integral part of this seduction, breaking the smooth texture of the stew. Waris’ nihari is not sticky, for those who are averse to scrubbing their hands and brushing the tops of their mouths- It’s thin at the top, thick at the bottom. Squeeze some lemon onto it and you’ll be begging for more. It’s also very, very oily, and has a good quarter inch of oil (tarka) floating atop anything substantial. But then again this isn’t your everyday meal; reserved for holidays and special occasions, you almost always eat it prior to a planned siesta.
The khamiri roti that the nihari comes with resembles white bread in terms of its color, and billows timid clouds of steam as it is placed in front of you. Waris has, in my opinion, if not the best nihari, at least the best khamiri roti in town. Fresh, soft and hot hot hot, it’s spongy texture absorbs the nihari into its air pockets, allowing for a perfect bread to stew ratio, something that a lot of other nihari houses overlook. It’s light, crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside, and is littered with undulating pockmarks and rising crests.
Sheer maal, a sweet variant of a roghni naan, is preferred by many to cut the spice of the nihari. However, with the lack of spice in the nihari here, it seems unnecessary. It looks glorious and worthy of a bite, yet it is not sweet enough, even if you do decide to cap off your meal with it. I would order one for the table and nibble on it much a communal plate of french fries.
The combination of Sprite (I prefer meethi lassi), nihari and khamiri roti break me- a complete system overhaul; I rep this stuff hard. For Lahore, Waris makes the best out of a good thing. Karachi, I hear, is a whole new universe. I’ll save it for a different time.
I’m gonna need a massive lunch after writing this review. Stay tuned for more nihari escapades!
Pro tip: For when eating at home, anda pyaaz and nihari put together make for a breakfast of champions.