Arif Chatkhara: Lahore’s Basics
For most people lazing on their sofas at home, the Walled City is limited to the Minar-e-Pakistan and the Badshahi Mosque, not Arif Chatkhara. And a quick trip to the Azadi Chowk Interchange can provide you with a grand panoramic view of the two. But if you want to dig deeper into the locality, don’t turn towards the Food Street. Bypass it and enter the street parallel to it. Park anywhere you can find a spot and continue your tour on foot. When you come across a cage used for wrestling matches – your local WWE – turn right. Welcome to the dark alleys, full of grit and dirt.
In a nutshell:
- The location is somewhat obscure
- The tawa chicken is worth the hassle
- Nostalgic experience for bored millennials
- A shoestring budget? No problem
- The more people with you, the merrier
- Separate seating hall for families
The quietude of these anonymous streets gives way to a busy illuminated chowk (roundabout). It welcomes you with the aroma of food and the face of a man with a big mustache. That’s Phajjay Ke Paaye. The signboard is domineering. Next door, you will find Arif Chatkhara and that’s where this narration has led you all along.
You are guided to a seating hall depending on the gender and composition of the group you arrive with. Arif’s, like most of the eateries in Androon, is segregated. After some recent renovations, they have sofas, colorful lighting, and mirrors and wooden trimmings on the walls. It’s quite a place. The outside noise is somehow drowned out in these halls.
You must order Arif’s tawa chicken. That is what you’re there for. Because as soon as you see it, you know you’ve made all the right decisions in life. An individual serving holds a chicken portion topped with chopped green chilies and covered with their signature black masala. The masala is what defines the taste. And all this is to be wrapped into a big roti. Once the food is in front of you, the chatter dies down and the food forces you to dive head first. You begin physically taking it apart and drenching your hands in the masala. It’s the only way to have it. Long gone are forks and knives that you might be used to at fancy restaurants. The roti is fast replenished and they keep asking you if you need anything else. The spices sting your tongue and you sweat while devouring it. That’s where the andaa tikki comes in – the perfect complement to the tawa chicken. It is a revelation. A soft, garlicky mass that makes you wonder what else could be done with a mere egg.
If you inquire about the recipes, they keep their lips sealed. With replicas of the place spotted all across Lahore, the original Arif Chatkhara faithfully guards its secrets, and you ask no further once you have tasted their delicacies. As soon as this masala-filled joyride is complete, you will take the same shady walk multiple times as it lures you back into its wondrous charm.