Lahore is always good at celebrating local, regional, and international cuisines. Add homemade food products to the delectable menu. As restaurants, cafes, roadside eateries, and fast food outlets remain open from noon until late at night, full of eating-out buffs, a small tribe of women has entered the industry, offering everything from traditional desi dishes and desserts to continental, Chinese, Mexican, Persian, and Turkish delights. Besides dishes, one can order milk, butter, organic ghee and oil, pickles, lemonades, honey, poultry, sweets and candies to them.
I know a few eateries which provide delicious food, all homemade.
One such food provider with her husband, makes lemonade and tomato chutney for her clients.
Lemons come from the lemon trees standing on the lawns of their house. “As most of the crop was left to ripe, fall and rot, we started the business to make the most of the fruit,” she explains how she started the business.
The same trees have been growing money for them for the last year.
Vendors supplying homemade food products have created a small but significant niche market in Lahore.
They are a small market by choice.
Eating something from a homemade restaurant is not always just a telephone call away.
They book orders two or three days in advance. One of them is a textile designer-turned-food entrepreneur. She has to turn down several orders because of the limited scope and the ethics that govern homemade food setups.
She does everything on her own. “Teamwork kills the home aura and the taste of food and it can end up tasting like commercial stuff,” she says.
Another such food provider is a National College of Arts graduate; she has been in the food business for the last three years. Her initial clients were her family and friends, most of them fans of her desserts. The word of mouth grew her clientele so much so that she has to decline orders because of the rush. In winter, she says, Lahorites are more inclined to eat out, and so her telephone keeps ringing all the time. She also takes orders on her Facebook page and delivers the food to clients through courier companies like Foodpanda.
I know another food provider who has dedicated her time to cooking wholesome meals in a desi kitchen, a takeaway restaurant. They take orders over the telephone or on Facebook. Her popular offerings include saag, makai ki roti, bagharay baingan and Kashmiri chai.
“It’s time to be aware of what goes into our nutrition and at our kitchen, we try to keep healthy eating above all else,” she says. They make everything themselves, with the same ingredients that we use in our own food.
Dr Paras, an Iranian doctor, was over the moon when she found her favorite Iranian cookies at Persian Treats, a vendor operating from her kitchen. The vendor offers Persian and Turkish desserts like tahini, ash and borani.
“In Pakistan, the biggest issue for me is getting the right food,” she smiles, explaining that to her, the right food is Persian. From Persian Treats, she buys sweets in bulk.
I often order food, spices, pickles, jams, vegetables and desi and continental dishes from vendors of homemade food very often as I believe that the stuff and ingredients used in those dishes are healthy.
Homemade food is tastier, but it comes at a cost.
“Yes, our prices are on the higher side because of the limited scale of work,” says the owner of an eatery.
“We sell perishable items and hence, have to contend with two problems: first, forecasting demand is tricky; second, managing the freshness and transportation of perishables to the markets is a big task.”
How can the government or the corporate sector help the food cottage industry?
They do hope that the government takes stronger steps in creating a certification mechanism for homemade food and also provides subsidies to small homemade businesses to become more mainstream, and accessible with affordable prices for the masses.