A small restaurant serves Pakistani classics with a modern touch and is an epitome of the transforming dining culture in Pakistan.
My favourite eatery in Lahore is Chit Chaat in Gulberg. I make it a point to stop by this joint or order lunch from them whenever possible. In fact, it’s the only place on foodpanda I order from when I’m in Lahore. I get so excited about it that people around me cave in to my invitation just so that I can finally stop insisting. But when my Pakistani friend finally tried the food at Chit Chaat for the first time, he could only admit it is “deliciousss.”
Chit Chat’s menu is printed two sided on a sheet of paper folded into an envelope. There is a clear concept here. You can order Lahori classics, which includes all day Nashta, or traditional breakfast, an array of different Dals, and Chaat – roadside snacks reinvented. And to top all that up, the food is astoundingly delicious and remains relatively affordable.
What to order at Chit Chaat
1. Papri Chaat
My favorite is the Papri Chaat, fried savoury wafers with a topping of cooked chickpeas, potato, yoghurt, and tamarind chutney. Each bite is an explosion of freshness. The mellow acidness of tamarind underlines the savoury chickpeas and potatoes on your tongue while you bite through the crispy wafer. This stuff is seriously addictive.
2. Paneer Tikka
The dark horse of the menu is the paneer tikka, cubes of paneer cheese marinated and grilled to sublime perfection. The marinade has some zing to it but is evened out by the subtle, milky flavor of the cheese, which is comparable to mozzarella.
If you are hungry and need more substance, flaming hot Biryanis provide a filling option. Biryani is fried rice with either paneer, chicken or beef. If I had to nitpick, I would complain that they fry the rice separately to the meat or paneer, instead of doing it in one pan as it should be. Nonetheless, it tastes perfectly fine without being greasy. At least for foreign tongues not used to the grease coating every grain of rice, this is a plus over the biryani you get on street corners.
There is also Nehari, traditional part of Nashta, Lahore’s famous breakfast. Traditional establishments cultivate their reputation for Nehari over decades and have made the preparation of this dish into an art. Nehari is slow cooked beef or chicken in a thick flavourful sauce. It is usually made in big cauldrons. While Chit Chaat cannot compete with the respected Nehari houses, their version of Nehari is still delicious and a safe order if you are in the mood for slow cooked meat.
5. Murgh Chanay
The item I order most commonly for lunch is Murgh Chanay. It is a slow cooked chickpea stew with chicken. It is a very subtle, but very rewarding dish making it a healthy and well balanced comfort food. Meals are usually served with either Naan or roti, but most of the time, I add a potato filled Paratha. To complement, you can add some of Chit Chaat’s homemade drinks, like a salted lemonade, coconut water with honey and ginger, fresh juices or iced tea.
Modernising traditions with a dice of hipsterism
Being in Pakistan’s proudest city – and definitely its most self confident – serving what Chit Chaat does is not an easy concept to swallow. Chit Chaat takes Lahori and Pakistani classics and tries to give them a new modernist touch.
In most cities in Pakistan, going out for dinner means standardized food in a swanky setup. The menus are as unchallenging and unimaginative. Oily, low quality Pakistani food. Spongy pizza dipped in ketchup. Sandwiches and burgers with sugary sauces or the Pakistani version of American Chinese which features deeply mystifying classics such as “Kung Pao Chicken” or “Special Soup”. In most cases, all of the above can be found on a single menu.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can find the traditional hole-in-the-wall type eateries that specialise in single dishes and variations of it. In Pakistan, none are better than those who prepare the famous dishes of Lahore. Meat stews like Nehari. Cooked and fried meats like Karahi or “Halwa Puri.” The famed breakfast combination of a fried ballooning bread and the sugary wheat or semolina paste with the optional chickpea curry on the side. These are great, but do not serve well as a dinner and hang out spot where you can sit in comfort and linger over chai with your friends or family.
A fresh concept for Pakistan
Given these options, few among Lahore’s middle class choose to go out for dinner. The best tasting food is found at home. And those who do dine out approach it as an opportunity to snap group selfies. The food served in public spaces is an afterthought.
With this in mind, a place like Chit Chaat seems revolutionary. Its decor is funky, adorned with an array of hipster gimmicks. For example, there is the big hourglass that is put on your table as soon as your order is logged with the waiters. The tables are wooden planks on top of old sewing tables. The food comes in enamel plates, the sturdy metal and powdered glass dishes that are used in the villages.
With that being said, Chit Chaat seems to pioneer a new dining culture in Pakistan. I have seen similar restaurants pop up in Islamabad, but they don’t get Chit Chaat’s formula right, yet – embracing the traditional cuisine of Pakistan and presenting it in a new way without any pretension and, thereby, creating spaces for the country’s new middle class to enjoy the country’s food in a comfortable setting.
About Chit Chaat
Reservations are usually not required. You can order takeout by calling them directly or ordering on Foodpanda.