Lahori dinner, Lahori breakfast, Lahori lassi and what not! The city is known for its enticing food and if the dishes are served under the shadows of historic grandeur the taste is multiplied with the add-ons of ambiance and serenity. Set inside the famous ‘Taxali Gate’ of the Walled City of Lahore – near the historic ensemble of Badshahi Mosque, Huzoori Bagh and Lahore Fort – is the mystifying Fort Road Food Street for people looking for something different. It is a hub of true Lahori food in a surreal setting.
Visiting the street, being a part of the renowned Red Light Area of Lahore, was once a taboo. Families were hesitant to visit the place until Cuckoo’s Den, the oldest heritage building on the street, gained popularity owing to a mélange of unique recipes coupled with traditional cuisine. Owned by the famous painter Iqbal Hussein, Cuckoo’s Den is a magnificent place for those desiring something exceptional. Looking at the artwork and artifacts inside and outside the building, one can easily immerse into the past. The statues, antiques, marble arches, paintings, fixtures, carved stones, mammoth wooden doors and jharokas are a leaf out of the city’s history. A wall decorated with antique locks and keys opens one’s mind into the great doors of the ancient times. In addition to the paintings of the “women at work” one can also see the remains of some temples and churches.
The presence of street performers and musicians livens up the place
Once done with admiring the interior and climbing up onto the roof top on a moonlit night, one is bewildered by the splendor of Badshahi Mosque and the grandeur of the Lahore Fort, which glow like jewels. The scene can take your breath away for a few minutes!
The Fort Road Food Street serves everything from traditional appetizers to a variety of delicious Lahori cuisines, topping it off with scrumptious desserts. Cucoo’s Den, Haveli, Riwaj, Samavar, Fort View Restaurant are experts at their own recipes. All restaurants here are truly food connoisseurs.
The Fort Road Food Street offers a variety of Lahori food at an affordable cost. An assortment of Hareesa, Siri Paye, Bong, Aloo Tikki, Badshahi Biryani, Shahi Chicken Korma, Shahjehani Murg Masala, Mughlai Murg Kebabs, Mughlai Chicken Pulao, Mughlai Paneer Kabab, Reshmi Kebab, Chaamp Masala, Murgh Achaari, Tandoori Chicken, chicken, beef, mutton and fish Barbecue, Anda Paratha, Chicken Paratha, Mughlai Parathas, Plain Paratha,Tandoori Paratha, Lachha paratha, Jalebi Paratha, Mutton and Chicken Karhai, Kheer, Shahi Naan and Roti, Badaam Halwa, Qulfi, Firni, Halwa Puri, traditional sweet and much more is available that is sure to tempt any visitor.
The illumination on the buildings is further brightened with the presence of the street performers and musicians. From infants to the elderly, every age group has something to see at Fort Road Food Street. Jugglers displaying their skills and the soft heart touching melodies of violin, flute, toomba, and sitar take the visitor into an eternal trance. Sometimes – usually on Thursdays – one can listen to the beats of dhol coming from the nearby Shrines (Darbaars of Sufi Saints which are located densely inside the Walled City of Lahore). You have to pay only for the food; the local traditional melodies, performances and the profound setting are all complimentary.
Fort Road Food Street has given life to forgotten history
Once this entire place was a dead area known for ‘dubious’ activities till the Fort Road Food Street was established in 2012. It gave life to forgotten history.
Located just behind the Fort Road Food Street is the famous Heera Mandi (the Red Light Area, also known as Shahi Mohalla or The Royal Neighborhood) of Lahore. In the Mughal era, Heera Mandi was famous for dancing and music. People would go there for a visual and musical treat. Beautiful girls used to sit in balconies, and ply their trade – the oldest profession in the world. The name heera means diamond in Urdu and was used by locals to describe the beauty of the girls in the market. The people called the courtesans who worked in the area as “heeras”. The name eventually stuck and the market was thenceforth called Heera Mandi. However, some historic accounts say that the bazaar was named after one of the Sikh courtiers Heera Singh during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule, as a tribute to him.
The place is not as colorful as it used to be but is still known for good food. Phajay ke Paye and Taj Mahal Halwa Puri are located there, which have garnered international fame for their dishes. A wide range of Khussa (traditional Mughal footwear) and shops for musical instruments are remnants of the old times. Today they have turned into the two largest markets in Pakistan, the Sheikhupurian Bazaar (Shoe Market) and the Langa Mandi (Music instrument market). A few dance academies are still found in this area, and anybody visiting the Fort Road Food Street can listen to the beats of ghungroos, tabla and harmonium.
One would find it hard to find another street with so much to offer anywhere else in the world. Sitting on the street, or any of the roof tops, one can feel the grandeur of Mughal, Sikh and British colonial eras while savouring tantalizing food and enjoying live cultural melodies and street performers. Fort Road Food Street is not just an eating hub, but an experience of history.
The writer is a professional heritage photographer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org