Paratha rolls – soft juicy, juicy kebabs or bite-sized pieces of grilled meat smothered in spicy chutney, sprinkled with onions, and then wrapped in crisp, flaky flatbread (paratha). These are to Pakistanis the same thing as hot dogs to Americans and are the center of the cuisine in the frantic metropolitan city of Karachi. Paratha rolls are among the few dishes the city can proclaim as its own in this culturally and ethnically multicultural city. It does not matter if you’ve had them before, but which is your favorite?
The basic idea is to wrap a kebab with a paratha. However, Masuma Yousufzai, a Karachi resident who was raised eating paratha rolls and paratha rolls, says the union of the two mainstays makes this dish stand out. Typically, paratha and kebab are consumed by cutting off pieces of bread to scoop out the meat, but placing the meat and bread together in one piece makes it more than its components. To Karachi residents, food has always caught the moment’s mood in one delicious, daring package.
“[Holding] it all in your hands and being able to eat it all at the same time – with the chutney dripping out – lets you taste that melody of flavour in every bite. Somehow, it makes the whole experience a lot better. And tastier,” Yousufzai stated.
The story behind the roll is as enjoyable as the meal. In 1970, Hafiz Habib, your Rehman, accidentally invented the now famous delicious kebab rolls during a highly bustling day at his nearby snack bar, Silver Spoon Snacks, in Karachi’s renowned shopping street, Tariq Road. It was a new establishment then; Silver Spoon served the kebab on a platter, with paratha as well as the chaat (a sweet chickpea-based snack) and Ice cream. A few days ago, on a whim, the customer was short on time and could not take a seat to have a meal; Rehman hastily rolled the chicken into a paratha to feed the customer, wrapped it in wax paper, and handed it to him. Another person who was near wanted the same. Rehman quickly realized that it wasn’t just efficient, He suddenly had fewer dishes to wash, and seating space was cleared while customers got served faster. It was also novel and thrilling.
Hafiz Habib Rehman has made paratha rolls in the Silver Spoon since 1970
“When we first introduced the kebab roll, waiters had to explain to customers that it wasn’t meant to be unwrapped and eaten like roti,” the chef stated. At first, Rehman gave away the rolls for free and then tucked them into meals of more popular items like chaat. As a newspaper hawker, he also walked through the cars at the nearby Liberty Chowk (roundabout) traffic light, believing the paratha roll would be famous.
At the time, more modern fast-food restaurants in Karachi focussed on western-style burgers and sandwiches and were not a fan of Rehman’s intriguing “kebab in paratha rolls.” The rolls were relegated to the realm filled with bun kebabs and humble street food; however, the concept turned out to be a dazzling success.
In less than half a century, paratha rolls have become a ubiquitous and incomparable part of South Asian street food, consumed across boundaries of India and Bangladesh, and Pakistan even though their home place of Karachi is the one where they’re most loved.
According to Dr. Sahar Nadeem Hamid, a professor at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, the paratha roll was a means for Pakistanis to try the excitement that comes with having “fusion food” – traditional food prepared in a modern manner – without having to step far from their zone. “In the ’70s, we didn’t have too many eating out options that were not too expensive,” she explained. “The Irani cafes were where most people ate out, but they tended to be more expensive than [places where] the paratha roll [was served]. The food carts were cheaper but less of a dining out experience. Silver Spoon took local flavours and presented them as fast food, which was also economical.”
The food choices reflected the fast-paced life of the rapidly moving population. “You could eat a roll if you felt hungry in the middle of a shopping trip, or the office workers in the nearby offices could have a quick meal for lunch. It could also be a family outing… for a change from home-cooked food,” Hamid said. Hamid.
Paratha is fried until flaky and crisp
In the 1970s, paratha rolls exploded in popularity with young people due to their cost-effectiveness and convenience, as well as among the older generation for their familiar flavor. They were able to be eaten in public transport as well as while driving or walking, well being clean enough that the oily slick remained in the paper, and hands were kept clean as well as desi or local enough to be able to accommodate the tastes of those who had been around for a while.
For women, particularly those who work from home, the ability to grab a roll and eat at the go and not sit in a cafe or restaurant in a solitary dining space – is beneficial from a sociological point of view. This was an essential factor for Silver Spoon since the restaurant’s small seating capacity made it possible for customers to be close to male chefs and servers, as explained by Rehman.
Silver Spoon soon spawned an entire business. Numerous popular paratha roll restaurants were opened, creating empires including RedApple, Hot-N-Spicy, and Mirchili. For those who had the pleasure of parathas when they first started to gain recognition in the 70s, the taste from Rehman’s “tawa” paratha (a paratha that’s shallow fried on a flat griddle, also known as a Tawa) with its sweet brown chutney and tender beef is awash in nostalgia. Rehman explained that when Pakistanis living abroad return, they often travel to Silver Spoon straight from the airport to enjoy their meal regardless of whether it’s between 20 and 30 years since they’ve returned. It’s like a homecoming.