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Famous sights and sounds of ‘Sahoor street’ return to Pakistan after pandemic lull

RAWALPINDI: After two years of a pandemic-induced lull, the tantalizing aromas of Pakistani delicacies and the sights and sounds of bustling crowds have returned to Kartarpura Street, the area in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city, most favored by the capital’s residents for their predawn sahoor meal during Ramadan.

In the 19th century, Kartarpura Street was part of Rawalpindi’s Sikh neighborhood and the city’s main commercial area, but for the past few decades it has been known as “sahoor food street,” famous for treats such as tender beef or mutton meat with bone marrow, known as nihari, and siri paya, a traditional breakfast dish of cow or goat head and trotters cooked overnight.

Deserted during the Muslim fasting month for two consecutive years, when coronavirus restrictions forced businesses to offer only takeaway food, the street is now again bustling with food stalls and teeming with people waiting in long queues for their turn.

As Muslims prepare to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, the end of the fasting month, vendors are clad in colorful traditional festive clothing, and serving their specials.

“This Ramadan we prepared more food every day but (it was) all sold out even before the end of sahoor time,” Akbar Ali, who arrived from Lahore to sell nihari in Kartarpura Street, told Arab News. “This year our business has increased more than three times.”

Visitors are coming not only from Rawalpindi and Islamabad, but also from other nearby cities.

Abdul Rauf, who sells pathora, or fluffy deep-fried leavened sourdough bread, said his profits in Kartarpura Street are a few times more than at his stall in another part of Rawalpindi.

“I am selling pathora to around 500 people daily this year, which is more than double (the) last two years,” he said. “I have a stall in Saddar, Rawalpindi, but earned here in one day what (I) used to earn there in a week during normal days.”

Vendors say the real feel of Kartarpura Street has returned this Ramadan.

Shehbaz Ahmed, a photographer from Azad Kashmir, who sells lassi, a traditional buttermilk drink, has observed that more people are now coming to the area than before the pandemic.

“The whole street remains full of people daily, from 12 a.m. till the end of sahoor time,” he said.

Customers, too, are happy to be back. Saima Ahmed, whose family comes to the historic food street every year, said it felt good to see all the festivity and life return to normal.

“We missed it,” she told Arab News.

Some visitors, like Saqib Zeeshan, a software engineer from Islamabad, have come to Kartarpura street for the first time.

“We have heard a lot about Kartarpura street and came from Islamabad to experience this,” he said. “We’ve had a phenomenal experience here, the atmosphere is amazing, with very good food.”