I’m ecstatic to be hosting Pakistan Eats’ first guest post! Hina is a Toronto-based writer and amateur photographer. VICE Canada, HuffPost, the CBC, and Matador Network have all published her work. Hina’s writing is endearing and edgy, and she’s just started writing about food. She gives a recipe for Frontier style fried fish (particularly freshwater trout) that she loved while on the road. She’s active on Twitter and Instagram.
My initial reaction was one of excitement: “Finally!” I thought to myself as I read the news. I felt my excitement turn to anger and a smidgeon of jealousy in a matter of seconds. “I don’t want other people to realise how beautiful my country is,” another voice in my head complained.
In August 2018, I travelled to Pakistan with my mother, and the two of us on a private tour of the North, a la Eat Pray Love. We travelled to Naran, Hunza Valley, Gilgit, Shogran Valley, Abbottabad, Murree, and Nathiagali over the course of 12 days, accompanied by a car and a seasoned driver provided by the tour organisation. Since I was a child, it was my first trip to those sections of the country. My last visit there was over two decades ago, with my family.
The Northern Areas of Pakistan have always held a special place in my heart. My first memories are of my father driving our 4-wheel Land Cruiser over the uneven terrains of the North while my brother and I watched from the back seat. My mother holds her breath as Dad skilfully manoeuvres the car down a narrow precipice with no safety or rails to save us from tumbling into the Kunhar River’s thundering rapids. Summer has here, and melting glaciers have created ideal circumstances for devastating landslides capable of sweeping entire trucks away. Dad, on the other hand, is fearless, and the drive to adventure is too strong for him to be stopped by trivial concerns such as a lack of roads or infrastructure. No, we must travel as a family to discover our magnificent nation, despite the hazards posed by Mother Nature’s unrestrained energies.
I had seen most of the cities and valleys in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa by the time I was a teenager (then known as NWFP). I’d visited Peshawar, Abbottabad, Ayubia, Naran, and Swat, and marvelled at the awe-inspiring and unparalleled grandeur of the world’s highest mountain ranges – the Karakoram, Himalaya, and Hindu Kush. But I was too young at the time to appreciate what so few people (even in Pakistan) get to see. It wasn’t until I left Pakistan and went in quest of my Pakistani self that I realised how fortunate I had been to grow up there. I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the magnificent and unspoilt natural splendour of one of the world’s most misunderstood countries.
I returned to my roots and past after a 15-year absence. I revisited all of the areas where my father had bravely taken my family and me throughout the summers of my boyhood. We drove a Jeep from Naran to Lake Saiful Muluk, Pakistan’s highest lake. My 53-year-old mother repeated Bismillahs beside me like a broken record as we tried not to look out the windows on the 9-kilometer Jeep journey up the mountain, which was just as hazardous as I remembered.
We were hailed by local shop owners who invited us to try their samosas, pakoras, and chai once we arrived at the lake. My mother and I agreed, and we sat on charpais, sipping steaming meethi chai, reminiscing about our lives. Mom told me how afraid she was on some of the trips Dad took us on when I was a youngster, but she always believed the risks were worth the rewards following the perilous adventures. I concurred.
Mom and I enjoyed a genuine Pakistani trout for dinner that evening, caught and grilled right in front of our eyes as we sat on the Kunhar River’s bank. Mom and I stared off into the distance, buried in our own thoughts and memories, listening to the lovely breath of the wind and the tranquil flow of the river. “It’s a pity the rest of the world is unaware of how beautiful Pakistan is,” I reflected.
Despite my desire for others to see and understand Pakistan as I’ve always known it, a part of me wishes to preserve the Pakistan of my youth for me alone; immaculate and unspoiled. When I go back to find the locations and landscapes that have become the bedrock memories on which I’ve built the rest of my life, I have a melancholy urge to keep my house hidden from the rest of the world. But, of course, that’s only a selfish fantasy of mine to retain something that was never truly mine alone.
Pakistan will have its day in the sun as time goes on. The secrets that have been kept hidden from the outer world will be revealed, and the world will be a better place as a result.
- 1 ½ pound fish fillet, preferably freshwater trout cleaned and sliced in 4 pieces lengthwise
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- 2 teaspoon red chili powder
- ¾ cup oil or as needed canola, vegetable or sunflower
- Pat your fish fillet dry with a paper towel. Generously season it with salt and red chili powder and set aside to marinade for 15 minutes.
- In a deep saucepan or wok, heat oil. When hot, carefully place the fish fillet in the wok with a slotted spoon and fry each side for about two minutes or until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels or newspaper.
- Serve with naan and lime or lemon wedges.