Chullo Kabab Subhani is one of the ancient Iranian eating houses in Saddar, from the days when the café culture was thriving, Saddar was then the real centre of Karachi instead of today’s congested and mangled mess of cars and smoke, and people used to frequent these cafes just for the sake of having an intellectually stimulating conversation. That culture of meeting people at cafes is being revived by T2F (The Second Floor) in DHA created by Sabeen Mahmud.
Chullo kabab house may not be the popular haunt it once used to be amongst the masses, but it still packs a punch. Although it claims to be an Iranian restaurant, most of the dishes it offers are Pakistani. It’s claim to fame is the Chullo dish. Also called Chelo Kabab, it’s the national dish of Iran. Basically it comprises of plain rice with skewered pieces of kabab, afghani boti, chicken tikka boti, fish or whatever it is that you’ve ordered from the ‘Dishes for Foreigner’ category, lining the circumference of the oval dish in which it is served. On top of the rice, a small slab of butter is placed which melts under the steaming rice.
The portion size is generous although at Rs.250, the price is a bit hefty considering you’re having a meal at an old restaurant in not the most pleasant of localities of Karachi.
The problem with the Subhani version of Chelow Kabab is that it’s far removed from the original recipe.
To begin with, Chelo (Persian for rice) Kabab comprises of Persian rice and not the Pakistani basmati rice. Then beside the butter, the steaming rice is topped with raw egg and Somagh (powdered Surmac).
Finally, the dish is already accompanied by Iranian sidelines that includes a plate of fresh herbs called sabzi (basil, cilantro, fenugreek greens, tarragon, Persian watercress or shaahi), a variety of flat breads, called naan or noon (sangak, lavash, barbari), fresh white cheese (panir), sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yoghurt, and lemon juice. Persian gherkins (khiyarshur) and pickles (Torshi) are also considered essential in most regions.
And to down it with, doogh – a Persian sour yoghurt drink flavored with salt and mint – even carbonated water in some versions.
All of this was missing from the Chullu Café Subhani version
Even the tradition of how the dish is presented is missing. The Iranian way is for the sidelines and the steaming rice covered with a tin lid are served first. Then the waiter arrives with two skewers which are placed directly on the rice and quickly pulled out with the help of nan-e lavash (flat bread).
The two most common kababs served are one barg (fillets of beef,lamb or chicken) and the other koobideh (minced meat kabab of either beef,lamb or chicken). And this combination is famously called the ‘Sultani’ (for the sultan).
We tried the Afghani boti and chicken boti versions and found both of them to be delectable. But it’s not something that’s going to be liked by everybody. One of the downsides of the dish is that it’s too dry – you just have the plain rice and skewered meat, that’s it. And the skewered meat is not going to melt in your mouth; you’ll really have to work at it. There’s no gravy to go along with it and if you remove the butter as well, you’re pretty much left with nothing. There are no sidelines along with the dish although a few fries and a solitary skewered tomato are thrown in for good measure.
And its not spicy. So if you’re into spicy cuisines, then you’ll have to order one of the Pakistani dishes they’re offering to go along with the Chullo . But then you’ll lose the unique taste of this dish.
It’s location is pretty much accessible. Just turn left at the Mehran hotel intersection on Shahrae Faisal if you’re coming from Metropole Hotel side and right if you’re coming from the airport side. About a km or two down this road, there’s an intersection leading into Saddar. Chullo Kabab house is just on the left corner of this intersection. It’s pretty much visible. You can’t miss it. The place has a family dining hall upstairs as well.
Chullo Kabab house is definitely worth checking out if you want to try something different from the same old stuff. Just don’t expect an upscale ambience where you can take the entire family or that special someone. An evening with friends is definitely on at this place.