Giving fresh life to forgotten history
Lahori Dinner, Lahori Breakfast, Lahori Lassi and what not! The dream city of Lahore is known for its enticing food and if the food is served under the shadows of historic grandeur the taste is multiplied with the add-ons of the momentous ambiance and serenity. Set inside the famous “Taxali Gate” Walled City of Lahore — near the historic ensemble of Badshahi Mosque, Hazuri Bagh and Lahore Fort — is the mystifying Fort Road Food Street for people looking for something different. In short, a hub of true Lahori food in a surreal setting.
The street being a part of the renowned red light area of Lahore was once taboo. Families were hesitant to visit the place until Cuckoo’s Den, the oldest heritage building on the street, gained popularity because of its unique food with traditional recipes. Cuckoos den, a restaurant of famous painter Iqbal Hussein, is a wondrous place for people longing to experience something exceptional. Looking at the artwork and artifacts inside and outside the building, one can easily be lost into the stories of the past. The statues, antiques, marble arches, paintings, fixtures and carved pieces of stones and huge wooden doors and jharokas are the memoirs of history. A wall decorated with antique locks and keys opens one’s mind into the great doors of the ancient times. Besides the paintings of the “women at work” one can also see the remains of some Hindu Temples and Churches. Once done with admiring the interior and climbing up and up onto the roof top on a moonlit night – one is bewildered at the majesty of Badshahi Mosque and grandness of the Lahore Fort, glowing like jewels. The scene is breathtaking for a few minutes!
The Fort Road Food Street, today, is everything from traditional appetisers to a variety of scrumptious Lahori cuisines, and topping it off with great tasting dessert, all restaurants are definitely for a food connoisseur. Cuckoo’s Den, Haveli, Riwaj, Samovar, Fort View Restaurant, are experts of their own recipes and presentation.
The illumination on the buildings is elevated with the presence of the street performers and musicians. From an infant to the old, every age group has something to see at Fort Road Food Street. The jugglers performing their skills, 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). Any visitor would pay only for the food but the local traditional melodies, performances and the profound setting, are all complimentary.
Once this entire place was a dead area known for unacceptable activities till the Fort Road Food Street was established in 2012. It gave fresh life to forgotten history.
Just behind the Fort Road Food Street is located the famous Heera Mandi (meaning “Red Light Area”, also known as Shahi Mohalla or The Royal Neighbourhood) 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” diamonds. The name eventually stuck and the market was 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 now not as colourful as it would have been in the past but is still known for good food. Phajay key Paye and Taj Mahal Halwa Puri are also located there, which have international fame for their dishes. A wide range of Khussa (traditional Mughal footwear) and shops for musical instruments are the remains of the old times. These today 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.
Nowhere in the world can a food street with so much to offer be seen. Sitting on the street or any of the roof top, one can feel the grandeur of Mughal, Sikh and British Colonial eras while tasting the tantalising food and enjoying live cultural melodies and street performers. Fort Road Food Street is not just an eating hub, but an experience of historic proportions regardless of how many times you go there.