Take Away: Thai Food in Islamabad

There is a new Thai restaurant in town called “Mango Tree,” and I tried it for the first time on Friday night. I didn’t go there though: I invited a few of my closest friends over and had the food delivered so we could sit in a cozy room, spread the feast out over a long table, fill our plates, loaf around on the sofas, and catch up. Delivery is called “takeaway” here, not take-out, one of those sneaky remnants of British culture that linger in Pakistan like driving on the left side of the road and the popularity of teatime. We had satay and green papaya salad and tamarind red snapper and curries and noodles. We had chocolate cake for dessert and I steeped a pot of hibiscus tea from Vietnam, the tight buds turning into loose, floating flowers in the hot water. There is only one other Thai restaurant in town, and it is at the Marriott, which has good food but lost its atmosphere after the bombing in 2008. We exclaimed over the peanut sauce, decided we ordered way too much, and pronounced Mango Tree a success.

The Hen Experiment

It has begun. I’ve lived in Pakistan for almost two years: a country so full of chickens that you couldn’t walk into a village without stumbling into a squawking pack of hens. A country so full of chickens that even my house guards can tell me about the three most common breeds of hens in the country and a proper feeding schedule. And yet every week I have eaten pale, perfect, sterile-looking huge eggs in a styrofoam package from the expat grocery store that I’m sure are flown in from Dubai or someplace equally ridiculous. I’m also sure the word for a group of hens is not a “pack,” but this is exactly my point: I don’t know these things and haven’t taken the trouble to learn. (Flock? Clutch? Let the education begin.) For two years I have paid the price of my ignorance with tasteless, watery and rather expensive eggs. I said as much at work the other day, and a woman on my team turned around immediately and said, “Well, how many hens would you like?” I was headed more towards the where-can-I-get-local-organic-eggs? question, but apparently that was the wrong question. The right question was where-can-I-get-local-organic-chickens-to-lay-eggs-for-me? and now I have my answer. My first two hens were deposited yesterday, much to the wired, intense interest of Marlo and Kima who looked at first like it was Christmas (chickens arrive) and then like I had cancelled Christmas (dogs are told that the chickens should under no circumstances be played with or eaten). Two more hens are coming later in the week to make a merry little band of four. Today my throat felt a […] Read More

The Art of the Chick Flick

I’m afflicted with what may be strep throat, tonsillitis, or just punishment for something horrible I did somewhere, at some time in my past. It feels like gravel or tiny shards of glass are going down every time I swallow, so I try to do it as little as possible. However, I have discovered that telling yourself “not to swallow” is like trying not to think about a pink elephant. It makes it irresistible to do so. Tylenol, ginger tea, and gargling with salt water have only gotten me so far. During this bleak time, especially in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I have found my greatest comfort in an unlikely place: the Romantic Comedy. Being out of the U.S. for two years and not a huge movie watcher even before then, it turns out I have missed hundreds of them! Hundreds of movies with cheerful upbeat music, situations that always resolve themselves positively, and lots of cute handbags and shoes. After 20+ hours of exposure to the genre, I can state with confidence the few basic requirements of the formula in case anyone is interested in writing their own to great profit and acclaim. I’ll make it easy for you. Based on my research, a successful romantic comedy should: Be set in New York City. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver on this one. The glittery high-rises for the opening sequence, the bustling, the taxicabs, and the impossibly huge stylish apartments with views of the Park prove too much for the genre to resist. The only acceptable alternative is a quaint and rustic small town setting into which […] Read More

The Town

On this lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon in Islamabad, I got around to watching the movie “The Town.” You know, the one where Ben Affleck finally decides to do a movie in/about Boston just to shake things up a bit? (Sorry: too easy a target, Ben.) Once you’ve lived in a place, it is imprinted on you. I know a real Boston street in my bones: I know the specific blue and white striping on the police cars, the sound of Joe Castiglione calling Red Sox games, the smell of roasting sausages at Fenway. I know the brick-paved sidewalks downtown, the exact look of a T stop sign, a Southie accent, and the newsstand in Harvard Square. I lived in Boston for ten years before moving to Pakistan, and watching the movie was like having a two-hour visit with an old friend, because “The Town” got all the details right. Most movies manage to flatten out the quirks of a city into an easy blandness that could be Anytown, USA. But no one can fake the details of a place you know well. Say what you will about good ‘ol Ben (who also directed the film), but he has Boston down: the security guard sitting in the armored van reading the Herald, how beautiful the Zakim Bridge is at night, the hoop earrings on the trash-talking townie girlfriend, and of course, a scene in a scruffy Dunkin’ Donuts. Of course it makes me wonder what details will stick out most vividly about Islamabad when I eventually leave here. I have a few guesses: the guy who bikes around the neighborhoods all day yodeling for everyone’s old […] Read More

Blood Orange

I hosted a bloody brunch over the holiday weekend a few weeks back. That sounds gruesome and terrible, but actually it was social and pleasant. Along with waffles and eggs, guests could take their pick of breakfast beverage from a Bloody Mary or a Blood Orange Mimosa. (Only the hardcore chose the Bloody Mary at 11 am on a Monday and you know who you are.) This is the kind of thing you can do in Pakistan, where you can buy an entire bag of blood oranges for $5. And by entire bag, I mean, a hoist-it-over-your-head, have-it-ride-sidesaddle-on-your-motorbike bag of 100 oranges. My housekeeper was bound and determined to go all the way to Khanpur, an hour away, to buy our bag of 100 oranges because in Khanpur a bag of 100 oranges is only $3. I told him we were going to let that $2 go. At Whole Foods in the U.S., at least last I checked,¬†one¬†blood orange was $3. On the rare occasion I would buy one, I would carefully select the best, plumpest, most perfect-looking specimen, take it home, and carefully slice it paper thin to use as a garnish for a fancy cocktail or to float on top of simmering cider. Now I could gargle with the stuff, but it is still a thrill to (have my housekeeper) juice 100 oranges so we can all slosh back pitcher after pitcher of sticky red juice while downing homemade chocolate donuts and handfuls of pomegranate seeds (another perk of the season). Yesterday it was sunny as usual but the air felt warm, like winter was ending, which means blood oranges and pomegranates are […] Read More