As Pakistan is still considered a high alert country for the organization I work in, roaming the streets of Islamabad as if it were Bangkok is not possible. We were only able to go out when a colleague from our resident mission office would offer to take us out and in effect, bring a car. Here’s what I was able to experience in Islamabad, with such limited access and time:
Scarf and Pakistani Chips Shopping
We were able to go to two shopping centers. One was this strip of small shops, where we didn’t buy anything because our ‘guide’ said better to buy in The Centaurus, a small mall near Serena Hotel which not only houses local stores but also international brands like Charles and Keith. My colleague wanted to buy scarves so we went to this local shop at the 3rd floor. I wasn’t planning on buying anything – I have so much scarves and stuff already! – but I remembered my mom wanted some authentic Pakistani pasalubong so I bought this really nice, thick and pretty scarf. I wanted something embroidered and non-generic. It was originally $50 but was able to bargain to $20, which in the end, my Pakistani colleague bought for me. Hehe.
We also passed by this dried fruits and nuts store which was so gorgeous! Look at all those goodies! I’m not much of a nut or dried fruits person but the shop was so pretty. We tasted a few of their produce, including these Pakistani chips which we liked. Great thing about the shop is you can buy in bulk then they divide and put it in small plastic bags, for you to give away. So I bought a kilo of the Pakistani chips (PKR280; roughly $3) then divided it into four – instant pasalubong!
One of our meals outside of the hotel was KFC, simply because my colleague wanted to try their local fast food and see how it fares. I ordered their Chicken and Spice rice meal while my colleague ordered the Chicken rice meal. Truth be told, there was no difference in the two and both were super spicy! Haha! And this is coming from a person who loves spicy food. Had to drown the heat in my mouth with soft drinks.
Our colleague brought us to this dinner place (I have no idea what it’s called) and he ordered for us typical Pakistani food – kebabs, some mutton with boiled egg and tomatoes, chicken biryani rice, naan (bread), and fresh vegetables with yoghurt. I really enjoyed the kebab as well as the biryani, even though it was super spicy! Drowned it with some fresh apple shake (no photo though).
Two of our other Pakistani colleagues brought us to this special barbeque place, simply called Bar B Q Tonight Restaurant Islamabad. Very straight to the point, di ba? Haha. We went there on a Friday at Manila lunch time, meaning 1230nn, but it was actually Pakistani prayer time (which lasted for 2 hours), so the restaurant was empty. This was my favorite meal! Honestly, Serena Hotel’s food wasn’t good and my colleagues said it’s because it’s not really authentic Pakistan food.
They ordered this huge BBQ platter comprising of various meats in different marinades. We weren’t able to finish it! There’s shrimp, fish, chicken, kebab and lamb. It came with a special yoghurt and balsamic sauce. I really enjoyed the chicken. We also had some fresh vegetables, naan (bread) and this yellow sauce that came with it. Drowned the spicyness with some cola marked with their beautiful language/ characters.
Pakistani Ice Cream
After our BBQ lunch, we were brought to another dessert place called Scoop which served really good and really heavy ice cream. On my first visit there, I tried their Kulfa and Almond Roasted ice cream. On my second visit, I had their good ol’ chocolate and pistachio. It was really good, albeit heavy like they used heavy cream instead of regular milk (think Carmen’s Ice Cream times two). I could hardly finish my small cup of two scoops, which I gave to my colleague to finish. Hehe.
As mentioned, I spent my birthday in Islamabad. It wasn’t really special, which is fine with me since I really don’t celebrate my birthday. I didn’t even tell my colleagues though of course, they found out. Was pleasantly surprised though when in my room was a bouquet of flowers, a small birthday cake, freshly refilled bowl of nuts and a simple purse. Haha! I’ll give that to Serena for going the extra mile.
With all its headaches and problems, I’m still glad I was able to go to Pakistan. It’s great exposure for me in terms of work and also something unique for me to experience. This is definitely one for the books.