Day 13: Pakistan
A big part of this Personal Food Project in Blog Form is about growth. It’s about taking something I’m passionate about and really diving into it with everything I have. I’ve been tired of loving things and not having time for them— or more specifically not making time. I’ve been tired of waiting until later. But last night I experienced the perfect example of everything this Personal Food Project in Blog Form means to me. You see, I used to work in television as a Corporate Production Assistant. I would run errands, copy files, make coffee, clean the kitchen, set up holiday decorations and do research on things like “Will my champagne bottles last longer if I store them on their side or standing up straight?” I had been trying to make it as a playwright after attending college at UCLA and was working in television because I lived in L.A. I worked long hours, had full health and dental benefits and made a lot more money than I spent. But I wasn’t very happy. Food was still really important to me, but I usually didn’t think I had the time to drive out too far to get it. My meals out were mostly on the west side, but the majority of the time I was just cooking a quick meal when I got home and then trying to get some writing done. Even my lunch breaks were usually spent sitting in my car writing while I ate last night’s dinner out of Tupperware. One of the few times I tried to eat out for lunch I drove around for fifteen minutes and ended up eating at Ono Hawaiian Barbecue. I just figured there wasn’t much nearby. So imagine my surprise when I headed out for Pakistani food last night and realized that the restaurant was a mile from my old office. Here I am trekking all over town to find the best meals I can and one of them was right under my nose for a year and I never noticed.
Al-Watan Halal Restaurant in Hawthorne, CA. After a particularly tough day for GirlfriendBites in which she lost her wallet and had her car struck on the freeway by a loose blown out tire, I thought she deserved a night out. So I guess that means a romantic dinner at a hole-in-the-wall Pakistani restaurant. (Yeah— I don’t know why she likes me either.) We start to park and just looking at the restaurant, I already know this is going to be my kind of place. We get there a little on the late side, so the restaurant is mostly empty, but we’re greeted pleasantly and offered a table. The inside is extremely bright and covered with mirrors, so taking pictures will be interesting. GFB (who is immensely pleased by the advertisements in the menu) starts with a mango lassi and I go with the salt lassi. I love it. It’s tart, it’s tasty and I can’t wait to use it to wash down some spice. The mango lassi is excellent as well, but for me it’s all about the tart.
Now, before going somewhere I will usually do a lot of research in choosing the restaurant and in finding out what dishes are typical. But when I get to the restaurant I also like to put myself in their hands. Just because a dish is typical, it doesn’t mean it’s a specialty of that restaurant, right? Al-Watan is a Pakistani restaurant, but since the lines blur a lot between Pakistan and India, I want to make sure I get it right. Our server isn’t from Pakistan and doesn’t really know one way or the other, but he asks someone who seems like an owner or manager, who then comes over and is more than happy to recommend dishes. He chooses the nihari for me and the chicken tikka karahi for GirlfriendBites. We also order some rice, naan and plain paratha (thin layers of wheat bread, separated by ghee and herbs). This should definitely be enough food, but he suggests an appetizer and I’m a sucker, so we order the tandoori chicken tikka. We start to nibble salad when all of a sudden our food arrives. This place is fast, but believe me when I say that it doesn’t compromise the food in any way.
A lot of these dishes are slow cooked, so they can basically just hang out for as long as they want before I come over and eat them. The tandoori chicken is cooked perfectly, sizzling on a bed of onions. They are not afraid of their spices in Pakistan and I love it. The karahi (named after the type of pan and cooked in tomato sauce) and nihari (a very slow cooked stew made from beef shank) are both very traditional Pakistani dishes and let me just say that they are absolutely amazing and go beautifully with our soft, luscious breads. With these dishes, there is heat coming from all over the place and they hit me in every single part of my mouth. If India were a long term ex girlfriend, Pakistan would be the awesome rebound you meet at a bar who does things the old one never did. In the grand scheme of things they’re both great, but right now? I think I might be in love. The meal is, to put it simply, amazing. The tandoori chicken tikka is a little redundant next to the chicken tikka karahi and in my opinion isn’t as good. But I’m just nitpicking because, once again, GirlfriendBites and I ordered way too much food. Okay, maybe she had nothing to do with it and I did it all myself. But who cares? I’m in a happy food place and nothing can bring down my mood— not even my impending and inevitable bankruptcy.
We thank them profusely, ask for a box (or several) and sit back, basking in the glory that is a great meal. I marvel at how much great food there is in Los Angeles and GirlfriendBites is a little less frustrated over her annoying day. Food doesn’t fix every problem, but it sure can help. As I sign the check, I tell the nice man who helped us order about how bummed I am that I used to work so close to here and never knew about it. He simply smiles and says “Now you know where to come.” Of course. That is what I love about this project. It’s not about getting upset with things I didn’t do before. It’s not about punishing my past. It’s about doing something, right now, that makes me happier with my life and myself. “Now you know where to come.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Al-Watan Halal Restaurant
13619 Inglewood Ave
Hawthorne, CA 90250
Food Breakdown: 2 non-alcoholic beverages, 2 entrees, 1 appetizer, 2 breads, rice
Distance From My House: 10.9 miles