December 16, 2012

The Wicked Witches of Winter Weddings & Wasabi Cream Fish Cakes

A couple of years ago, attending the one millionth wedding of the season, a fuming and frustrated friend most eloquently described December in Lahore: mating season. That's right. The young and available coming out and strutting their stuff. Come on, we've all been through it. The primping, the preening and the peacocking. Who hasn't fluttered those feathers, right? And seriously, who can deny donning designer duds, downing decadent dinners and dancing till dawn, right? Right?

I fell for my other half at a winter wedding. Go figure.

Now of course, thanks to the infuriating idiots of the Punjab government, the first order of frugality is fewer festivities. That's right, in Lahore you can be fined for having fun after 10 p.m. But the real death of decadence is limiting dinners to one dish. Happy hedonism has been hijacked by the hairless, holier-than-thou hooligans!

Personally, I dread December.

I also dread November, because that's when the onslaught of invitations ensues.

You guys already know that I have a habit of hiding out, but I swear to you, sometimes partying seriously feels as painful as slowly being poisoned.  I'm awful at small talk. I'm not socially savvy enough to dance and look cool at the same time. And I can't carry a big designer bag because frankly, I look like a hobbit wearing body armor.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, about this season gives me the willies worse than the Wicked Witches of Winter Weddings.

The predator that hunts in packs, stalking its prey in the night, stealthily springing in for the kill...with vicious gossip.

Her best friends forever? Bleach, Botox and b****ing.

You know who I'm talking about, right?

That aunty. That aunty.

You know, the one who judges me for wearing jeans and not jewels. That lady on the loose who could slay me in a second with her stink-eye. She's the same reason I steer clear of salons. Or as she calls it, the "pawlur." Too bad they're such a well-populated species, there's really no escaping her kind.

She's into all these hot designers like "Dolus and Kabana, Fandi, Loois Weetawn, Booteega, Goosi, Versays, Channel and Jimmy Shoo." She has a "Burkun" in several colors. She attends "essclusive" lunches at "Raayal Palm" and "Cafe Ulanto." "Kami" and "Sheroo" know her on a first-name basis, of course. She's also sensibly invested a significant amount of her husband's cash in the posh set's favorite circular debt scheme, the "cummayti".  And everyone is her "jaani."  A little creepy, almost sadistic, to shower someone with such affection right before moving in to devour their flesh, no?

This year, before the season has even officially kicked off, I've already encountered not one, but two of these crazy creatures of the night.

The first one smiled, coochie-cooed my son, then promptly turned to me and said, "Are you from America?" "Uh, no," I thought. As is customary with such questions, I wasn't really given time to spit out a verbal response. "Woh actually, meinay jeans aur 'Ughs,' notice kiye, tou meinay socha, you must be from 'abraad.'  Yes, I knew it! I must be from America!

The other one asked me if my son was a boy or a girl. I'm generally not offended by that question because seriously, babies are kind of androgynous looking, but I was appalled by what she said next. She matter-of-factly advised, "Beta, is kay baal tou kaato." Parenting advice when I've known you a grand total of two and half seconds? You need to lose 30 pounds. How's that for advice, moti! 

Of course, at the time I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor to conjure any clever comments.

Still need more facts on finding this breed? Well, she has an astounding array of allergies, stampedes for Sana Safinaz suits and buys Valium in volume. Also, she drops names and cash as liberally as I drop the F-bomb and believe it or not, she knows about your nuptials before you do.

By the way, if you really want to see evil in its element, there’s no better venue than a winter wedding.

To observe these fascinating females in their unnatural habitat, head straight towards the happy couple on stage. Turn left or right at the T-junction and locate the “lounges,” keeping an eye out for bleach-blonde beasts, jewels jammed on, with outfits that would be inappropriate on a 16 year old.

Notice the careful extension of their necks. This will aid the pack in its shameless stare, while they silently size you up. Observe the calculated lifting and pointing of the finger. That's them moving in on their midnight meal.

And then, right before you can blink, it happens.

As if by some psychic signal, their gazes come unglued, their heads simultaneously swivel towards one another, and they all head in for the huddle. The pride is prepped and primed to pulverize its prey.  

Should you be unfortunate enough to engage in any kind of inadvertent interaction with this species, you risk provoking a covert attack. My personal favorite? “Jaani, yaad hay mein kaun hoon?” No, I suffer from acute amnesia. Seriously woman, after meeting and awkwardly air-kissing you seven million times, I’d consider myself extremely fortunate if I ever forgot your face.

At last, after too many years of avoiding aunties, I’ve finally created a master plan for managing these menacing monsters. Beat the beast to the punch. Walk over, kneel, and kiss the ring. Just kidding.

Foremost, know your nemesis’ name. You’ll need to use it repeatedly to convince her you care about the conversation and to avoid the undercover attack I mentioned earlier.

Walk over, but only kiss the air, being super careful that there’s no cheek-to-cheek contact. Massage that extra-large ego by raving about her rocks. If you’re single, never make the mistake of mentioning her darling son. You are a paltry peasant, not worthy of her precious prince. If you’re happily hitched, giggle when she asks about the husband, but make sure to follow it with at least one complaint about him. Or gripe about men in general. Or turn your in-laws into outlaws with heinous fabrications about some imaginary relation.

Point is, your pain is their pleasure. It’s a lot like throwing meat into a lion’s cage after starving him for a week. Brutal bloodiness, boys and girls!

I understand if all of this talk of the Terribles has the paranoia playing up in your head and you’re convinced that they’re talking about you. Allow me to put your worries to rest. They are talking about you.

Finally, should you ever find yourself at a wild wedding, face-to-face with this venomous vixen and stupidly select a stand-off; my heart goes out to you and all I can say is good luck and God speed because it’s a tough win against the Wicked Witches of Winter Weddings.

This week I decided to turn up the heat, taking on aggressive aunties and I wanted a recipe that would take your temperature up a notch too. 

For Christmas, I bought myself two unbelievable gifts that've been on my wishlist for a while. Well okay, more than two unbelievable gifts. I finally got a tripod for my camera so hopefully you guys will be seeing better pictures soon. But the real gifts were Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 and 2 and How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. Of course, I've been dying to try them out so this I'm very excited about using the Bittman book as inspiration for these recipes. 

The Panko crumb fish cakes are golden and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The addition of fish turns a humble potato cutlet into a hot little hors d'oeurve, a perfect little bite for your next par-tay.

Topping the fish cakes, a hot wasabi cream with a touch of lemon freshness. The burn of the wasabi is mellowed by the cool sour cream. If you can't handle the heat of wasabi, consider using horseradish instead. It's from the same family, but considerably milder than wasabi, making it easier on a sensitive palate

Panko Crumb Fish Cakes with Wasabi Cream (approx. 18-20 mini cakes)
Adapted from How to Cook Everything:Salmon Croquettes, by Mark Bittman

Ingredients Panko Crumb Fish Cakes
  • 2 cups sole or other firm-fleshed fish, poached and flaked
  • 2 cups potatoes, diced and boiled
  • 1/2 cup spring onions
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, grated finely
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup Panko crumbs (available at Esajees)
  • 1/2 - 1 cup olive oil
- In a large bowl, combine the fish, potatoes, spring onion, cilantro, garlic, egg, mustard, salt and pepper. Add just enough fresh breadcrumbs to bind everything together and mix. Be careful to mix the ingredients gently, lifting and turning the spoon to fold them together. This will keep the fish from breaking up too much. 

- Take the Panko crumbs out into a plate and set aside.

- Shape the potato and fish mixture into 1 inch balls and roll in the Panko crumbs to coat them completely. 

- Place the balls in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to firm them up. 

- In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Place 4-5 fish balls in the heated oil. Deep-fry until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. 

- Serve hot with lemon wedges and wasabi cream.

Ingredients Wasabi Cream
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons wasabi paste (available at Esajees)
  • Salt, to taste
- Combine the cream, lemon juice, wasabi paste and salt.

- Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes. 

- Serve cold. 

Until next time, may you find the strength, courage and determination to deal with the delirium of a Lahori December.

P.S. If you really want to get to know this bizarre beast better, check out Moni Mohsin's Diary of a Social Butterfly and Duty Free.

Connect with Hunger & Haw Hai on Facebook, for all the latest posts, recipes, photos and more.


  1. Insha, where did you find Panko in Lahore???

  2. Esajees :) They carry wasabi too.

  3. If there was ever a piece with quotables the likes of which I've read only in Bridget [Jones]'s entries, it's this. This reminds me of a one-act sketch we did for 'Insolent Knights' - a themed performance program - where several society-aunties got together for a kitty party. Will drag up the link if I can.

    1. *gasp* You made it here! I'm super-thrilled that you enjoyed the post :) Definitely hit me back with that link. Aunties are evil and I always need ammunition!

  4. Mehreen Iftikhar2/24/13, 4:20 PM

    I really enjoyed & loved reading this post of yours .. keep up the good work :)

  5. Thanks, Mehreen! I'm talking about money next week and it's going to be manic so, stay tuned! P.S. Definitely try the fish-cakes.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin