‘Heartache’ of inflation hits peanuts, the ‘heartbeat’ of Pakistani winters

The picture taken on December 4, 2023, shows a laborer roasting peanuts in a peanut processing factory in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (AN photo)
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Updated 08 December 2023

‘Heartache’ of inflation hits peanuts, the ‘heartbeat’ of Pakistani winters

  • Stalls selling nutrient-dense peanuts crop up in many parts of Pakistan as the cold sets in
  • Peanuts are cheap compared to other nuts, price per kilogram ranges between Rs600-Rs800

RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: Abdul Hakeem Gilgiti used a stainless steel food shovel to scoop up a generous helping of peanuts from a large sack in front of him, poured them into a plastic shopping bag and handed it over to an eager customer.

The scene is from Rawalpindi’s famous Ganj Mandi Bazaar, where, like many other such markets in the Pakistani city, customers arrive in droves in the winter months to buy peanuts, known as moongphali in Urdu, which can be bought with or without the shell, as well as plain, roasted, or salted.

Peanuts are packed with essential nutrients, including protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, and during winter, when the body needs additional energy to stay warm, the nutrient density of peanuts makes them a valuable food choice.

There is no significant summer sale of peanuts, according to the trade union head at Gunj Mandi as well as owners of peanut processing units.

“The common man mostly buys peanuts in winters,” Gilgiti told Arab News as he served customers at his stall. “People who can afford it buy [more expensive dry fruits like] pinenuts, pistachio and cashew nuts.”

“This snack is not only affordable but also a favorite among children during the winter,” customer Muhammad Shahid Baig said as he cracked open some peanuts on his palm at the Ganj Mandi Bazaar. “It is a special gift of winter and although [we have other] dry fruit at home, peanuts are different.”

Different types of peanuts are pictured at a market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on December 4, 2023. (AN photo)

One difference is that peanuts are much cheaper compared to other nuts, with the price per kilogram ranging between Rs600-Rs800.

“I specifically came to this market for its reasonable prices and fresh quality,” Baig added.

Another customer, Shahbaz Ahmed, said peanuts were not just a snack but the “warm embrace” of Pakistani winters, especially during precious evening moments spent with family post-dinner.

“Peanuts are the heartbeat of winter for our family,” he told Arab News. “As we gather around, the warmth of these little treats not only brings joy to every member, but also provides us a chance to spend good family time together.”

Pakistan produced 144,000 tons of peanuts from 2021-2022 on 0.37 million acres of land, according to official data from Pakistan’s ministry of food security, a 68 percent growth over the past five years, fueled primarily by an expansion in cultivated land and farmers shifting to high-return crops amid challenging economic conditions. 

Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province dominates in peanut production, contributing nearly 95 percent to the country’s total output of the nut.

Muhammad Usman, who owns a peanut processing unit in Rawalpindi, said he starts processing peanuts in September each year and continues until March.

“We deal with four to five types of peanuts, with one of the finest varieties originating from Gujar Khan,” said Usman, who also sources peanuts from the northwestern Pakistani town of Parachinar, southern city of Sukkur, and a few areas in Jhang in Punjab. 

People from villages around the country, but mostly from the northern Azad Kashmir region, came to work at Usman’s processing unit during winters, where peanut roasting takes place both by hand and machine, he said.

“The traditional manual method which has existed for centuries results in a superior taste compared to the machine method,” Usman explained. 

But inflation, which rose to record highs this year and still remains in the 30 percent range, has hit both customer sentiment and raised the worries of traders this winter, the peanut processor added.

“Inflation is very high these days, peanuts are not being sold the way they used to sell previously,” Usman said. “Now peanuts are also not affordable for everyone, it has also become expensive. Peanuts from Gujjar Khan cost Rs800 per kg ($2.81). Similarly, [peanuts] from Parachinar are also expensive.”

Muhammad Usman, a peanut processing owner, shows peanuts from Parachinar in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on December 8, 2023. (AN photo)

Mohammad Bilal Khan, who sells dry fruits in Ganj Mandi Bazaar, said locals and especially people traveling abroad came each year to buy peanuts during winters as gifts for friends and family members. This year, however, there were both fewer customers and lower sales.

“This year, prices are higher than before and sales are comparatively low due to reduced purchasing power caused by high inflation,” Khan lamented. “Right now, the common man cannot buy vegetables, let alone dry fruits.”

Muhammad Ramzan, a customer buying peanuts from a cart in Islamabad, said inflation had made even buying something as simple as peanuts feel like “heartache.”

“I came to buy for the first time this season on the persistent demand of my children,” he told Arab News.

“But it is not just tightening our budget, it is also taking away a piece of the comfort we used to find in these little winter moments.”

Pakistani woman cricketer Nida Dar completes 100 ODI wickets

Updated 6 sec ago

Pakistani woman cricketer Nida Dar completes 100 ODI wickets

  • Dar becomes second Pakistani woman to achieve the feat in her 108th ODI match against West Indies
  • Prior to her, former Pakistan captain Sana Mir reached the milestone, has 151 wickets from 120 ODIs

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani off-spinner Nida Dar on Sunday achieved her 100th One-Day International (ODI) wicket as her side lost their second game to West Indies at the National Stadium in Karachi.
This was 108th ODI match played by Dar, who became the second Pakistani woman to achieve the feat.
“Congratulations to Nida Dar being the second Pakistani female player to get over a hundred ODI wickets,” Lisa Sthalekar, former Australian woman cricketer and broadcaster, commented after the Pakistan-West Indies match.
“This shows you the long journey she has had. She is a fiercely character that loves that competitiveness.”
Prior to Dar, former Pakistan captain Sana Mir reached the milestone. She has taken 151 wickets from 120 ODIs.
In July 2021, the International Cricket Council announced that Dar had become the country’s first cricketer, male or female, to take more than 100 wickets in Twenty20 internationals.
She had accomplished the feat while playing a match against West Indies, though Pakistan were defeated in that game too.

Pakistan dispatches eight relief consignment for Gaza via Egypt

Updated 21 April 2024

Pakistan dispatches eight relief consignment for Gaza via Egypt

  • Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 34,097 people since October 7, Palestinian health ministry says
  • Pakistan does not recognize Israel, calls for an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday dispatched another consignment of relief goods for the people of Gaza, the Pakistani foreign office said, amid Israel continuing airstrikes and ground offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.
This is the eighth consignment, comprising food items, medical supplies and other relief goods, sent by Pakistan for the Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Pakistani foreign office.
The 400-ton shipment was dispatched for Port Said in Egypt during a handing over ceremony at the Karachi port that was attended by Palestinian Ambassador Ahmed Jawad Rabei and Pakistani officials.
“The shipment will be received by the Ambassador of Pakistan to Egypt at Port Said and handed over to the Egyptian Red Crescent for its onward delivery to Gaza,” the foreign office said in a statement.
The development came as the Palestinian health ministry said at least 34,097 people had been killed during more than six months of Israel’s war on Gaza.
The tally included at least 48 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said on Sunday, adding that 76,980 people had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
The foreign office said Islamabad remained committed to addressing the urgent needs of the Palestinian brothers and sisters as they faced a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Iranian president to arrive in Pakistan on Monday for three-day visit— foreign office 

Updated 21 April 2024

Iranian president to arrive in Pakistan on Monday for three-day visit— foreign office 

  • Iranian president to arrive with his spouse and high-level delegation to discuss bilateral cooperation, says FO
  • Visit an important opportunity for Pakistan and Iran to strengthen ties rooted in history and religion, says FO

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office confirmed on Sunday that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit the country from Apr. 22-24, describing his trip as an “important opportunity” for both countries to strengthen bilateral ties and enhance cooperation. 

Raisi’s visit takes place days after Iran and Israel exchanged drone and missile strikes, escalating tensions in the already volatile Middle East. 

“President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi will undertake an official visit to Pakistan from 22 to 24 April 2024,” the foreign office said in a statement. 

“This will be the first visit by any Head of State to Pakistan after the general elections in February 2024.”

Pakistan and Iran are often at odds with each other over instability on their shared border, with both countries routinely trading blame for not rooting out militancy.

Tensions surged in January when Pakistan and Iran exchanged air strikes, both claiming to target alleged militant hideouts in each other’s countries. Both sides have since then undertaken peace overtures and restored bilateral ties. 

Pakistan’s foreign office said Raisi will visit with his spouse and a high-level delegation, comprising Iran’s foreign minister and other cabinet members and a “large” business delegation.

The Iranian president would meet Pakistan’s president, prime minister, Senate chairman, National Assembly speaker and visit Lahore and Karachi where he will meet the provincial leadership of the country. 

“The two sides will have a wide-ranging agenda to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran ties and enhance cooperation in diverse fields including trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign office said. 

Discussions would also focus on regional and global developments as well as bilateral cooperation to combat “terrorism,” the statement added. 

“Pakistan and Iran enjoy strong bilateral ties anchored in history, culture and religion,” the foreign office said. “This visit provides an important opportunity to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran relations.”

Gunmen kill 7 customs officials in western Pakistan in two attacks

Updated 21 April 2024

Gunmen kill 7 customs officials in western Pakistan in two attacks

  • No group has yet claimed responsibility for the two attacks since Thursday
  • A recent surge in attacks in Pakistan has soured its relations with Afghanistan 

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Unknown gunmen killed two customs officers in western Pakistan, officials said on Sunday, following the killing of five other customs officials in the area in recent days.

No group has claimed responsibility for the two attacks since Thursday, which police said they were investigating.

Security in regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent years. Attacks, some claimed by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) militant group, have risen, mostly targeting police and security officials.

“Customs officials were present for checks... when unknown persons opened fire,” said the district deputy superintendent of police, Muhammad Adnan, adding that two people were injured and the area on a busy highway had been cordoned off.

“Three days ago, five officials, including an officer, of the customs department, were killed in a shooting in the same area and the attackers escaped,” he said.

The rise in attacks has escalated tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban administration.

Pakistan, saying militants have been using Afghan territory to launch attacks, has called on the Taliban to take action and carried out an airstrike last month on Afghan territory.

The Taliban have denied allowing the use of Afghan soil for militancy and said Pakistan’s security issues are a domestic issue for Islamabad.

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

Updated 21 April 2024

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

  • Opened in 1895 in Karachi, Bhagat Tarachand has over 25 branches in India
  • Founder’s family migrated to Mumbai upon the partition of British Raj in 1947

NEW DELHI/KARACHI: Some of the oldest dishes at the Bhagat Tarachand restaurant are the potato curries that Prakash Chawla’s grandfather had cooked at a small eatery in 19th-century Karachi. Nearly 130 years later, they are still on the menu, although across the border, in Mumbai.

Established by Tarachand Chawla in 1895, the restaurant started in the seaside megapolis and the capital of what is now the Pakistani province of Sindh.

It served simple meals of Sindhi roti — wheat flour bread spiced with onions and ghee — and seasonal vegetables.

Initially nameless, Chawla’s eatery soon became known after his name and the honorific “bhagat” (a noble man) that people had added to it in reverence.

“My grandfather was a generous man, and he wouldn’t let anyone go hungry, whether that person had money or not. That way ‘bhagat’ was added to his name,” Prakash told Arab News.

Bhagat Tarachand died in Karachi in 1942, a few years before the partition of the British Raj.

The undated file photo shows the chole bhatura platter from the menu of Bhagat Tarachand restaurant. (Photo courtesy: Bhagat Tarachand)

In 1947, when it was split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, his sons, including Prakash’s father, Khemchand, moved to Mumbai on the Indian side — some 900 km away.

The family became part of one of the biggest migrations in history, which forced about 15 million people to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.
“It was not an easy beginning after moving to India, with my father struggling to establish the restaurant in Zaveri Bazaar,” Prakash said. “It was just a six-table eatery.”

The restaurant has since been officially known as Bhagat Tarachand, in memory of its founder.

Once the business started to flourish, Khemchand’s brothers opened different branches. He remained at the original location in the historical Mumbai gold market, where Prakash started to work at the age of 19.

Nearly half a century later, he is still leading the business, has expanded it into a four-story restaurant, and new dishes to the menu.

Now one of India’s leading vegetarian restaurants, Bhagat Tarachand has 25 branches led by Prakash and his cousins across the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

The most popular meal at his outlets is a vegetarian platter.

The undated file photo shows popular items from the menu of Bhagat Tarachand restaurant. (Photo courtesy: Bhagat Tarachand)

“In the vege platter, we give three types of vegetables, lentils, chapati, rice or pilav, as per your choice, one sweet dish, one crispy item, and a pickle,” he said. “It is sufficient for two people”.

Some other flavors have been there since the Karachi times: aloo matar — potato and pea curry — and aloo methi — potato and fenugreek curry.

“Those are some of the oldest dishes that we’ve been serving since at least my father remembers,” said Vishal Chawla, Prakash’s son, who helps him run the business.

“When my great-grandfather ran the restaurant, my grandfather, and even to a certain extent my father, there was no menu card. They used to write just the dish of the day ... It depended on, you know, what were the fresh vegetables available in the market.”

Setting sights on expansion to the UAE and Singapore, both of which have significant Indian diasporas, Vishal has been also thinking about his ancestral city.

But as long as India and Pakistan have a complicated relationship, even obtaining a visa is not easy. One of his uncles has already tried, but to no avail.

“I hope that our countries have better relations in the future, at least in my lifetime ... And if that becomes a possibility, I would love to reconnect with the roots of this restaurant,” he said.

“From the perspective of our restaurant and family, they are all proud that they are able to continue this legacy.”