My earliest memories of Pakistan are all about street food. My father, a street food enthusiast, used to take his three girls (and many years later he would do the same with his fourth-born boy) through narrow alleyways of old Lahore, tasting dahi-bhallay, seekh kebab, nihari, halwa poori, and often goll gappay. He would perch me on the bonnet of the car, which I have now started to call “hood,” and we would eat off of cheap plastic plates and drink cold frothy lassi out of tall steel glasses.
When I think back to my childhood and my history in Lahore, it is often represented in a mosaic of food: the variety of choices offered by street vendors in their rickety carts and portable barbecue pits, the challi-waala outside my school selling coal-roasted corn-on-the-cob with chili and lemon juice, Paradise ice-cream cones in Liberty market, chocolate mousse and chicken bread from Kitchen Cuisine bakery, family dinners at Salt and Pepper Village. It is difficult to encumber the ebb and flow of memories that come flooding back years after leaving the home that nurtured your formative years.
It has been 10 years since I left home – a long enough time that the definition of home has stretched, worn out, and become malleable in some ways, and has turned completely rigid, unrelenting, and obsessive in others. I left home, if I can still call it that, a fresh-faced, doe-eyed, teenager, and now I am a somewhat cynical, slightly cold, definitely opinionated, and satisfyingly successful wife, mother, chronic pain researcher, and poet.
Goll gappay are an amazing metaphor for the complexity of character that most of us possess. It is the rare person whose life is simple enough to not be encompassed by this little stretch of the imagination. Take for example your Average Joe. He is the crisp hollow shell of the round goll gappay. The delicious mixture of garbanzo beans, red onion, cilantro, and the amalgamation of spices that goes inside this shell is his life, his people, his triumphs and heartaches. Now for the tangy sauce that the goll gappay are dipped in before they burst into a million flavors in your mouth. That sauce is the best part. You could eat goll gappay without it, but you would be left unsatisfied and miss the slightly electric sensation of tart drops hitting your tongue. This watery goodness that completes the dish marries all the flavors and really makes goll gappay worth savoring is Average Joe’s happiness. Most of the time it comes in daily packages of mundane things: a comic strip, his child’s grin upon seeing Sesame Street, a long forgotten favorite song, a friend stopping to ask how he’s really doing, trees turning deep red in the Fall, a plate of perfect golden goll gappay.
People everywhere have quests for greater happiness and hurdles that keep them from succeeding. I hope that in my frequent efforts to boost my happiness and count my blessings, I will reach some of you, and you’ll be able to share your own stories with me.