Chicken Karahi


Lahore, my birthplace, is a city of ornate derelict Mughal buildings and the place where Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh lays at rest; a true cultural crossroads.

It is also the setting for Kipling’s stories, where you will find Kim’s Gun on the Mall; the main artery where the rickshaws, cars and motorbikes weave in and out of the lanes like tiny insects.


Lahore is also well-known for it’s gastronomic treats, and is considered one of the culinary heavyweights of Pakistan.

Drive past the Regal cinema near the Liberty Market and you’ll see round, concave, steel woks, called karahis, filled with pakoras; vegetables dredged in chickpea-flour bobbing up and down in the golden, musky oil.

They are eaten hot and steaming, straight out of the newspaper cones they are served in.

Others will tell you about the famous fragrant, spice-rubbed river fish sold in Mozang Chungi.

Or the legendary chicken broast made on hot coals in Lahore Canttonment.

Everyone has some sort of food-related memory associated with Lahore, the chicken karahi from Food Street in the Gawalmandi quarter is mine.

I hear that recently, Food Street was shut down by the Government this summer.

I so do hope this is temporary.

Upon entering the cacophony of Food Street, you notice the atmosphere becomes thick with steam, oil and smoke from the karahis laden with chicken and lacquered kebabs on a charcoal grill.

Lahore Food Street

In the corner, you see a man preparing taka tak, an onomatopoeic name for the sound of the spatula hitting the griddle.

The taka tak-walla’s arms a blur: like scissor blades coming together, beating the spatulas on the griddle to mince a medley of brain, liver, heart, kidneys, sweetbreads and gizzard.

Not a dish for the meek.

Left right, left right, taka tak, taka tak, taka tak.

Each hit mincing it further into an amalgamous mass of layered flavors and spice.

Lahoris often dispute over whether the dish is rightfully called taka tak or kata kat.

We like to argue about our food.

The chicken karahi-walla stands at his kiosk, in a swirl of heat and smoke.

You watch him as he adds chopped chunks of green chili to make the dish smolderingly hot.

As soon as the karahi is placed in front of you, you ravenously tear off soft, chewy, white pieces of tandoori naan, to mop up that unctuous juice of the karahi-spiced oil running away from the tomatoes.

For all the food found on Food Street, the chicken karahi, to me, is Lahore’s Star Culinary Attraction.

Chicken Karahi

To make chicken karahi, I learnt that one must be very quick, it’s an act of rigorous stir-frying.

One must take care that the garlic does not ‘over-brown’, and that the ginger is added later, as it burns quickly.

When the chicken karahi is almost ready, add the chopped coriander/cilantro stems and julienned ginger and give it a whirl.

I don’t add tomato paste to the dish because I feel it works better with just a few natural ingredients.

natural ingredients

If you want to add more color to the dish, add one teaspoon of tomato paste with the tomatoes.

You may have to play around a bit with the chili heat- I find 4 chilies do the trick, my mum always adds 6-8.

Perhaps one could start with 2 for a taste-test.

Years ago, I cut chilies with my bare hands, then touched my ears, burning them.

Since then, I have made sure to cut the chilies with kitchen shears straight into the dish, or coat my fingers with oil while slicing.

The latter can be a bit tricky though, as there is danger of cutting your fingers.

Before serving, garnish with fresh coriander/cilantro leaves and a few slim sticks of ginger.

I always add a heaped teaspoon of tart and spicy mango pickle to my plate.

karahi plated

Mausoleum (Samadhi) of Maharajah Ranjit Singh photo credit: Wikipedia

Lahore Food Street photo used with permission from Kamran Ali, from

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Chicken Karahi

Yield: 4
Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 3-5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 3 lbs chicken with bone, cut into 1½-2 in pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 + 2 in knob of ginger root, minced + julienned
  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 + 2 green thai-bird chilies, chopped into discs
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Handful fresh coriander, stems finely chopped, leaves reserved and set aside
  • Karahi or wok (preferably 12-14 in)


  • Place karahi on medium heat and add 3-5 tablespoons of oil;
  • To the hot oil, add the minced garlic and stir for 1 minute till it turns golden;
  • Add ginger and fry for another minute or two;
  • Turn the heat to high and add the chopped tomatoes, salt and turmeric powder;
  • Stir fry the tomatoes till the water evaporates and the mixture looks jammy. This should take around ten minutes. If the tomatoes start to scorch, turn the heat down a bit;
  • When the mixture has thickened and reduced by more than half, add the chicken and chopped chilies and continue to stir fry for another 10 minutes;
  • Add the stems of the coriander/cilantro, remaining chopped chilies, and julienned ginger (reserving some for garnish);
  • Before serving, add coriander/cilantro leaves, chilies and slim sticks of raw ginger;
  • Serve with naan or chapati. Or if you’re a rice nut like me, have it with some Basmati, even if unconventional.

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  1. This post has made me terribly homesick (how I wish I was in Lahore right now!) and the chicken karhai looks scrumptious! Will try the recipe and tell you how it turned out:)

  2. Marvellous, so pleased to see you’ve started this, already it’s being re-tweeted by everyone. Will be gathering ingredients over the weekend to prepare this early next week; you write so well (so love the “We like to argue about our food” line), ciaociao, Ian

  3. Amazing! finally you’re putting it down for the world to see! I’m going to try your recipe as I’ve always made chicken karahi with those packets of spices from the local desi store. This seems like it would have more of a natural and fresh taste. Do you think this can be made with a suitable meat substitute? I’m pescatarian now–will play around.

  4. my most favorite dish! but did you know that most lahoris think onions are a necessary ingredient for chicken karahi?? abominable!

  5. Thank you all, for being so kind and visiting my site on the first day. I am most grateful.

    @jtm Onions in karahi? I can assure you we do no such thing in our household, so tell me, when are you coming to have a meal with us?

    @reimas Karahi is traditionally made with mutton or chicken, but if you’re a pescatarian and want to use fish, why not? Perhaps you could use a sturdy fish like cod, sea bass or mahi mahi. You would have to use a light-handed approach so the fish doesn’t crumble. Would love to know how it turns out. Best of luck.

  6. What a beautifully written, evocative piece. I didn’t even realise I was going to be led to a RECIPE until right at the end although my mouth was watering. In fact so immersed was I that I was half expecting you to step off the screen and serve it to me so I’m slightly disappointed that you’re not here to do that, and continue a chat in person.
    Beautiful. Looking forward to MORE!

  7. cant wait for more-the karhai looks divine, u have no idea how happy this blog has made me! i wont have to resort to youtube anymore-

  8. Great recipe! Brilliant. For me tough, i would add some more tomatoes,oil and chillies and make it greasy and have it with nan that are soaked in the gravy left in wok after you have poured the dish into a bowl. yum!

  9. Thank you for the comments.

    @MTFF Chat will take place, soon. And there has to be pigglecake at the end.

    @Karachi You are right-a greasy karahi is lovely, but we do need to watch our waists, just a tad bit.

  10. Wow! Shayma, what a fabulous and great write up. I love the personalization of the dishes to the city and its origins…I’m going to be keeping an eye on your blog my dear;)


  11. Hi Shayma, what a great idea. Reading the recipe made me hungry and homesick for the food street. I like the idea of your spice gallery too. Forwarding this to Sabah. love Auntie Sabiha

  12. What a terrific idea! you have covered all the details well from historical background to culinary. Loved your chicken karahi recipe.It is different from mine.Surely I will try it out soon.Keep the recepies coming:)


    1. Hi Asad, Thank you. All food-related photos on this site are taken by me. The photo of the Samadhi Maharajah Ranjit Singh is from Wikipedia and the Lahore Food Street photo is by Kamran Ali.

  13. Hey, this is bookmarked. I have been enlightened in so many ways, thanks! Congratulations, great start. xo Debbie

  14. For someone who has never cooked in his life, you have convinced me to try this amazing recipe (knowing how well it tastes 🙂 cant decide what I love more the food or your writing style 🙂 keep up the goodwork and keep them coming!

  15. @Usman @Saimaa @Sids @Debbie Thank you so much, appreciate it a lot.

    @Sabiha Iqbal Thank you, The Spice Pantry is a bit empty at the moment, hope to fill it up slowly.

    @Kashif My best friend is obviously going to say lovely things, but thank you! I shall be asking Z in a month whether you have cooked anything for her.

  16. Fantabulous! I completely agree over “munh may pani aa giya” with the others. Ahem…may I suggest something about the “must have spices” in the pantry or a write up on spices themselves as I have a terrible time keeping mine fresh for long. Yikes! Listen to me…and I who doesn’t like to cook! LOL. Thanks Shams, love it. HUGS, Sadia

    1. @Sadia Thanks for your loving comments. Now you can surprise J with some desi khana! Hugs back.

  17. Well done Shayma!Having just watched “Julie&Julia”have come to know the meaning of ‘blogging’!Yours is elegant and the recipe great!How do you find the time what with your new life,new city and new job!Congratulations and I’m sure this is going to be a huge success.Much love,Auntie Brinda

  18. @George Thank you for visiting and for your kind comments. I do have a soft spot for Lahore.

    @Sara Love you back, you and M inspired me. x

    @Brinda Thanks so much. Finding the time is related to having a supportive husband! Many thanks and much love to you, too.

  19. This is magical. I adore it. Everything I love the most: food, travel, photographs. Tremendously evocative descriptions, and it is visually beautiful too. I keenly congratulate you and cannot wait to read more.

    1. @Tania I am immensely excited that you have visited the site. Thank you so much for the lovely words. x

  20. So well written that I can hear the taka tak as I suddenly smell the many scents of home. I think I know what we’re having for dinner….
    Also, I realise I should really own a karhi. Any thoughts on where I could get a decent one here?

  21. @Kalsoom Thanks so much for visiting, just come over for dinner anytime.

    @Umber Thanks for your kind comments. A large 14 in wok will do the trick,that is what I use. If I come across a karhai from Pakistan, shall let you know.

  22. Great post, I love Pakistani food, of which I’ve only had at Tayyabs and Mirch Masala. The level of spicing is so deep and flavoursome, I’m looking forward to trying this at home.

  23. @Lizzie Thanks- would love to see your rendition of this dish on your blog. Your photos are always beautiful.

    @Kang Thank you, regrettably, I cannot take credit; the Lahore Food Street photo is by a talented Pakistani photographer, Kamran Ali (I have posted his flickr link in my post).

  24. That’s a finger licking good chicken…yum yum! It’s fresh & exciting. I think I’m gonna be here on your blog for long. It’s delicious!

  25. if this is as authentic as i think i will win the heart of my girlfriend as this is her fav dish. so in advance many thanks and my future children thank you .

  26. Looooved this! SO simple! I ate it two days in a row, and to clarify I didn’t make two days worth on the first day I made it from scratch both days!

  27. I just made this chicken–it was amazing! I am so excited now to learn more about Pakistani food and culture. this will enter my dinner rotation, and your blog will definitely enter my online list.

  28. @Deeba Thanks, darlin’.

    @Daz Best wishes and thank you.

    @IamNick That’s very impressive, I don’t know if I have that kind of dedication to chop so much two days in a row. Kudos and thank you.

    @Annie And thank you for visiting.

    @Sabrina That’s very kind of you, I appreciate your comment and the visit very much.

  29. Thank you for the recipe and information. I followed the recipe and the result was brilliant. I was just wondering if you have a recipe for chicken tika masala? Can I add a few ingredients to this recipe to make it? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. many thanks, Stephen

  30. @Steve Hi Steve. Thanks for visiting and for the feedback, I appreciate it a lot. Chicken tikka masala is an Indian dish, unfortunately I don’t know how to make it. But a few Indian food blogger friends of mine are: Deeba at ‘Passionate About Baking’ (she does savoury dishes, too); and Meeta at ‘What’s For Lunch, Honey?’. Have a look at their blogs and if they don’t have the recipe posted, pop them a message, I am sure they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

  31. I do love a Pakistani Chicken Kadai. I also love to add green bell pepper and don’t know how original is that but I do it all the time. I think I’m going to post a Nihari recipe soon , you just got me rolling.

  32. I’m from Lahore too and am an absolute food-fanatic haha. A friend linked me to your blog and here I am, sitting amazed at how beautifully you write about all the food you have experienced around the world. It is extremely heart-warming to be able to connect with someone as passionate about food as you. And you sure help us connect well with your words. Keep writing!

    P.s. My mother makes amazing Chicken Karahi too. She sometimes adds a tiny amount of yogurt to give it a ‘khatta’ yet creamy twist. Cheers! <3

  33. Thx so much for sharing!!!
    I have just finished cooking and think this might be the best karhai (after my mom’s :).
    …. and of course what a brilliant write up!

  34. I have tried a couple of your chicken recipes (chicken curry and chicken karahi) and they are so easy to follow and turned out amazing. I have been using a concoction of recipes over the past few years but Ive never really been satisfied with the outcome. Thrilled to have been introduced to your blog. Can I ask that you also PLEASE share recipes for ‘raan’ as well as Chicken Qorma. :))

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