Subdana Kheer: Pakistani Tapioca Pearl Pudding


My post is inspired by ‘York’, by Belgian Waffle, a fascinating blogger, who has written a nostalgic piece about her city of birth.

I was born in Lahore, Pakistan and left my homeland when I was two years old.

My life, if sketched as a path on a map, would be a series of zig zags, going from Pakistan to America, to Nigeria, to America, back to Pakistan, then to Kenya, to Bangladesh, to the UK, back to America again, to Italy and  finally, Canada.

At the age of 13, when we were living in Washington DC, Baba, my father, decided to send me to live in Pakistan with Mader, my paternal grandmother,  because he didn’t want me to become “Americanized”.

I didn’t want to leave my parents, my sisters, and I especially didn’t want to leave my Ami; my mother, my best friend.

But I didn’t resist or fight back; racist children in school had made my life miserable beyond comprehension, and all I wanted to do was to run away from them. 

I remember the day I left.

Even though I was dying to cling to Ami and sob on her breast, wet her sweater with my tears and smell her perfume for the last time before getting on that plane to Lahore, my face remained straight, my eyes strained and cold.

I lived with Mader, and my father’s brother- Kaka Tarik‘s family.

By the time I was 16, my parents were being transferred to Nairobi, Kenya, and Ami and Baba wanted me back.

But I didn’t want to go to Nairobi, I was too happy living in Lahore with my new friends, uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents.

But I did leave, and I most certainly left kicking and screaming.

And this time, there were a lot of tears that were shed at the airport.

I arrived in Nairobi scared and apprehensive, but left it soon after, for uni, with wonderful friends and memories.

The daughter of an expat, moving around all my life, home was always Lahore, my birthplace, and the city where my parents were born.

Androoneh Shaihar-inner city, Lahore. Artist Haider Ali Jan. Photo by my cousin, Sara Patel, from Alhamra Art Exhibition.

That Spring day when I got on the flight to be with my parents and sisters again, I didn’t want to leave. And every time I go home to Lahore, I still don’t want to leave.

Back when I was a young girl, I wanted to stay in Lahore and continue going to Nani Ami, my maternal grandmother’s house every weekend, when she would make yakhni-chicken broth for me.

And a stewed apricot pudding she served with malai-clotted cream.

I wanted to run to the tuck shop during recess with my best friend Ayesha Nabi, and have a five ruppee naan kebab and bottle of RC cola.

I wanted to celebrate Chand Raat, the night when the new moon is sighted, marking the end of Ramadan, with my maternal uncles, Mamoo Mamoon and Mamoo Tariq, driving along the Mall Road, past the Aitchison College, all lit up in candy-colours for Eid celebrations.

Before returning home, my Mamoos would take me to the bazaar and buy me sparkly bangles.

I wanted to sit in the garden with Mader, Kaka Tarik and his wife, Aunty Shahla and have tea with samosas bought in Mini Market.

The pedestal fan would be blowing from left to right as we would bite into the crisp samosas, the cumin-laced potatoes falling out onto our plates.


I wanted to go with my cousins Saadiya and Ashi to Liberty Market to buy ribbons, lace and adornments for our kurta shalwars, the ones we would wear on Eid.

I wanted to sit with Daddy, my maternal grandfather, in the terrace, during the winter months having khatai biscuits from the androoneh shaihar- inner city.

Each buttery disc was formed by hand, brushed with egg wash and baked till a mahogany crust formed on top.

With each bite it crumbled, disclosing roasted almonds and specks of musky cardamom embedded in the soft biscuit.

I wanted to be in my family home.

My home in Lahore, lit up for my sister’s wedding.

And I wanted to be in Nani Ami’s bed on days that I were feeling poorly, waiting for her to bring warm, milky tapioca pudding for me.

Tapioca pudding with roasted apricot.

These are the things I knew I would miss about Lahore, and I still miss today, so many years later.

Lahore Fort

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Sabu Dana Kheer- Tapioca Pudding with Roasted Apricot in the Pakistani Manner

Yield: 4
Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 4 tbsp medium-sized tapioca pearls (not the quick-cook variety)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 2 apricots, halved, seed discarded
  • brown sugar for sprinkling
  • salted butter (at room temperature) for brushing on apricots
  • slivered unsalted pistachios for garnish


  • Soak tapioca pearls in cold water for 2 hours till they swell. Discard water.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat milk on medium heat, till warm.
  • Add tapioca pearls, sugar and cardamom pods and stir.
  • The pudding wil begin to thicken after around 15 minutes. Continue to stir for a full 35 minutes.
  • When the pudding looks thick like a rice pudding, take off the heat and allow to cool.
  • Optional: Line your ramekins / glasses with a thin layer of slivered pistachios.
  • When cool, transfer pudding into ramekins / glasses and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and ideally, overnight.

When ready to serve

  • Turn your broiler / grill on.
  • Brush apricot halves with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.
  • Place apricots under broiler for 2-3 minutes till slightly golden on top.
  • Serve each slice atop individual tapioca ramekin/glass and dust with crushed pistachios.

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  1. I loved reading that post; first of all, you are so open about your life’s challenges and heartbreaks; no one better than another expat knows the pain and the nostalgia for home, which never, ever, goes away.
    Love that photo of the pudding. That apricot looks so delicious and warm over the creamy milky pudding.

  2. I quite enjoyed reading this post, the memories of Lahore I cant relate to, because I wasn’t born there, both of my parents were though, like yours.

    So sad to read about the racist schoolchildren, it must have been so difficult to deal with at such a young age.

    It must be comforting for you to know where ever you are in the world, Lahore is always waiting for you with open arms. 🙂

  3. What a great post, Shayma ! Reading it, I thought of my children, for whom “home” will always be Buenos Aires, no matter how well we live in Paris…and how kind people are here with us !!!

    The dessert is great !! Tapioca is also a staple in autochthonous cooking from Argentina !!

  4. i love the way you describe your home city — after all that traveling, it’s nice to know that the family hearth remains unchanging . . . beautiful description of heart ache and happiness. you are a very talented writer, my dear.

    thanks for the chat!

  5. Beautiful post, Shayma. Brings tears to my eyes. This must be the nostalgia so many of the people I love feel for the countries and cities and neighborhoods near and dear to them. Not to mention the people they love! Thank you for sharing these candid, tender memories.

  6. A question, where exactly in mini market is that samosay wala you mention in this entry? I’m a sucker for good samosas and will go any where in Lahore for them.

  7. Thank you, all, for the beautiful comments.

    @Sam @KSalty I shall post the recipe, I was debating, initially, whether to do so or not…Thank you for your lovely comments.

    @Umair This was from back in the day, there is no samosa-wallah in Mini-Market anymore, there was also a grand one in Ghalib Market. We now get ours from Liberty Market behind the ‘churiyon wali gali’.

  8. Lovely post, made me teary eyed and brought back my favourite Karachi moments. In University I had some friends from Lahore and they would always bring me a box of naan- khatais, no other biscuits have ever compared!

  9. Your stories and recipes are so beautiful and inspiring. Tapioca with roasted apricot sounds so delicious, would love to try it… I always look forward to catching up on your posts….xx

  10. this made me cry, shayma, in the sweetest and most wistful kind of way. so simple and so evocative…i feel, like you, that i will never be free of lahore’s enchantment, no matter where in the world i live – though a part of me fears it has become a very different place over the past few years – sigh.

    on a different note, the kheer looks divine, and the new camera is brilliant!

  11. Lovely piece, and so moving. As an expat, and also a child of (former) political exiles, this certainly struck some winsome chords. Stunning pics, too xo

  12. You make me ‘see’ what you write, feel the angst, the joy, pains…as you move from place to place. Superb!

  13. Life is often so bittersweet, but at least we have wonderful memories to carry with us forever. Lovely post, Shayma. And wonderful pudding.

  14. Hi shayma.
    Thank you for providing us with some good south asian dishes which are from pakistan and afganistan. Borani kachalu is very good.keep it up.

  15. Shayma I see so many parallels to both our lives. The constant moving, my brother living with my grandparents for a couple of years. You have one up on me – you know where you belong – I do not! I guess I belong where I fell most comfortable and although I would say Germany – I do yearn to get back to India!

    Just loving this sweet decadent treat!

  16. It’s a lovely post. It makes me think, i grew up in the same part of England for the first 18 years of my life, but although i love to visit, it does not feel like home. Recently my childhood home went up for sale and although a bit sad, i don’t feel any great regrets.

    I wonder if it’s down to the fact that my family has no roots there, my family is instead scattered across three continents.

    However, i do feel at home around those members of my family. For me it’s about people more than place. And because of that I feel both a freedom and a lack in my life.

    Thought provoking as always.

  17. I just came across your site today… your stories connect with me emotionally. I love it. I was born and raised in Nigeria and moved to the USA when I was 9, so I know how difficult moving can be, but I can’t imagine how many times you’ve had to move… it’s crazy. One last thing I have to say is you are gorgeous, really blessed with beautiful features! 🙂

  18. @Nida An uncle from my father’s side of the family used to get naan khatais for us from androoneh shaihar- after he passed away my maternal uncle took this responsibility upon himself. aren’t they exquisite? Thank you for your kind words.

    @MsMarmite I love tapioca better than rice pudding (that’s a secret).

    @NorthernSnippet Family is where the heart always is.

    @Imen Thank you, lovely.

    @Manal Thanks so much, dearest. My father often says- perhaps we were wrong to have not assimilated- we will always feel forlorn as a result… x s

    @Mothership Thank you, dear MTFF. x s

    @KB My Nigerian sister- thank you.

    @Jamie True- all food-related memories. Thank you for visiting.

    @Shahid You are kind, thank you.

    @Meeta Thank you. I suppose it is because all the people I love are back home in Pakistan- not one day goes by when my husband and I don’t talk about Pakistan- actually, not one hour goes by. I think, in a way, it’s a lovely thing that you call Germany home.

    @The Grubworm But what about England- do you feel that is home- even if the place/city you grew up is not home to you? I totally agree with you-it’s about people- and since our families are in Pakistan (my parents spend their summers in America and winters in Pakistan) that feels like home. One day, when my Uncles and Aunts, parents and their cousins are all gone- I wonder how my husband and I will feel. Where will home be for us…Thanks for visiting and for the evocative comment. x s

    @Honey You are so kind *blush*. I loved moving around- and I feel I am always itching to do so- it’s a part of life now. Thanks so much for visiting.

  19. @Shayma – i guess I do feel a kind of connection to England, but not strong enough to keep me there indefinitely. The strongest connection i have had is probably to London, but that’s now fading as I look forward to the next phase of my life.

    On the other hand, i do feel connections to certain landscapes – the sea, cities, mountains. But maybe that;s a different pull altogether.

  20. Shayma, What a gift you have for writing. In all our travels, we never visited Pakistan but through your words and photos I could almost smell the marketplace and taste the yummy food. Tapioca is so multi-ethnic. When I saw the photo with the roasted apricot I instantly thought of my mother with her steaming bowls of tapioca with warm raisins and cream floating on top. Thanks for a look into your life since your Nigeria days. Your “old” 4th grade teacher is pleased with your writing!!!

  21. Thank you, Shayma. I believe it’s the flavors, the memories, the smells, and the people that really become our “home”, just as you have so beautifully described. Your posts are always not only inspirational, but heartfelt and beautiful 🙂

  22. Hi Shayma, You’ve expressed so well how many of us expats feel. Although, our experiences do vary and I would say that my heart has expanded to include many places as at the moment, I call Switzerland home. I do wish I knew Lahore the way you do; I had my own taste of this amazing city when I lived there, although it was only for three months.

  23. Once again I enjoyed your evocative and heartwarming writing of home and family. Fall is an especially good time of year for enjoying your apricot pudding.

  24. Shayma, I can see how well you weave us into your stories…I almost felt seeing it happening in front! I can understand how hard it must have been to be away from family..and then getting used to the life to be again drifting! Pudding looks stunning..I am sure it tastes even more delicious!..

  25. Thank you for posting yummy spinach/yoghurt dip recipe! you are surely a winner:)God bless you

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