May issue 2004

By | Food | Life Style | Published 20 years ago

‘We offer coffee, interaction, meals and tolerance!’ reads the punchline at Civil Junction, the small café that has created a stir in Islamabad with its South Asian harmony brews. Of course, the choice is yours: sip ‘Vajpayee’s Cup of Coffee’ or taste ‘Musharraf’s Guesspresso.’ Try ‘Military Intervention’ or a bite of ‘American Democracy!’

With Civil Junction, the LSE-educated Arshad Bhatti, who’s lost his heart to literary Lahore, is making an attempt to revive the Pak Tea House tradition of his early youth.

Years after the closure of the capital’s sole coffee shop at NAFDEC, the funkily decorated tiny haven for coffee drinkers in F-7 Gol Market provides a hangout with a difference. From peace walks to interactive dialogues, poetry readings to pop music, South Asian nights to choreography and photography, the café has seen it all.

With minimalistic decor, the cafe’s sense of spaciousness comes with big glass windows, while a mural in eye- catching colours is quick to grab your attention once you enter the place. As is Bhatti’s menu, which presents a new take on the political issues of the day with its catchy titles.

Describing ‘Musharraf’s Guespresso’, the menu says it is ‘seasoned and intensely mature! Khaki, softly firm, brewed under high pressure of discipline.’ Served with ‘handpicked cookies,’ the flavour has a ‘very, very strong base with the real kick in the aftertaste!’

‘Vajpayee’s Cup of Coffee’ is ‘old, poetically smooth, chronically alone, mythologically brewed, firmly soft and — in short — more than you can expect. There is no foreign hand in its making.’ CJ serves his coffee with ‘conservative cookies.’

There is yet another popular flavour, that of Sri Lankan hero Muralitharan. ‘Made from Sri Lankan coffee CJ style; if taken black, it will spin you up like the legendary off-spinner’s delivery would a lazy batsman!’

CJ has an eclectic mix of customers, from young assembly members to hardcore bureaucrats, while the SAARC conference brought in quite a few Indian journalists.

“I will bring Qazi sahib here,” remarked a customer after going through the menu which has to offer a dish called MMA (Murgh Malai Aloo). The dish is a ‘unique culinary alliance of poultry, vegetables, dairy.’ It contains ‘hale and hearty potatoes, baked conservatively, sprinkled with aggressive spices; comes with thick gravy.’ The MMA ‘sounds hot but is easy to chew: when served with LFO (Light Fried Onions).’

‘Pak Bharat Dosti’ is denoted by a ‘mixing of fresh orange with equally fresh lemon; the natural affinity of the two produces a cool, refreshing blend.’

Of course, you can’t skip ‘American Democracy.’ It is a ‘greatly good-looking dish’ whose taste ‘varies to suit the taste buds across the globe.’ The menu describes it thus: ‘Weaker eggs beaten beyond recognition, mixed with maverick chicken from Texas, cooked in the oil of national interest.’

‘Military Intervention’ is ‘a beefy main course, quietly cooked in a chaotic political pressure cooker but served with an opportunist selection of various vegetables in Pakistan (VVIP), and a free cup of AccountabilTea.’

After the military intervention, sham democracy must follow. So we have ‘Sham Democracy’ too at the CJ: ‘It’s a fruitful desert; scapegoat’s milk, mixed with contentious spilt-milk allegations and promises of reformed grazing.’ Of course it is recommended with ‘Military Intervention.’

Other delicacies at Civil Junction include hot meals called ‘American Democracy’, ‘Karzai’s Kava’, and UNDP, which stands for ‘Ultra Naive Doodh Patti.’

Will the CJ prove a genuine heir to Lahore’s famous Pak Tea House? Arshad has, in any case, taken the first step towards making his dream come true.