NJ restaurants: Karachi Kafe brings tastes of Pakistan to Voorhees – Courier Post

Bright, colorful, filled with traditional decor and delivering on at least one very popular dish, Karachi Kafe is sure to remind the Pakistani community in South Jersey of the home country and welcome others to get a “taste of Pakistan.”
Anny Khan opened the restaurant in the Avian Plaza in Voorhees in December in order to share her culture with the locals and provide representation, she said.
Karachi Kafe’s menu features a mix of traditional and fusion dishes. Decor includes a traditional street cart that displays Pakistani items, a wall dedicated to Pakistani history, as well as some posters of Pakistani movies. Ludo – a popular board game – is set up for guests to play.   
What’s sure to take Pakistanis back to their roots, especially the younger generation, is her rendition of the popular KFC Zinger burger. The fast-food joint is popular in Pakistan and offers gourmet versions of American food items like the chicken burger. 
Karachi Kafe recipes are inspired by her mom, but Khan gets some help in the kitchen. She has three chefs: Saud Khan (no relation to Anny) is the tandoori chef, Mohammad Wakeel is the curry chef and Abeed Omar is the burger chef. 
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Those who keep up with Pakistani news and watch ARY, the popular news channel in Pakistan, may be familiar with Khan, who hosts and produces a show called “Hello America with Anny Khan.” 
Khan also runs Zas Pages, a U.S.-based magazine about the South Asian community, businesses and community achievements in America.
Juggling two jobs while opening a restaurant in a pandemic would be difficult for most people, but Khan is determined to shed light on the South Asian country and its vibrant culture.
I spoke with Khan about what inspired her to open, challenges of the pandemic and what she hopes to accomplish with her new cafe:
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Then walk me through the timeline of when you opened and how you came to open the restaurant.
A: I started my magazine about five years ago. And even after a lot of discouragement, a lot of people said don’t open — they said a lot of stuff. And literally, I believe if I really want to do something and I just like have to do that. So I started that about five years ago and right after that I started my TV show, which is for ARY, and then for B4U, which is an Indian channel. So, all my shows were on Pakistani communities, even on the Indian channel, like literally highlighting our Pakistani community about their achievement, about the problems that they’re facing in America.
Because I moved to America when I was just — I was very little. And right after I moved, 911 happened. So, me and my brother, we have seen a lot in our lives. Like after 911, a lot of people were negative about the Muslim community and even for Pakistan, so that actually kind of hurt me a lot.
And I’m like, I am gonna do something that represents my country — I’m literally proudly, very proudly representing my country (at the restaurant) and even … I have like a little patriotic wall that literally when people walk in and they ask questions — it’s about Pakistan history, about Pakistan and about our Quaid-i-Azam (or great leader, which refers to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan), and like all old founders and movies and characters and all that. So that just like gives me something — I’ll say inner peace that I’m very, very proud of being a Muslim and I’m very proud of being a Pakistani.
Q: Well, it seems like you’re doing so much with the magazine, the show and now the restaurant.
I have to say, I’m not gonna say that I am doing everything. I have a great team in Pakistan, and I have a great team even in the restaurant, so I’ll just say that I’m very blessed that I have all good people around me.
Q: What inspired you to open this restaurant?
Like how I grew up, I’ve seen everyday mehmaan (guests) in our house, and then I was always helping my mom and like proudly … it’s just from my mom, I guess. And then, I wanted to open something that’s like, again, shows my culture. So it’s all about Pakistan; in some restaurants, they’re always Pakistani and Indian food, but [none with] only Pakistani food. 
Q: What was the process of opening the restaurant during the pandemic?
Yeah, it was very, very tough, especially around COVID time. I wanted to open this, I’ll say, like about two years ago. I was literally planning stuff, and then this COVID thing happened. My mom and everyone’s like don’t open right now because it’s kind of a scary time and like you’re putting all that money, all your savings. And I’m like I really want to open this. But I have to say, I’m glad that I got very good support from the community … It’s literally going very well.
Q: So tell me about the food. What’s on the menu?
So, we have mostly Pakistani things but I am trying to attract all younger generations, too. So, they can easily go to [the] restaurant with their parents. And now, I’ll say that in our restaurant, there’s a younger crowd, more like teenage crowd that they’re coming to the restaurant because we have like all … I don’t know if you’ve heard about Zinger burger, club sandwiches are very common in Karachi. So, I have all those too just for our younger crowd and … of course for everyone … I’m literally trying to arrange some stuff for them where public speakers can come and talk about Pakistan, Pakistan history. So, that’s why I’m literally trying to bring all the food like fusion-style food that can attract our younger crowd.
I have like all common dishes like nihari (slow-cooked meat stew), paya (goats feet curry), biryani (mixed rice dish), everything, but I am more fusion-style, like Hakka noodles (street-style noodles) and then a lot of different kinds of burgers and then paratha roll (flatbread wrap) — now that affects our younger crowd.
Q: What would you say is a popular item on your menu?
For someone who’s trying for the time, [they] must try our burgers, must try our paratha rolls, and then our nihari — I mean people are liking that a lot too, briyani and paya. And yeah, so that’s our top items.
Q: What’s a Zinger burger for those who don’t know, and what makes it so popular?
So, it’s a fresh chicken breast [burger]. Then we have our own Karachi seasoning, that we make in-house, and then all the sauces are made in the house.
All the young generation, actually, they are after Zinger burger so then I was like, I’m just gonna introduce it here. Because there aren’t many restaurants — I actually don’t know any restaurant in New Jersey doing that. 
The sauces make it popular, and we use house-made sauces … It’s more of a garlic-mayo sauce, and then it’s my chef’s secret ingredient.
Q: The restaurant looks so traditional. It really reminds me of Karachi, where my family is from. 
It is very traditional, and it’s not only about Karachi. It’s all about Pakistan … It’s everything about Pakistan. I’m looking at really expanding. So, in few months I’m actually getting the next door [space] and making it bigger. Yeah, so I’m literally planning more things that I can show more stuff about Pakistan. So, yeah, it’s very traditional.
Q: And I think I saw there was some Ludo or something there as well, some games and stuff like that?
Yeah, it [a sign] says phone choro, ludo kaylo (leave your phone, play Ludo – a popular Pakistani board game).
And then I have one big patriotic wall.
Q: Since Ramadan starts this week and Eid is coming up, do you have any plans for the holidays at the restaurant?
Yes, we do, for suhoor (the meal that starts the fast) and iftar (the meal that breaks the fast). We’re only open for iftar and suhoor from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. And on top of that, we have a great setup for iftar that we’re actually working on and it’s free for everyone. All iftar is free for everyone for dine-in. And then, yeah, we’re doing a lot of catering actually. We started getting a lot of catering orders.
Q: Is that for certain days or consistently throughout the month?
All throughout the month. Even on top of that … I still have on the wall too that if anyone cannot afford food or anything … there is a wall [with a sign] that I literally put that [says] just ask for a box, and then we won’t ask any single question, we’ll just give you a box. That is every day that we have this option that they [guests] get if they cannot afford to pay, they can just ask for a box and all my team knows that like not to ask them anything.
Q: And for Eid, are you all doing anything?
Yes, we’re actually planning a chand raat mela (the eve of Eid festival) which is on May 11, hopefully on May 11 or 12 — it’s gonna depend on the moon … for Ramadan, I forgot one thing, that we’re actually setting up prayers outside. I got the permission that …  these people can pray namaz (prayers) outside. Yeah, and then for chand raat (the eve of the festival), we’re setting up a tent outside. So we’ll have a little mela (fair).
Go: 2999 E. Evesham Road, Avaian Plaza Unit 12, Voorhees Township, 856-676-7728; karachikafe.com
Hira Qureshi covers food and drink for the greater Delaware Valley and Jersey Shore. She can be reached at [email protected] or 856-287-8106. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.

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