Karachi Company’s famous poor man’s hot & sour

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Toba Tek Singh soup corner

Zubair Qureshi

While handing you the bowl, he says ‘Bismillah kar kay piyo’ or recite Bismillah while sipping. Then he shouts in his desi Punjabi at the boy nearby to clean the table. “Who is taking care of eggs?” is his next query and meanwhile he continues with his ‘Bismillah kar kay piyo’ while handing the bowls to the customers.
Haji Iqbal’s ‘Toba Tek Singh soup corner’ or Toba Hot & Sour is popular with all those who look for tasty but low-priced soup. Therefore, he is also called ‘poor man’s soup wala’. Who can think a soup bowl for Rs70 only and if it is mixed with boiled egg, add Rs10 to the price. It is nothing less than a feast in these cold evenings.
Among the customers you can spot all types of people, influential ones like bankers, showbiz personalities, civil servants, officers and quite well-off families of the town. You can also see poor working class like labourers, daily wage earners etc enjoying their bowls of soup. For all of them, Haji Iqbal’s soup is second to none.
“My soup has these ingredients: corn flour, spices and plenty of chicken,” said Iqbal while talking to Pakistan Observer. It is because of the quantity of chicken and taste that it is popular with folks, he said. Will you believe sometime my customers tell me that after having a bowl of soup from Toba Hot & Sour they don’t have desire for dinner, said Haji Iqbal beaming with pride?
It was in late 1991 when ‘Iqbal the lad’ a street vendor was given a wise counsel by one of his friends to give up dry fruit vendor business and go for soup. “This is a tale of 25 years not a single day,” he said when asked to share his story of success.
After advice by the friend I went to a number of shops and restaurants where soup was served at that time, said Haji Iqbal while serving this scribe with soup (for free of course) and ‘Bismillah’. There, I didn’t have much success, as no one was ready to share the recipe. I used to go there, ordered for soup, sipped and then in a friendly tone asked the chefs about the recipe, they politely turned me away.
The year 1991 was not much successful for Haji Iqbal and he had to continue with his previous chores put up stalls at the Itwar Bazaar, dry fruit stalls at Karachi Company, do labour and other small works. Meanwhile, he was inducted as Naib Qasid in Press Information Department (PID). He is still there but now they have given him some file work to do. Then in 1992, luck smiled on him and one of his relatives returned from Middle East and invited him to his house. “There, Bhabi, my cousin’s wife served me with best cooked food and one of the items on the table was soup.
As soon as I took one sip, I realized it was the best soup I was eating.” Haji Iqbal asked her if she could kindly share the recipe. Before she could say a word, his cousin retorted for that you will have to buy a chicken!
Then started a new chapter in Haji Iqbal’s life. He began humbly in the winter of 1992 but by the time the season ended he was quite a popular name in the neighbourhood.
Today, Toba Hot & Sour is a buzz word and one cannot estimate the number of customers who daily visit there. Every Ramazan Shareef Haji Sb goes to Madina Munawwara for Umra and prayers while in his absence in the mosque in his neighbourhood free Iftari is served to all the faithful the whole month. There are other countless works and deeds of charity which Haji Iqbal is supporting directly or indirectly. What’s the secret of your success, asked this scribe. “I never lost hope and always kept struggling. One more thing I always sought the company of
the virtuous,” was the answer of Haji Iqbal. Toba Tek Singh is his native town and he seeks his roots there. It is because of the prayers of my elders and the company of the good people and of course immense support from wife and children that my business is flourishing and my customers come even from the US saying they didn’t find soup like Toba Tek Singh in the USA, he said.

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