Talking Food, Family and Pulao with Rabia Chaudry

Rabia Chaudry is an attorney, a New York Times best-selling author, documentary producer and podcaster. She is also a foodie. When I first joined the Facebook group DMV Halal Reviews, I was surprised to see rigorous critique of restaurants from someone I had only known as a passionate advocate of wrongfully incarcerated individuals. I had to do a double take on the name and then sneaked on the Facebook profile. Yes! It was Rabia Chaudry of Adnan’s Story sharing nuanced opinion and pictures of South Asian restaurants from across Washington DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia. 

Rabia’s family hails from Lahore, Pakistan. Lahoris, or people from Lahore, are known for their hearty appetites and fondness for culinary delicacies. During our chat, Rabia detailed her family’s experience of migrating to the United States as their indoctrination into the American fast-food culture. “They [Rabia’s parents] could not imagine that America would feed Americans unhealthy food”; said Rabia, while talking about her family’s adaptation of widely available menu choices at the US fast-food chains. 

But there was always “khana” at home when Rabia and her siblings came back from school, said Rabia, using the traditional word to describe a South Asian meal. Family dinner is an integral part of a Pakistani family’s lifestyle and Rabia’s mother made sure that they maintain this tradition in the new country. Rabia’s favorite was the “Pulao,” a rice and meat dish cooked in meat broth. 

However, it was not easy to find Zabiha Halal* meat or ingredients for the South Asian palate in the United States in 1975. There were times when the family had to travel for two hours in search of South Asian groceries or a place that served meat slaughtered according to Zabiha guidelines. According to Rabia, the food landscape of the United States is now starkly different. “There is much more representation of South Asian and Middle Eastern food,” said Rabia, while commenting on the presence of Kabab stops in small towns and food chains like Halal Guys with restaurants across America. 

In Rabia’s opinion, a food completes its journey of becoming American “when it becomes ubiquitous” and has been adapted to “the American palate.” Such a food does not need a description or explanation of its composition when mentioned in popular narrative. “So much food in America is adopted from other cultures,” said Rabia. She would count Naan and Chai, both with South Asian roots, as a food and drink that most people in America are now familiar with and enjoy. 

Rabia’s upcoming book, Fatty Fatty Boom Boom: A Memoir of Food, Fat and Familydetails her first-generation American family’s relationship with foods from Pakistan as well those that that became part of their lives in the United States. Check out Rabia’s video to hear about her family’s culinary journey in the United States and her incessant love for Pulao. 

*Zabiha Halal: Zabiha is the practice of slaughtering meat according to Islamic guidelines to make it permissible for consumption (halal) by Muslims. Halal refers to that which is permissible and lawful in Islam. 

Funding for Food at Home is provided by Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC).

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Published by Saima Adil Sitwat

Writer, Speaker, Educator

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