It was probably just a couple of years ago when Ali Butt from Lahore started posting pictures of the scrumptious desi food cooked at his place by his adoring wife Ayesha, on social media. His posts quickly picked up a momentum and soon masses went crazy after the duo's uniqueness. The chunky brain masala, the very vibrant and happily coloured khoyai wala zarda, those overnight cooked joints with shanks, sticky and very rich mutton pulao, greener than grass classic palak gosht cooked in desi ghee with carefully chosen ingredients, were soon a rage. Their posts would sometimes get more likes than all the other posts put together.

Food photography was stepped to a new level which was soon to be made a part of most of Pakistan's daily culinary experience. Authentic Pakistani food was now the new trend. Their labour of love wasn't limited to their own kitchen anymore. Many hearts outside of Pakistan were also left broken because these posts were a constantly hammering on a Lahori’s food nostalgia.

Traditional Punjabi Mutton Pulao

Palak Gosht

Interestingly, being avid travelers and hardcore Lahoris, Ali chose not to keep his camera limited to just Ayesha's food. He extended the lens to every food experience he went through. From Virginia to Gawalmandi, they kept clicking and sharing everything that excited them. Ayesha's culinary experience was hence not just limited to her childhood memories coming from a traditional Kashmiri family of Lahore. She started experimenting with all sorts of cuisines, picking up the essence of various global tastes yet keeping her traditional understanding of Pakistani cuisine , intact.

Food is undoubtedly one of the greatest parts of any region's culture. Sometimes, just the fragrance of pakoras frying in a neighbouring apartment instantly reminds me of my childhood Ramzan, when this traditional Pakistani snack was a staple. Ayesha's home cooked crunchy parathas and spicy slow cooked aaloo ki bhujjia struck a similar cord with her followers on the social media. Very soon she was picked up by Nadia Fazil Jamil for her television show that particularly focused on her forte: that is, traditional Pakistani food.

Everyone wanted their share in the Harissa cooked at Ayesha's kitchen on winter weekends. Dare I say, the rest is history? Today, she runs one of the most successful home-based catering businesses in Lahore with no looking back.

Chef at work even on a holiday

I was obviously over the moon when both the husband and wife agreed to share their food life with me. Nervousness also followed as this was my first interview ever, but in just a few minutes I was given this at-home feeling by the couple's quirky humor and warmth.

It was a lazy Sunday when Ayesha had just got done with her sons' parents-teachers meeting, being the vigilant mother that she is. Ali, too, was casually snuggled on the couch celebrating the Sunday as merrily as he could. When I asked Ayesha to define herself, the term 'housewife' came first, and ‘entrepreneur’, later. Interestingly, her business' name is also 'Yeh Ghar ka Hai' meaning 'Its homemade' thereby defining her persona well.

Ayesha chuckles and tries to deviate the topic every time you praise her. As mentioned earlier, Ayesha's parathas are among her most sought-after items. She narrated a childhood incident when she made her first paratha and how it turned out to be harder than a bag of crisps but she still insisted that all her family have it.

It’s true that mothers are the first women sons and daughters idealize. The same was the case with Ayesha, whose mother's food and people's appreciation for her turned that little girl who almost burnt her first paratha to what she is today.

Paratha- the desi croissant

Aaloo Gosht- Pakistan's favourite curry

Ali on the other hand doesn't have any less interesting tales from his Kashmiri childhood. Adoringly, he begins his memories with first showing me a picture of his deceased parents and then beginning with the quote 'Find what you love and then let it kill you.' He then explains how this passion for food travelled down through his parents. Ali quotes his father very often telling me how he was a great foodie but preferred homemade food, which resulted in turning all the women at home into master amateur chefs . Even the meat cuts for particular dishes were defined.

One of the reasons behind choosing Ayesha as his eldest daughter-in-law was the oil stains on her hands which assured Gul Ji (Ali's dad) that the girl did have a knack for cooking. He continued encouraging her passion after she got married. Ali's family’s culinary tradition was now passed as heirlooms to Ayesha who treasures it till date. There is no compromise on those recipes and tricks of the trade. Shab Deg still means not a minute less than cooking the whole night. Her cuisine is basically comfort food and she expects it to be taken that way: not to be judged for its caloric content. Adjustments can be made, though.

Being one of her kind in Lahore, glamourising traditional Pakistani food like never before, Ayesha is a supporter of fusion cuisine, too. As Ali puts it 'What doesn't evolve, dies eventually. Pakistani cuisine has the ability to adapt itself to the taste buds of the international market. Being very possessive about her food like her child, the home chef intrudes, but it doesn't mean I will add any meat other than shanks to the joints.'

This reminds me of the traditional crisp Naan Tikki redone by Ayesha by transforming it into a mini Naan with all the traditional condiments and the spicy tangy sauces. Anything is possible in Ayesha's head and kitchen! Anything and everything!

Aaloo Tikki on Mini Naan

According to the duo, the response has been overwhelming. In her usual excited manner, Ayesha tells me that initially she, too, was surprised at how most of the clients had a similar love for her exotic Karahi gosht, Daal Gosht and Lahori degi chargha. She could not help explaining her awe at seeing some fitness conscious models drool over her thick, sticky mutton joints shorba.

Mutton Payai with shanks

"The clients’ preferences are important but educating the masses is also a part of my job. Making them understand and take pride in our local cuisine is my mission. By the Grace of God all my clients have been very encouraging and trust what I tell and sell. I cannot be thankful enough.'

Despite being in a light-hearted mood, Ali's thoughtful side keeps reappearing throughout the interview, making me understand many food myths and concepts even better. Although I was shy to ask him for photography tips, but Ali wasn't hesitant to share.

'Daylight, props and sensible editing do all the trick! Most of my food photography is done using my phone. No fancy cameras are needed if you know the job right. I might offend the professional photographers here but bro that is how it is.'

Ayesha's famous Zarda

Being their natural selves, the two keep teasing each other and laughing throughout. Despite being busy since the day began, Ayesha patiently keeps holding her phone at an arm's length for this distant video call. Time passed in a jiffy and it was only really late that I realized that the batteries of all of their gadgets were dwindling down to zeros. No frown or even mention of the time from the desi queen, though!

It was time to wind the interview up with the last question which was about their future plans and goals. It was a formal question, but it was answered very casually by Ayesha:

'I don't plan. In fact, I can't plan. My kids come first. A small cosy eatery maybe, some plunge into culinary academia maybe... lots of ifs and buts. I have always taken my life as it has come to me.'

Ali is no different. Although creative juices run in the family and he lives up to the tradition, Ali also chooses to take life as it comes to him. A full time corporate job doesn't stop his pursuit of food, travelling and photography. So it’s up to the future to lead him to his destiny.

Waving goodbye, the ever laughing heartily couple signs off, leaving me desperately hungry and salivating after listening to those detailed descriptions of divinely delicious food. Not fair!