The palate of Pakistan through a rich culture filled with familial food and the burgeoning fine dining restaurants of its cities.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Empress Market, Karachi with Photographer Kohi Marri

I have to be honest with you, I really don’t know much about Empress Market. My connection to this grand market, housed in one of the oldest structures in Karachi, is purely for its culinary value; meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruit, nuts and kitchen utensils -  it may have been the very first ‘supermarket’ of Karachi. 

Glorious peaks of dried and powdered spices.

In hopes of exploring this rusted gem once again I asked my friend, photographer Kohi Marri to visit Empress Market with me for this blog. He suggested we venture out at 8 in the morning and I had no choice but to agree; this turned out to be the best time to discover the market without limits. We found intricate lanes brimming with shops (some hardly more than 4 feet wide) mostly belonging to tailors and cloth merchants. The market which was just about fresh ingredients for me had opened its arms to reveal a tiny village bustling with its own life growing steadily in the shade of the mighty oak that is Empress Market - surviving on a few rays of sunlight everyday and on the off-chance of catching trickles of rain. 

This is a pictorial blog post and like a journey you must look with your eyes and experience with your soul. Those of us that live in Karachi are witnessing its modernization and I fear we may not have the chance to save some of the sites that we have grown up around. This is my humble effort to appreciate one of my favorite historical sites, one that centers around fresh produce and salt of the earth folk, with the eye of a  person whom I know could capture its essence respectfully. 

Everything your kitchen needs: knives, scissors, tea strainers and locks(?)! Plus some kohl (surma) for the eyes in ornamental metal bottles.
Peeled garlic cloves like jasmine buds receiving some careful primping.
One of the main areas of the market; this one is for vegetables and poultry.
A little prayer at the start of the day for this merchant.
A peek into the treasure within: Lotus roots still sheathed in its natural grey mud.
A woman peruses sacks full of nuts and dried fruit, pausing only to bargain with the shop owner.
Some are worth more when they cease to live.
Most of the basic architecture is still the same with minor repairs and modernization.
Which came first: Eve or sin?
Most markets in Karachi wouldn't be complete without its requisite group of cheeky boys.
A young man relaxes with tea from a Chinese style cup.
A butcher prepares an order for a discerning customer.
This particular contraption grinds almonds to a paste, which is then added to drinks, using a slightly updated mortar and pestle. Friction is produced when the man walks around the machine tied from the waist to the pestle.
Tinker Tailor: This man, his sewing machine and shop have been here for longer than he would care to remember. 
The Beggar's New Clothes: Everybody wants to look their best even this beggar who chooses the simple life but makes time to visit his local tailor.

A gorgeous robin's egg blue cafeteria prepares flaky parathas for breakfast and meat curries for lunch. And of course no meal is complete without tea. 
2012 or 1912?
You can find the modern necessities of life as well, in the form of packaged local and imported goods.
A vendor guarantees his customer the best bargains and a smile.

You are more than welcome to read up on the history of Empress Market here on Wikipedia or provide additional reading suggestions in the comments.

Special thanks to Kohi Marri for the exclusive use of these images.


  1. memories.. the images bring to life the aromas ..

    1. I'm so glad this brought you back visually and emotionally.

  2. oh man, the pic look soo great. :O

    1. All thanks to the great Kohi Marri. Glad you enjoyed!