Aurora Magazine

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Published in Mar-Apr 2009

The nostalgia eaters

Opinion
If the Pakistani won’t go to Pakistan, then bring Pakistan to the Pakistani (or parts of it at least)!

Living in the US, I have encountered many families who have either moved recently or have been here for over a generation, and excluding the under-25 ABCDs (for lack of a better term), many of these families have this ‘bizarre’ nostalgia for Pakistan. I call it bizarre because it is an internal conflict between this great sense of nostalgia for Pakistan (‘the clothes’, ‘the food’, ‘the festivities…’) and at the same time an urge to never go back (‘the power outages’, ‘the traffic’, the corruption…’).

Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

If the Pakistani won’t go to Pakistan, then bring Pakistan to the Pakistani (or parts of it at least). And with the growing Pakistani population in the US there are no holds barred as to what will be imported to make life feel a little more like it was ‘back home’. At the forefront of these imports are the various FMCG brands that most Pakistanis just cannot do without.

Pakistani Brands: It is difficult to provide accurate statistics regarding the popularity of these brands mainly because they are only sold in niche stores, also known as desi stores run by Pakistanis, Indians or Bangladeshis. However, from what I have observed, some of the most widely available brands include Ahmed, Candyland, Dawn (frozen foods), Laziza, Metro Milan, National, Pakola, Rafhan, Rooh Afza, Shan and Tapal.

Most of these are products of daily use (spices, tea and pickles) which generally do not have a ‘foreign’ substitute, and even if they do, American Pakistanis continue to demand the Pakistani version.

One such product is Pakola, which when you think about it, is just another soft drink among the dozens available in the US. But Pakistanis crave the stuff like nothing else and no other soft drink will do.

However, if someone were to name a brand that outshines the rest, it would be Shan. Shan spices are so popular that every desi store carries them, and if you are hooked up to satellite and receive channels from back home, this is the only brand that advertises frequently.


Nostalgia, however, can be quite pricey. But it’s a price many Pakistanis are willing to pay to have a little bit of back home in a foreign land.


I first thought this popularity was due to the inability of the under-30 Pakistani women living in the US to cook from scratch (myself included!) as well as the convenience factor of these spices. But upon closer observation, I discovered that Shan not only caters to the Pakistani population but to the Indian population as well, which is why the packs have cooking instructions in English, Urdu and Hindi.

Foreign ‘Pakistani’ Brands: These are brands that we have either inherited from the British or have become such popular household brands back home that we just can’t seem to imagine life without them. They include Dettol, Horlicks, Knorr, Lipton, LU, Maggie and Peek Freans. Now most of these brands definitely have substitutes that are widely available, and from what I have observed, the attachment to them is not just based on nostalgia but on other factors as well.

Take for example LU and Peek Freans. You would think that they wouldn’t stand a chance against a cookie giant such as Nabisco, but as far as Pakistanis are concerned the ‘peanut wala biscuit’ or the ‘Prince ka cream wala biscuit’ is more to their liking. Then there are certain consumption taboos that create a market for brands like Maggie and Knorr. Most Pakistanis will not consume foreign equivalents of instant noodles because they have no guarantee that they are ‘halal’. And although technically both Maggie and Knorr are foreign brands, because their products are mostly imported from either Pakistan or India (most Pakistanis consider vegan products ‘safe’ for consumption) they are preferred over what is more widely available in stores here.

Nostalgia, however, can be quite pricey. But it’s a price many Pakistanis are willing to pay to have a little bit of back home in a foreign land.