Published in Jul-Aug 2023
The year is 2045. An 18-year-old boy from Karachi receives a notification on his iPhone 67 Pro Max about a new product launch that matches his interests and social data. He gestures through to find out more. It’s about the ‘Nostalgia Food Processor’ and it looks like the perfect gift for his father’s 40th birthday. He orders it, intending to surprise his father at the dinner date they have planned the following evening.
Cut to the dad’s apartment. It’s compact and minimal (thanks to Karachi’s sky-high rental costs), but that’s okay; the point of this evening is for the father and son to bond one-on-one. After the cake, the son pulls out the gift-wrapped box of the Nostalgia Food Processor and gives it to his father.
“So what does this thing do again?” asks the father, as he unboxes the sleek little gadget.
“It uses molecular technology to create literally any dish from the past, just so long as enough people have been posting and talking about it. You just have to input which dish you want to have. The AI first pulls in data points, such as the chef and the restaurant’s menus and recipes, as well as people’s reactions to taste, texture and aromas from social media listening, and then rearranges the molecules from the hydrogenated ingredient cartridges to recreate the dish down to the exact taste, appearance and aroma.”
“Huh?” is all the dad can muster, scratching his head. He is obviously confused and the son realises that he should have dumbed it down. “It’s sort of like one of those 3D printers, but for food,” he says, turning the machine on.
“Whoa… that’s like… magic,” says the dad.
“Any sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic,” replies the son nonchalantly, as he suddenly realises that there is only one set of molecular cartridges in the device; he will have to order more, or sign up to their stupid monthly subscription model. “Uh… but there’s a catch. I forgot to order extra supplies and unfortunately we only have enough to do one dish today.”
The dad is still confused, so the son explains a little more. “Just say out loud what dish you want recreated, press this red button and it will do it immediately. For example, what was your favourite restaurant order when you were my age?”
A light bulb goes off in the dad’s brain. He’s instantly taken back to Karachi’s eating out scene in the early 2020s. Within a few seconds he blurts out “Babar Pasta from Xander’s.”
“Kaunsa pasta? Babar?! What kind of a name is that for a pasta dish! Is this from some desi hole-in-the-wall place, like a wannabe fusion food truck or something?” asks the son.
“No, no. Xander’s was the go-to place for upscale casual dining back in my day. Fancy crowd, Etrons parked out front… their Khayaban-e-Bukhari branch was our usual haunt.”
The son shrugs with a “Okay, sure,” and puts a plate next to the machine and reaches to press the red button.
“Wait, wait, we can only do one dish tonight, right?” asks the dad. “Wait, let me consider a few more options. Maybe I can go through my old IG stories to jog my memory,” he says, quickly flipping out his ancient Android device as he tries to find the archived stories and photos.
“Ahhh… yeah now we’re getting somewhere. Okay, I’m going to run through some of my old favourites with you and we can decide which one to choose, okay?”
The son decides to play along. This is the bonding time the evening was about anyway. They go through the archived stories together.
“Oh, oh… check this out. Kulchas with spinach and artichoke dip from Koel. That place was like old-school cool. But nah… the quantity was too little. Can I increase the quantity on this thing?”
“No, I’m afraid it takes populated data from hundreds if not thousands of photos of the same dish from back in the day and makes an exact replica. So the same quantity as what you remember,” explains the son.
“Okay then let’s try…” trails off the dad as he flips through more old boomerangs and stories.
“Clucky’s a la Kiev burger? Oh man, that thing was filling. You had melted cheese oozing out of the patty – yum!” The dad interrupts himself. “But no, if I recall correctly… the spice levels were way too high. It overpowered the taste of the chicken and even the cheese.”
It’s like he’s having an internal dialogue, weighing the pros and cons of each food candidate. The son really doesn’t have to contribute much to the conversation.
“Hmm… how about this pizza from POMO with burrata and basil. Everybody else preferred Famous O’s, but I was always a POMO loyalist!… No, no. They were really stingy with the cheese – I mean, despite the fact that we had this import ban and everything…
“Okay, let’s see… Hot Pot from Wang Wang? Meh. It was sort of like a pioneer, but the quality went down and people kept complaining about the odd cockroach in their food. Don’t want that to happen here, nopes. Korean Bao Buns? Bao Bae was like a runaway hit… no, no… from Caffé Praha! I loved those! But nah… the buns were thicker than I liked. I watched way too much Korean food content on YouTube back then. Whew!”
“How about something desi?” suggests the son.
“Ohhhhh yeah. That’s a good idea. Paneer reshmi handi from Kolachi. Ohhhh,” says the dad as he smacks his lips in anticipation. “Or, or… haleem biryani from Paan Mandi in Kharadar. They only served it in Ramzan but…”
“Dad, there’s no way I’m having haleem biryani with you tonight. Sorry, I veto that one out,” interrupts the son.
“Acha, acha, Mr Fancy Pants. Would you prefer some Bang Bang Cauliflower from Chop Chop Wok? Perhaps some gyozas from Tao? Kindo Chicken with sesame seeds from Cocochan?” retorts the dad drily, flipping through more old photos.
The son sits up like he’s just had a revelation. “Dad, I have an idea.” With a super serious expression, he cautiously asks, “Did you ever have the Original Recipe Chicken from KFC?”
This piques the father’s interest. “You mean the original original recipe? Before ‘hot and crispy’ variants became their standard baseline in Pakistan? That’s… ancient, man. They only had it for like the first decade of the launch here. I’m surprised you even know about it.”
“I’ve heard about it… never actually had it. Legend goes that KFC couldn’t afford the margins without the thick crispy coating increasing the portion size…” says the son.
“Those are just old wives’ tales. Nobody really knows the real reason they phased it out. But yes, let’s decide on that. KFC Original Recipe Chicken Bucket.”
The machine’s voice analyser picks up the command, and flashes “Please confirm.”
The dad cautiously moves his hand closer to the red button. He looks at his son, their eyes meet and the son nods in approval. “Go for it, dad.”
But before he can press the button, the scene goes dark. Pitch black.
“Oh, I’ve had it with this,” comes the dad’s voice, his face dimly illuminated, as he pulls out his phone. He dials a number.
An automated voice comes on the speaker phone.
“Thank you for calling K-Electric! To register a complaint…”
Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.