By Rohma Sadaqat
I got something for you; I was in the supermarket when I saw it and I remembered how much you loved them,” my mum said. I look, seeing her unpacking her suitcase after returning from her summer break in Pakistan and saw a sight that made me grin: In her hands was a box of very special biscuits — more specifically, a box of zeera biscuits. Now, ask any Pakistani what the best biscuits are to have with afternoon chai (tea) and they will almost always say that zeera (cumin) biscuits are your best bet. There are several others that might make the list — peanut, glucose and marie — but in terms of sheer dunk-into-you-chai delight, zeera biscuits reign supreme.
The box that my mother had carefully pulled from her suitcase was adorned with a very familiar logo. In the corner was a dark-haired man wearing a purple vest and red cape; on his head was a mustard coloured hat and in his hands was a musical pipe. The Pied Piper has long been the face of the Peek Freans biscuit company in Pakistan, and it is not uncommon to find several boxes of biscuits with his iconic image on them in pantries across Pakistani households.
Looking at the box of biscuits in my hands, I couldn’t help but think back to fond memories of summer vacations in Pakistan. Tea time close to the sunset was a very important part of the day and everyone in the family gathered together in the living room for a cup of chai and biscuits. There were other treats as well; often times you would have samosas fresh from a nearby vendor, but it was always the biscuits that were the true star of the party. Mastering how long you needed to dip the biscuit into your piping hot tea before it broke and plopped back into the cup was an art, and you couldn’t help but feel like you had graduated with top honours when you no longer needed to use a spoon for the dunking process.
My mother loves zeera biscuits as much as I do, and when I asked her if she had eaten a lot of them as a little girl, she answered in the affirmative. “You could easily buy them at bakeries, which made them fresh every day, but that is not to say that we only bought them from bakeries,” she said. “Peek Freans is a very old company and it has been a part of my childhood as much as it is yours. As their products became popular, they began launching more and more biscuit varieties and flavours to what you see today.”
Clearly, us Pakistanis take our tea time very seriously, if the sheer number of biscuit brands and flavours in the market today are any indication. When I tore open a pack of the zeera biscuits and carefully dunked one into my chai that evening, I was almost overwhelmed with a feeling of joy and love — love because my mother had gone out of her way on her vacation to bring me back something that I treasured, and joy because it tasted as delicious as I remembered.
Rohma will almost jealously guard her hidden stash of tea biscuits, unless you are a dear friend who wants to share