Memorable Eatery; Hico Chalet, The Mall, Lahore

By Azam Gill, France (2nd SSC)

Azam Gill

Azam Gill

Hico Chalet probably opened in the late 1950s on the Mall Lahore and quickly became a focal point for families and eventually for unmarried couples. It also caused a controversial buzz to ripple through Lahore. There were strongly defended arguments about how to pronounce ‘chalet’! Apart from its ice cream selection, Hico Chalet sold wonderful little hamburgers in its dark, varnished wood interior and through the takeaway window in its outer wall.

That’s where our parents took us to taste our first hamburger in the early 1960s.


Hico Chalet, the Mall, Lahore in 1959

Of course, Pakistan being Pakistan, it had to be called a beef burger even though it’s called a hamburger because of its origins in the red-light district of Hamburg, and not because of the meat!

Then, of course, there was the issue of how to eat it: with the fingers, or with a knife and fork? If with a knife and fork, remove the top half of the bun or slice right through?

Separating the two halves of the bun diminished the taste: after all, part of the pleasure of eating a hamburger or a nawala wrapped around a boti is just that: succulent meat enfolded in crispy-soft flat bread.

Slicing right through could end up being embarrassing. Done clumsily, parts of the burger might fly beyond the limits of your own table and you would be shown up as a jungly!

For our family, the problem was resolved by Aunty Peggy, our American Aunty. On her authority, she informed us that a burger was almost invariably eaten with the fingers, “”honey”, she concluded with a smile and a wink.

The problem was also solved for the Rahim Bakhshes. Uncle Rahim Bakhsh, a Sessions Judge, had been transferred from Quetta and lived in the predominantly middle class Christian neighbourhood just behind Hico Chalet. One of their children, older than I, is  Brigadier (retd.) Javed Rahim Bakhsh of 28 Cav. The youngest was nicknamed ‘Lucky’, two years my junior. Aunty Rahim Bakhsh had opened an account with Hico Chalet for his afternoon ‘tea’ of coke with ice cream or a burger. If we were there at about that time, everybody else would be chatting, the household help busy, so I was told to take Lucky to Hico Chalet and allowed to have a treat as well! It was invariably vanilla ice cream wrapped in chocolate!

Shortly after that, my father was transferred from Lahore to Sargodha, and then a few years later we were back in Lahore, living in Shah Jamal Colony. I returned to Cathedral High School, my childhood school, old enough to be given pocket-money to manage. So I do remember that in the late sixties a Hico Chalet burger cost eight annas or one rupee.

On the way home on my bicycle, I would often drop my buddy Azhar Usman Changezi (later joined the Army and went to a Lancer unit and became a PW in 1971), son of doctor Afzal, Head of King Edward Medical College’s Pathology Department, brother of Captain Akmal 28 Cav and brother of Hassan Waseem Afzal, former Deputy Chairman of NAB, to his house in GOR 1.

Lawrence Garden, Lahore

Lawrence Garden, Lahore

And on the way, when one of us had the money, we’d buy a burger from the takeaway window in the Hico Chalet’s outer wall and get it sliced in half. Then, whichever one of us was taking his turn cycling would pedal furiously until we reached the then Lawrence Bagh, popularly known as Larsen Bagh in Lahore. There, on a patch of well mown lawn under the thick shade of almost one hundred year old trees, we would eat half a burger each, chat, argue, laugh, exchange tall tales and share our dreams before going home for lunch.

Sometime later, Azhar Usman started feeling embarrassed sitting on the grass-eating half a burger, so I convinced him that he could let me have all of it and not sit but stand, looking in the direction of the Gymkhana Club, pretending he didn’t’ know me, while I ate his half as well for which he had often paid! He happily agreed!

Later on, as my interests diverged, I realized that Hico Chalet, due to its dim interior, was a very nice, safe place to take a girl to. Goes without saying that Dolly agreed, and with a heart of gold, always let me eat a part of the burger on the plate next to mine.

Related Pages:
Lahori Jokes
Nostalgic Articles about Lahore
Lahore Blog

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  1. Khalid Saeed says:

    Mr. Gill,
    Thank you very much for leading us up the memory lane. Absolute nostalgia!
    I remember coming with my dad to HICO ice cream place at the corner of Shahdin building. HICO ice cream in a square cardboard box eaten with small wooden stick was a real treat & I used to dream about it sometimes, whole load of it on a big platter.
    Dolly birds came later at Govt College in early 1970’s and then the places to go to were Capri, Go Go, Cum Cum, etc.
    Does anybody remember Hideout snack bar in Main Market Gulberg? It was a nice place for a date.

    • Azam Gill, France says:

      Khalid Saeed Sahib,
      Thank you for your kind words and reminding me of the square cardboard box.

      I have Haagen Das and other well-established brands, but they don’t seem to be as good as Hico, unless by saying that I’m just defending my own childhood!

      I remember the Hideout very well, where I rarely went due to too many of its customers hanging out in the street with the possibility of an unnecessary and undesired panga!

      The Go Go’s (run by Raja Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Nishan-e-Haider’s brother, I believe) pepper steak, Russian salad and chips and a beef burger rivaled the steaks and beef burgers in trucker’s joints in the USA!

      Wasn’t Cum Cum in Liberty market? They had great speakers and Boney M were the rage in those days, especially if you went to the Cum Cum to eat after a few drinks elsewhere.

      My favourite place to take a girl to was ‘Larsen Bagh’ (Lawrence garden)! Dolly liked it, the shami kebabs of the two restaurants were succulent, and the riot of flowers and their scent set the right scene to convince anybody to go to a less public place or avoid it, you found he right words to do so!

  2. Pure sweet aromatic nostalgia! Down memory lane!
    I remember Hico Chalet fully well as we lived off Beadon Road. You mentioned going to Cathedral School (Hall Road, there was only one at that time). Which years? I was there from 1950 to 1959 (KG to Senior Cambridge).

    • Azam Gill, France says:

      Thank you, Mahmood Sahib, for your kind words. My period at Cathedral High (Kudoo School) is contemporaneous with that of General Hussain Mehdi and Brigadier Javed Hayat Khan, both national level basketball players.

  3. Lt Col (R) Imtiaz Cheema, Canada (48 Long Course) says:

    Dear Azam Gill,
    A beautiful narration, while reading it I felt as if I am sitting there with Rashid Cheema and seeing beauty of the Mall through perhaps the only window which opened that side. It has taken me back to college days and beauties of great city Lahore.
    Very fascinating please keep it up.

  4. Brig (R) Khalid Hassan, USA (2nd SSC) says:

    Gill, it’s a nice piece though quite late this time. After my father’s retirement we lived for some time in Mustafa Abad (old Dharampura). I moved from Garrison Boys High School, Lahore Cantt to Government College, Lahore. My father bought me a brand new Sohrab bicycle to commute the 7 KM route. I followed the Mall and after crossing the canal near Gymkhana Club, then to Lawrence Gardens, Indus Restaurant and Hico Chalet en route. Thank you for rekindling old memories.

  5. Lt Col (R) Qadeer Ahmed Chaudhry (2nd SSC) says:

    Well done Gill, an excellent write up!!!

  6. Tariq Masud says:

    Dear Azam Gill,
    Your beautifully written reminiscences have rekindled many a flames. It was 1957-59, when I was in Law College, Lahore, and then in 1961-62, when at the Civil Service Academy, that I used to visit Hico. During stay in Law college our daily afternoon drill was to come out of our hostel, cross the University (now Old Campus) and start walking from “Kim’s Gun” towards Charing Cross. It was only twice or thrice a month that we had money to buy a cup of tea inside Hico. Rest of the days we just passed whistling “Come September” or other favourite tunes of the day, in front of the Shah Din buildings and return to our hostel. Three of us room mates who did Hico-Yatra every day were Justice (Retd) F.P., Aman Ullah Khan, later employed by U.S Embassy and myself. In 1961-62, money was not the overriding constraint, time was. But it is a matter of record that three of us JQ, AAA and myself visited Hico area almost every day even if it was only touch and go. This August, in Toronto, I reminded AAA of our unflinching determination to visit The Mall everyday.

    Now let me tell you that there was another Hico, a branch perhaps, equally elegant and romantic, in the middle of Gulberg main market. It had the advantage of being away from the probing eyes of regular Mall crowd. Some of the most cherishing memories I have of Lahore are related to that Hico.

    Editor: Gill, Tariq Masud Sahib is a retired Civil Servant. You have written a comment at his article Hostel Life of Gordon College Rawalpindi in Early 1950s in this website.

    • Dear Tariq Masud Sahib,

      I think you are mixing Hico Chalet with Hico Restaurant. Hico Chalet was located just short of Indus Hotel and opposite Lords. It was frequented by students and ‘love birds’ being affordable. But the Hico Restaurant you are talking about was located at Charing Cross in Shah Din’s building and its entrance was on Queens Road. Free Mason Lodge was just opposite it. It was an expensive and elegant eatery, out of reach of students.

      Please reconcile.

      • Azam Gill says:

        Dear Tariq Masud Sahib,
        You have enriched my memories with yours. Thank you, Sir.
        There was a little restaurant, Eskimo Hideout, in Main market, Gulberg, run by a German lady married to a Pakistani. I had friends (Roonie, Bagga, Jimmy, Raboo, Toony, Babar, Kaku, Bawa, etc) around Gulberg Market who used to hang around there quite often, but somehow can’t remember a Hico over there … umar ka taqaza!

        • Tariq Masud says:

          I am talking of 1958-59, when Hico was there at Main Market, Gulberg. It was very much there in the “Round About”, next to a street leading to the interior of Gulberg. Standing in front of Hico, one could read the sign of “Zanobi Hotel” across the “Round About”. I remember it for certain, despite my seventy six years of age because I visited it several times, and that too in memorable company. It was rather expensive but the decor and the service justified the price.

          My knowledge of Gulberg of those days is confined to College of Home Economics, Hico (about which I have just talked), and the cinema which got burnt. If Hico vanished in later years, may be our untiring and resourceful editor, Col Rashid Cheema finds it worth a research venture, like he did in the case of Cafe de Vogue and Super’s of Rawalpindi.

          • Dear Tariq Masud Sahib,
            When I lived in Gulberg (1968-71), the Hico of Main Gulberg was probably closed by then.
            I was actually asking about the mixing up of Hico Chalet and Hico, both on the Mall.

  7. Maj (R) Khalid Saeed Shah (2nd SSC) says:

    It is always a pleasure to read your write-ups. Indebted sir. Yes, ‘Daddy’ has a lot of old memories attached to Lawrence Garden as he had a very thick friend, son of KHATEEB at Lawrence Garden.

    • Lt Col (R) Zafar Mustafa says:

      Dear Khalid,
      You have a wonderful memory. Slight correction — my very dear and close friend from childhood about whom you have mentioned was not the son of KHATEEB but being a Hafiz-e-Quran, his rich and religious business-man father had arranged that he would lead Taraweeh prayers every Ramadan in the mosque located opposite the Open Air Restaurant in Lawrence Gardens. The year was 1955.
      Hope that like me, you would prefer to forget about the post-Taraweeh activities narrated by me in the shuddering cold evenings of Lipa Valley.

      • Maj (R) Khalid Saeed Shah (2nd SSC) says:

        Indeed sir, classified material remains untold. Time spent under your command is just like reading time and again “KIRNAIN” of Late Gen Shafiq ur Rehman. Those classic narrations are precious possession of that era. Many thanks for correcting me and honoring with a reply. Sir, stay blessed always.
        Best Regards.

  8. Lt Col Masood Alam (retd), 2nd SSC says:

    Dear Gill, as usual your write up is wonderful. It makes me remember our Punch Cool in Bohri Bazar, Karachi. It seems that we all share the same childhood. Thanks for sharing such wonderful moments. Regards.

    • Azam Gill says:

      Masood Jee, Thank you, as usual, for your encouraging remarks and I look forward to reading more from you: why not about Punch Cool? I only went to Karachi when I was very small, stayed at Punjab House with my father, got bored, then he took me to a restaurant – ‘Taj’, I think – where a cabaret show started. He got angry, we ate quickly and left!

  9. Major (R) Munir Ahmed ( 2nd SSC) says:

    Dear Gill,
    Reading your write up has always been a pleasure but this one is exceptionally exciting & thrilling. You have an ocean of vocabulary with an excellent art of its appropriate use. It reminds me of my youth days when we would contribute our shares to go for such treats.

    Gill Jee, thank you for sharing a mouth watering article. How nicely you describe so minute details. Thank you for bringing Dolly once again. This might inspire other colleagues to come forward with their experiences.

  10. Brig (R) Riaz Toor says:

    Thank you for reminding and remembering youth days of excitement and thrill. You will agree that good prevailed every where.
    God bless you.

    • Azam Gill says:

      Thank you Toor Jee,
      Compared with now, it does indeed seem that good prevailed everywhere. There was definitely more waza dari, ankh ki sharam, etc. I’m sure these values still exist, but other values occupy a space from which it is getting difficult to dislodge them.

  11. Maj (R) Sajjad Khan (39 PMA) says:

    Thanks a lot, Azam Gill, for writing such a beautiful write up about Lahore of the 60s. And specially the Hico Chalet where we always went to with my parents whenever we visited Lahore. What wonderful days those were.

    Thanks Cheema, for the picture and sharing it.

  12. Ahmed Pervaiz Cheema, a retired Banker says:

    Azam Gill sahib has given a beautiful account of our favourite eatery in 1960s. We visited this place first time in the year 1961 and the following years witnessed the visits to the snack bar a regular feature. We, a group of friends, used to come on foot from “The Quadrangle” Hostel of Government College Lahore to eat ice cream wondering always what the name “HICO” stood for discovering much later that it was the abbreviation of “Happy Ice Cream Company” the only dairy ice cream facility at that time. We would have the delicious dessert on the upper deck of the snack bar in a very friendly and cool environment. Good old days.

    Editor: Gill, Ahmed Pervaiz Cheema is my real uncle.

    • Azam Gill says:

      Ahmed Pervaiz Cheema Sahib,
      Thank you for your gracious comment, and for sharing your own experience. In western style ice cream, Hico stood unmatched. In desi style, it was White Rose Kulfi, initially started by … Pal (Don’t remember his full name), a Hindu and a No. 10 (Dass Numbria) goonda of Lahore. He was also known as Pal cycle wala because unlike goondas of his stature, he modestly went around on a bicycle instead of a car or a tanga. He left Pakistan in the mid or late sixties, selling the business to Haji Pir Bakhsh, part owner of Nemat Kadah, who further improved its kulfi!
      Stay blessed, Choudhary Sahib!

  13. Gill, Buddy you can really weave words into a fine hand-made carpet with all the beautiful colors. In deed a well written prose.

  14. Lt Col [R] Zafar Mustafa (Abdali Coy Comd) says:

    I wish I also had a “nice” friend like Azhar Usman when I was blessed with a young man’s appetite. Gill , it is always a pleasure reading your write-ups.
    Cheema, the picture of Lawrence Garden (actually this part was known as Fatima Jinnah Garden) brought back memories of when Aatish jawan tha!

  15. Lt Col Rashid Zia Cheema (2nd SSC) says:

    Gill, it is an excellent piece about Lahore of 1960s. Wow!! You have a good memory and equally good expression. Keep it up, buddy.
    Your sharing of Dolly’s burger kept her slim!!!! :)
    How do you like the nostalgic photo of Hico Chalet which I found on the Internet just by chance?

    • Azam Gill says:

      Cheema Jee, the nostalgic picture of Hico Chalet hit me in the gut and nearly bowled me over! Big shukria for that!

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