For years now in Montréal, I’ve only been able to find good biryani at friend’s homes. Some would say that’s because proper biryani must be home-made, preferably with love, affection and patience—and eaten immediately.

It’s true that the subtly-oiled grains of basmati do not age gently. Leave them out a few hours and flaky becomes crunchy, an altogether unpleasant quality for most grains of rice. Meanwhile, that ever-essential spice mix harshens up and clove buds and peppercorns emerge from the nest parched.

But here’s the real reason I was relegated to domestic consumption: the biryani cook many experts (and expats) regard as Montréal’s best has never helmed a restaurant. He delivered only on demand, mostly to those in the know, within a small radius downtown. I don’t live downtown. I’m not generally in the know. So I had to rely on one friend–who grew up on the stuff in Pakistan–to make frequent and generous contributions to dinner parties. These mysterious phoned-in biryanis, which arrived quickly and opaquely from the back of a small economy car, became the stuff of legend in our circle of friends.

esb-josh-1But now this legendary biryani recipe has a public dispensary: Étudiant Savoureux Biryani/Student Tasty Biryani (ESB/STB, for “short”).

An uplifting banner – “STB Dedicate to (Peace & Love)” – flies under Halal “Poulet Bronzé” on eternally-evolving Lincoln Ave., a simple counter set inside with six small eat-in tables. You can, of course, take it away as well. Though only two tables were occupied during our visit, a steady stream of lone men (presumably the targeted étudiants on ETB‘s signage) filed out with styrafoam containers.

Here’s the rub: $6 lands you a (generous) portion of chicken biryani. $8 allows you to add on a raita and a Coke. The raita alone is worth the twoonie and then some. Not only does it complete the dish (especially for those with sensitivities to spice), it’s so addictive as to be nearly drinkable on its own. I would suggest they start bottling it.

Is this Montréal’s best chicken biryani?

The biryani itself was supremely harmonious in spicing and very light on oil—a magic blend of chili, tumeric, clove, black pepper, garam masala and who knows what else. The chicken was perfectly tender, and while the potent marinade means that two pieces go a long way, you can order a third for 99 cents. Yes, 99 cents.

I literally devoured my plate, much to the amusement of my friend (who promised that on other trips, he’d had even fresher batches of rice) as well as the two other regular diners.

I won’t deny that there are a few exceptional Pakistani restaurants in town, but there are also several exceptional Pakistani dishes to be had.

But when it comes to biryani made in a resto, this might just be your best best in town.

Address: 1620 Lincoln Ave.

In New York, the United Nations declared July 12 Malala Day in commemoration of Malala Yousafzai, the young teenage activist from Pakistan who turns 16 today. She survived a bullet to the head last October from Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban for inciting girls in Pakistan to pursue higher education.

Prominent diplomats and UN bureaucrats present included former British PM and now UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Yousafzai presented a riveting 17 minute speech of her triumphant, indomitable spirit and unshaken defiance against her country’s Islamic fundamentalist clerics and Taliban militants.

Although it was Malala’s day, she instead became the voice for the “voiceless boys and girls” and for a right many Canadians have taken for granted: education for women.

Although Pakistan’s president stood beside Yousafzai, in northern and rural Pakistan, girls are prohibited from having an education apart from teachings of the Koran. Pakistan’s official estimates peg the overall literacy rate at 46% but only 26% for girls. Independent organizations, however, contend the overall female literacy rate is closer to 12% when excluding those only knowing how to write their names.

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them… One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

Perhaps the most riveting moment of her speech (see video below) was a cri de coeur in defiance against “the terrorists [who] thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”

Yousafzai even offered forgiveness for her would-be assassin citing her road was in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She invoked the philosophy of non-violence of Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.

“And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.”

Although Yousafzai’s lofty mission is indeed worthy of a girl whose bravery and fortitude is equal to that of her cause, Yousafzai herself would be best to lay the foundation for grassroots organizers and institutions to take up her cause. Not only because of immense pressure on one individual but because of the dangers of placing an entire world’s aspiration on one young girl as the symbol of all good changes in Pakistan.

This way, she may have to become Pakistan’s littlest martyr before a paradigm shift occurs in that country. Millennia of persecution of women, including the assassination of Pakistan’s most powerful woman Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, would have to be overcome. It would take more than vacuous UN sentiments to make Malala’s dream a reality.

Yousafazi is flesh and bones, she has already bled for Pakistan and will continue to be a priority target on the Taliban’s kill list. Even an international body like the UN, with its record to protect and defend, cannot guarantee to do so for her and her family.

Malala could soon join ranks with the heroes she has invoked without clear and concrete changes left behind her. Like them, Yousafazi may have to continue making great sacrifices.

Education as Yousafazi insisted is indeed the seed to building a better Pakistan but only vis-à-vis efforts to end violence and corruption in and outside of Pakistan. Pakistan is a pawn in a game between China, Russia and the US. These actors would need to curb their interests which undermine Pakistan’s efforts of development. This means drawing back these nations’ Gulf interests in the region that sponsors perpetual state terror.

The enormity of Yousafazi’s task requires a multilateral solution. One that it is built on peace and compromise, but not without solid bricks and mortar to cement it. A symbol is only effective and indestructible when backed by the pillars of civil society, a defined roadmap strategy with real-time action and the full weight of the international community behind it. This approach proved effective in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Only then will a just and fair society emerge in Pakistan. Should that day come, then Malala Day will serve a dual purpose. But only after the world comes together to end Pakistan’s brutal apartheid against women.

Sign Malala’s petition ending prohibition against girls’ access to education in Pakistan at

Last week, to the amazement of the entire planet, Barack Obama took to the airwaves to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man. Within minutes of Obama’s announcement, Americans took to the streets to celebrate, with chants of “USA, USA, USA” starting up in New York and Washington, much like al-Qaeda chanted “death to America” nearly ten years prior in Afghanistan.

Nearly nine months in the making, Barack Obama finally decided to act on intelligence that bin Laden was held up in a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Navy Seals were sent in on a secret mission even unknown by the Pakistani Government to kill the al-Qaeda leader. What followed in the days after the event was nothing short of ridiculous, reminiscent of the stories about Jessica Lynch & Pat Tillman. At first, Osama was shot while he was shooting at the Navy Seals using his wife as a human shield;  the next day, we learned there was no human shield; the day after, we learned bin Laden was not even armed. I’m not bothered by the fact the bin Laden is dead; it was a long time coming. I don’t think anyone in the West is upset to see him go, though I am troubled, however, by the way that he died. It would have been far more beneficial for the reputation of the United States to have captured him alive.

The Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg trials were held. Photograph: Eddie Worth/AP

Rewind about sixty years when the earth was faced with the worst evil the world has ever seen. When it came to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, they were not hunted down and executed, but rather put on trial first – so that the whole world could see the evil they’ve caused, and the consequences of their actions. In short, Nazis were put on trial to face justice in a court of law; the type of justice that Americans were once proud of, even when those criminals were responsible for the deaths of millions. Instead of a trial for bin Laden, he got a quick double tap to the forehead, followed by a quick burial at sea. Justice was swift, but will soon be forgotten, unlike the way the Americans once again broke international laws in order to conduct a safe and clean assassination. The US Attorney General justified the raid “as an action of national self-defence” against “a lawful military target.” I fail to see, however, how the killing of an unarmed man, regardless of who he is, can be classified as self-defence. If he was a lawful “military” target as the Attorney General suggests, then it is unlawful to kill him before attempting to capture him.

It is also illegal under international law to carry out a military operation on foreign soil without first notifying its government. The Pakistani government was notified only after all US troops had left the site. It would have been a clear violation of the UN charter and Pakistan’s sovereignty were it not for the fact that Pakistan had not objected.

I thought for a moment that when King George II retired from office and Obama got elected, things might go back to the way they once were – when justice didn’t mean an automatic bullet to the head. Instead, Obama went the way of his predecessors by looking for that quick solution to a larger problem. I think the operation’s main objective was managed poorly, and it won’t hide the shame of a country that has yet to find its way.

Rest in Hell Osama.

The Osama Compound In Abbottabad, Pakistan