Pakistani cuisine is a refined blend of various regional cooking traditions of South Asia. Pakistani cuisine is known for its richness, having aromatic and sometimes spicy flavors, and some dishes often contain liberal amounts of oil which contributes to a richer, fuller mouthfeel and flavour. It is very similar to Indian cuisine but a lot meatier and has some Afghan, Central Asian and Persian influences, there is a good chance that you’d have tasted it in your country as Indian food and Pakistan food often served together in a restaurant. Cuisine in Pakistan varies greatly from region to region. The “Pakistani food” served by many so-called Pakistani or Indian restaurants in the Western hemisphere is inspired by specifically Mughlai cuisine, a style developed by the royal kitchens of the historical Mughal Empire, and the regional cuisine of the Punjab, although degree of authenticity in relation to actual Mughlai or Punjabi cooking is sometimes variable at best and dubious at worst. Within Pakistan, cuisine varies greatly from region to region, reflecting the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Food from the eastern provinces of Punjab and Sindh and Mughlai cuisine are similar to the cuisines of Northern India and can be highly seasoned and spicy with vegetarian options, which is characteristic of the flavours of the South Asian region. Food in other parts of Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, involves the use of mild aromatic spices with more meat and less oil, similar to the cuisines of neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia. Due to Muslim beliefs, pork is a banned item in Pakistan and is neither consumed nor sold.
Pakistani main course foods which mostly consist of curry dishes are eaten with either flatbread — also called wheat bread — or rice. Salad is generally taken as a side dish with the main course, rather than as an appetizer beforehand. Assorted fresh fruit or sometimes desserts are consumed at the end of a meal. Meat plays a much more dominant role in Pakistani food compared to other South Asian cuisines. According to a 2003 report, an average Pakistani consumed three times more meat than an average Indian. Of all the meats, the most popular are goat or mutton, beef and chicken, particularly for kebab dishes or the classic beef shank dish nihari. Seafood is generally not consumed in large amounts. Food tends range from mild to spicy depending on where you are and who your cook is. So state your preference before beginning to eat. In general, most of the food that you find in the high end hotels is also available in the markets (but European-style food is generally reserved for the former).
Pakistani food has a well-deserved reputation for being hot, owing to the Pakistani penchant for the liberal use of a variety of spices, and potent fresh green chilis or red chili powder that will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated. The degree of spiciness varies widely throughout the country: Punjab food is famously fiery, while Northern Areas cuisine is quite mild in taste.
To enjoy the local food, start slowly. Don’t try everything at once. After a few weeks, you can get accustomed to spicy food. If you would like to order your dish not spicy, simply say so. Most visitors are tempted to try at least some of the spicy concoctions, and most discover that the sting is worth the trouble.
Cuisine in Pakistan varies greatly from region to region. Culinary art in Pakistan comprises a mix of Iranian, Afghan, Indian, and Central Asian influences that reflect the country’s history as well as the variation of cooking practices from across the country. Urban centres of the country offer an amalgamation of recipes from all parts of the country, while food with specific local ingredients and tastes is available in rural areas and villages. Besides the main dishes of salan, with or without meat and cooked with vegetables or lentils, there are a number of provincial specialities such as karahi, biryani, and tikka, in various forms and flavours, eaten alongside a variety of breads such as naan, chapati, and roti.
Pakistani cuisine is a blend of cooking traditions from different regions of the Indian subcontinent, originating from the royal kitchens of sixteenth-century Mughal emperors. It has similarities to North Indian cuisine, although Pakistan has a greater variety of meat dishes. Pakistani cooking uses large quantities of spices, herbs and seasoning. Garlic, ginger, turmeric, red chilli and garam masala are used in most dishes, and home cooking regularly includes curry. Chapati, a thin flat bread made from wheat, is a staple food, served with curry, meat, vegetables and lentils. Rice is also common; it is served plain or fried with spices and is also used in sweet dishes.
Varieties of bread:
Pakistan is wheat growing land, so you have Pakistani breads (known as roti), including chapatti (unleavened bread), paratha (pan-fried layered roti), naan (cooked in a clay tandoori oven), puri (deep-fried and puffed up bread), and many more. A typical meal consists of one or more gravy dishes along with rotis, to be eaten by breaking off a piece of roti, dipping it in the gravy and eating them together. Most of the Pakistani heartland survives on naan, roti, rice, and lentils (dal), which are prepared in several different ways and made spicy to taste. Served on the side, you will usually find spiced yogurt (raita) and either fresh chutney or a tiny piece of exceedingly pungent pickle (achar), a very acquired taste for most visitors — try mixing it with curry, not eating it plain.
Pakistanis eat breads made of wheat flour as a staple part of their daily diet. Pakistan has a wide variety of breads, often prepared in a traditional clay oven called a tandoor. The tandoori style of cooking is common throughout rural and urban Pakistan and has strong roots in neighboring Iran and Afghanistan as well.
The types of flatbread (collectively referred to as Naan) are:
- Naan – A soft and thick flat bread that often requires special clay ovens (tandoor) and cannot be properly made on home stoves. Typically leavened with yeast and mainly made with white flour. Some varieties like the Roghani and Peshwari may also be sprinkled with sesame seeds. Naans are seldom, if ever, made at home since they require tandoor based cooking and require prep work. Numerous varieties of plain as well as stuffed naans are available throughout Pakistan and each region or city can have their own specialty. Naan is a versatile bread and is eaten with almost anything. For instance, ‘saada naan’ or ‘plain naan’ are often served with Sri-Paya (Cow’s head and totters) or Nihari (slow cooked beef stew) for breakfast in many parts of the country. It is recognized by its larger, white exterior.
- Roti – These are extremely popular all over Pakistan. Tandoori rotis are baked in a clay oven called tandoor and are consumed with just about anything. In rural Pakistan, many houses have their own tandoors while the ones without use a communal one. In urban Pakistan, bread shops or “nanbai”/”tandoor” shops are fairly common and supply fresh, tandoor baked breads to household customers as well. A homemade bread that doesn’t have as much flavor as naan. It is a cheap alternative that is ready in minutes.
- Chapatti – A homemade bread, much thinner then naan and usually made out of unrefined flour, and which is ready in minutes. Most common bread made in urban homes where a tandoor is not available. Chapatis are cooked over a flat or slightly convex dark colored pan known as ‘tava’. Chapatis are made of whole wheat flour and are thin and unleavened. Tortillas are probably the most common analogous to chapatis, though chapatis are slightly thick. A variant, known as ‘romali roti’ (lit: handkerchief bread) is very thin and very large in size.
- Paratha – An extremely oily version of the roti. Usually excellent if you’re going out to eat, but beware of health concerns; often it is literally dripping with oil because it is meant to be part of a rich meal. Paratha is more declicious if you cook it in pure oil like “desi ghee”. A flat, layered bread made with ghee and generally cooked on a ‘tava’. However, a ‘tandoor’ based version is also common in rural areas. Parathas are very similar to pastry dough. Parathas most likely originated in the Punjab where a heavy breakfast of parathas with freshly churned butter and buttermilk was commonly used by the farmers to prepare themselves for the hard day of work ahead. However, parathas are now a common breakfast element across the country. Along with the plain layered version, many stuffed versions such as ‘Aloo ka Paratha’ (Potato Stuffed Parathas), ‘Mooli ka Paratha’ (Radish stuffed parathas) and ‘Qeemah stuffed paratha’ (Ground meat stuffed paratha) are popular.
- Sheer Mal – This is a slightly sweetened, lightly oiled bread that has waffle-like squares punched in it. It is often considered the most desirable bread and is a delicacy to most people. Often paired with nihari. Another breakfast version of sheermal is very much like the Italian Panettone (albeit in a flat naan-like shape) with added dried fruits and candy. It is a festive bread prepared with milk (‘sheer’) and butter with added candied fruits. Sheermal is often a vital part of food served in marriages, along with taftan. It is often sweetened and is particularly enjoyed by the kids.
- Taftan – Much like the ‘sheer mal’ but with a puffed-up ring around it. This is a leavened flour bread with saffron and small amount of cardamom powder baked in a tandoor. The Taftan made in Pakistan is slightly sweeter and richer than the one made in neighboring Iran.
- Kulcha – This is a type of naan usually eaten with chickpeas and potatoes and mostly popular in urban centres of Punjab.
- Roghani Naan – (lit. Buttered Naan) It is a preferred variety of Naan sprinkled with white sesame seeds and cooked with a small amount of oil.
- Puri – This is a breakfast bread made of white flour and fried. Typically eaten with sweet semolina halwa and/or gravy (made out of chickpeas and potatoes). Puri is a fairly urban concept in Pakistan and puris are not part of rural cuisine anywhere in Pakistan. However, Halwa Puri has now become a favored weekend or holiday breakfast in urban Pakistan where it is sometimes sold in shift carts or in specialty breakfast shops.
As you might have noticed, ‘Naan’ is usually used to pick up liquid and soft foods like shorba in curries and beans. Forks and knives not commonly used during meals in Pakistan (unless someone is eating rice or is dining out). Attempting to cut a naan with a knife may elicit some amusement around you. Watching others may help.
There are too many shorbas, or sauces/soups, to enumerate.
Popular and commons veg dishes are:
- Daal – Yellow (made of yellow/red lentils) or brown (slightly sour) lentil “soup”. Usually not very spiced. Common to all economic classes.
- X + ki sabzi – A vegetarian mixture with ‘X’ as the main ingredient.
Other dishes include Aloo gobi, Baingan, Karela, Bhindi and Saag.
Various kinds of pulses, or legumes, make up an important part of the Pakistani dishes. While lentils (called daal), and chick peas (called channa) are popular ingredients in homestyle cooking, they are traditionally considered to be an inexpensive food sources. Because of this reason, they are typically not served to guests who are invited for dinner or during special occasions. Combining meat with lentils and pulses, whether in simple preparations or in elaborate dishes such as haleem, is also a distinctively Pakistani touch not commonly seen in neighbouring India where a substantial number of its population are vegetarians.
- Haleem – Thick stew-like mix of tiny chunks of meat or chicken, lentils and wheat grains.
Pakistan is a major consumer of rice. Basmati is the most popular type of rice consumed in Pakistan. Rice dishes are very popular throughout Pakistan. The rice dishes are sometimes eaten mixed with other dishes. The most simple dish of Pakistani cuisine is Plain cooked rice (Chawal) eaten with Dal (Lentil). Khichdi is Plain cooked rice cooked with Dal. The Karhi chawal is Plain cooked rice eaten with Karhi.
Biryani is a very popular dish in Pakistan, is cooked with pieces of beef, lamb, chicken, fish or shrimp. and has many varieties such as Lahori and Sindhi biryani. Tahiri, which is also a form of vegetarian biryani, is also popular. All of the main dishes (except those made with rice) are eaten alongside bread. To eat, a small fragment of bread is torn off with the right hand and used to scoop and hold small portions of the main dish. Pickles made out of mangoes, carrots, lemon, etc. are also commonly used to further spice up the food. Biryani smells more nice from the saffron and other seasonings added. In the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, feasts using mountains of spiced rice combined with pieces of slowly roasted lamb are often served for guests of honour. These kind of pulaos often contain dried fruit, nuts, and whole spices such as cloves, saffron and cardamom. Such rice dishes have their origins in Central Asia and the Middle East.
- Murgh pulao – Chicken and stock added. Creates a brown rice.
- Yakhni pulao – Meat and stock added. Creates a brown rice.
- Matar pulao – Pulao made with peas.
- Maash pulao – A sweet and sour pulao baked with mung beans, apricots and bulghur (a kind of roughly milled cracked wheat). Exclusively vegetarian.
Meat plays a much more dominant role in Pakistani cuisine compared to the other South Asian cuisines and is a major ingredient in most of the Pakistani dishes. The meat dishes in Pakistan include: bovine, ovine, poultry and seafood dishes. The meat is usually cut in 3 cm cubes and cooked as stew. The minced meat is used for Kebabs, Qeema and other meat dishes. Of all the meats, the most popular are goat or mutton, beef and chicken and is particularly sought after as the meat of choice for kebab dishes or the classic beef shank dish nihari. The meat dishes are also cooked with pulses, legumes and rice.
Tandoori chicken, prepared in a clay oven called a tandoor, is probably the best-known Pakistani dish originated in Pakistani Punjab.
The variety is endless, but here are a few examples:
- Roasted Chicken (whole) – A whole chicken roasted locally known as ‘charga’ locally.
- Aloo Gosht (Potatoes and Meat) – Chunks of potato and goat meat in gravy. Levels of spice vary. One example of a generic dish that includes most things + Gosht(meat).
- Nihari- Beef simmered for several hours. A delicacy often eaten with Nan, Sheer Mal, or Taftan. Few people will have this available without spice. Eat with lemon, fried onion and caution: it is one of the spiciest curries. Thick gravy made from local spices. Is made with both chicken and beef. Is oily and spicy. Available mostly everywhere.
- Paye – or ‘Siri Paye’ is a stew of goat/beef/mutton bones (typically hooves, skull) and bone marrow. Extremely nutritious and generally eaten for breakfast with naan. Very, very wet salan, often served in a bowl or similar dish. Eat by dipping pieces of naan in it, maybe finishing with a spoon. Can be hard to eat.
- Korma is a classic dish of Mughlai origin made of either chicken or mutton, typically eaten with nan or bread and is very popular in Pakistan.
Barbecue and kebabs:
Meat and grilled meat has played an important part in Pakistan region for centuries. Sajji is a Baluchi dish from Western Pakistan, made of lamb with spices, that has also become popular all over the country. Another Balochi meat dish involves building a large outdoor fire and slowly cooking chickens. The chickens are placed on skewers which are staked into the ground in close proximity to the fire, so that the radiant heat slowly cooks the prepared chickens. Kebabs are a staple item in Pakistani cuisine today, and one can find countless varieties of kebabs all over the country. Each region has its own varieties of kebabs but some like the Seekh kebab, Chicken Tikka, and Shami kebab are especially popular varieties throughout the country. Generally, kebabs from Balochistan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tend to be identical to the Afghan style of barbecue, with salt and coriander being the only seasoning used. Regional kebab recipes from Karachi and the wider Sindh region is famous for its spicy kebabs, often marinated in a mixture of spices, lemon juice and yogurt. Barbecued food is also extremely popular in some cities of Punjab such as Lahore, Gujranwala and Sialkot.
Pakistani cuisine is rich with different kebabs. Meat including beef, chicken, lamb and fish is used in kababs. Some popular kebabs are:
- Chicken Tikka – Barbequed chicken with a spicy exterior. Looks like a huge, red chicken leg and thigh. For all meat lovers. Is available most anywhere.
- Seekh Kebab – A long skewer of minced beef mixed with herbs and seasonings.
- Shami Kebab – A round patty of seasoned beef and lentils, softer than seekh kababs.
- Chapli Kebab – A spicy round kabab that is a specialty of Peshawar.
- Chicken Kabab – A popular kabab that is found both with bone and without.
- Lamb Kabab – The all lamb meat kabab is usually served as cubes.
- Bihari kebab – Skewer of beef mixed with herbs and seasoning.
- Tikka kebab – A kebab made of beef, lamb or chicken, cut into cubes, marinated with a yogurt blend and grilled on coals.
- Boti kebab – A kebab made from fillet of meat. Sometimes marinated with green papaya to help tenderize the meat.
- Shawarma – It is usually a kebab or lamb strips in a naan with chutney and salad.
- Shashlik – Grilled baby lamb chops (usually from the leg), typically marinated
Other dishes include Chargha, Dhaga kabab, Gola kebab, Reshmi kebab and Sajji.
Popular desserts include Peshawari ice cream, Sheer Khurma, Kulfi, Falooda, Kheer, Rasmalai, Phirni, Zarda, Shahi Tukray and Rabri. Sweetmeats are consumed on various festive occasions in Pakistan. Some of the most popular are gulab jamun, barfi, ras malai, kalakand, jalebi, and panjiri. Pakistani desserts also include a long list of halvah such as multani, sohan halvah, and hubshee halvah.
Kheer made of roasted seviyaan (vermicelli) instead of rice is popular during Eid ul-Fitr. Gajraila is a sweet made from grated carrots, boiled in milk, sugar, green cardamom, and topped with nuts and dried fruit and is very popular in the country during winter season.
- Enjoy a variety; ice cream can be found in an abundance of flavours such as the traditional pistachio flavoured Kulfi;
- Falooda is tasty rosewater dessert and is a popular summer drink throughout the country. Traditional ice-cream known as ‘kulfi’ mixed with vermicelli, pistachio nuts and flavored with rose-water. Most ice-cream shops have their own versions.
- Shirini or Mithai: is the generic name for a variety of sweet treats in Pakistan. The sweets are extremely popular in Pakistan and called different things depending on where you go. Eat small chunks at a time, eating large pieces can be rude and will generally be too sweet.
- Kulfi is a very traditional made ice-cream mixed with cream and different types of nuts.
- If you want to go to some ice-cream parlours, there are some good western ice-cream parlours in Lahore like “Polka Parlor” “Jamin Java” “Hot Spot”. For traditional ice creams, the ‘Chaman’ ice cream parlour across town is quite popular.
- Halwa is a sweet dessert. Halwa comes in different styles such as made of eggs, carrots, flour or dry fruits. The halwas are made from semolina, ghee and sugar, garnished with dried fruits and nuts. Carrot halwa (called gaajar ka halwa) is also popular, as is halva made from tender bottle gourds and chanay ki daal. Karachi halva is a speciality dessert from Karachi,
- Firni or Kheer is similar to vanilla custard though prepared in a different style. the Sohan Halwa is also famous in the country. Equally famous is Habshi halwa, a dark brown milk-based halwa.
- Gulab jamun — a cheese-based dessert. It is often eaten at festivals or major celebrations such as marriages, on happy occasions and Muslim celebrations of Eid ul-Fitr.
Apart from local restaurants, international fast food chains have also popped up throughout Pakistan. They include, KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Nandos, Mr.Cod, Papa Johns, Dominoes etc. There are more European chains than North American.
Snacks (Pakistani fast food):
Pakistani snacks comprise food items in Pakistan that are quick to prepare, spicy, usually fried, and eaten in the evening or morning with tea or with any one of the meals as a side-dish. A given snack may be part of a local culture, and its preparation and/or popularity can vary from place to place. These snacks are often prepared and sold by hawkers on footpaths, bazaars, railway stations and other such places, although they may also be served at restaurants. Some typical snacks are dahi bhala, chaat, chana masala, Bun kebab, pakora, and papar. Others include katchauri, pakoras-either neem pakoras or besan (chickpea) pakoras,gol gappay, samosas—vegetable or beef, bhail puri or daal seu and egg rolls. Nuts, such as pistachios and pine nuts, are also often eaten at home. These snacks often smaller than a regular meal, generally eaten between meals.
Tap water can be unsafe for drinking. However, some establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water is safe to drink. Packed drinking water, normally called mineral water in Pakistan, is a better choice. As for bottled water, make sure that the cap’s seal has not been broken, otherwise, it is a tell tale sign of tampering or that unscrupulous vendors reuse old bottles and fill them with tap water, which is generally unsafe for foreign tourists to drink without prior boiling. Bottled water brands like Aquafina (by PepsiCo) and Nestle are widely available and costs Rs 80 for a 1.5 litre bottle. At semi-urban or rural areas, it may be advisable to ask for boiled water.
The taste of the water is said to be very good in the north-eastern side of Pakistan, especially in Swat, Kaghan and Gilgit. Ask for bottled water wherever possible, and avoid anything cold that might have water in it.
Try a local limca cola, which makes a “pop” sound when opened. Pakola, Pakistan’s premier soft drink brand, is available in flavours of Ice cream soda, Lychee, Orange, Raspberry, Apple Sidra, Vino, Double cola and Bubble up. Try Lassi, which is a classic yoghurt drink served either plain or sweet and sometimes flavoured or even fused with fresh fruit. Rooh-Afza, a red-coloured, sweet, herbal drink. Sugar Cane Juice — which is extracted by mechanical force — is best when served fresh. You might also love the Falouda and Gola Ganda, which include various kinds of syrups in crushed ice.
Tea (or Chai as it is referred to in Pakistan) is popular throughout the country.
Both black and green tea (Sabz chai or qahvah) are common and are traditionally drunk with cardamom and lots of sugar. Lemon is optional but recommended with green tea.
Kashmiri chai (Pink Tea), a traditional tea beverage from Kashmir, is a milky tea with pistachios, almonds and nuts added to give additional flavour. This tea is very popular during weddings, special occasions and in the cold season.
Coffee is also available in all cities.
In the warmer southern region, sweet drinks are readily available throughout the day. Look for street vendors that have fruits (real or decorations) hanging from their roofs. Also, some milk/yogurt shops serve lassi. Ask for meethi lassi for a sweet yogurt drink and you can also get a salty lassi which tastes good and is similar to the Arabic Laban if you are having “bhindi” in food or some other rich dish. There is also a sweet drink called Mango Lassi which is very rich and thick, made with yogurt, mango pulp, and pieces of mango.
Alcohol (both imported and local) is available to non-Muslim foreigners at off licenses and bars in most top end hotels. The local alcoholic beer is manufactured by Murree Brewery (who also produce non-alcoholic beverages including juices). It is prohibited for Muslims to buy, possess or consume alcohol in Pakistan. There is a huge black market across the country and the police tend to turn a blind eye to what is going on in private. In Karachi and other parts of Sindh, the alcohol can be purchased from designated liquor shops. If you are a foreigner and looking for alcohol, you can contact customer department at Murree Brewery for assistance by telephone at. +92 051-5567041-7.
Pakistanis drink a great deal of tea, which is locally called chai in most Pakistani languages and everywhere you can get tea from one variety or another. Both black with milk and green teas are popular and are popular in different parts of Pakistan. It is one of the most consumed beverages in Pakistani cuisine. Different regions throughout the country have their own different flavours and varieties, giving Pakistani tea culture a diverse blend.
- In Karachi, the strong presence of Muhajir cuisine has allowed the Masala chai version to be very popular.
- Doodh Pati Chai is thick and milky. It is made by cooking tea leaves with milk and sugar and sometimes cardamom for fragrance. Extremely sweet, this is a local variation of a builder’s tea. It is more preferred in Punjab.
- “Sabz chai” and “kahwah”, respectively. Kahwah is often served after every meal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Pashtun belt of Balochistan and with saffron and nuts in Kashmir.
- Sulaimani chai is black tea served with lemon.
- Kashmiri chai or “noon chai”, a pink, milky tea with pistachios and cardamom, is consumed primarily at special occasions, weddings, and during the winter when it is sold in many kiosks.
- In northern Pakistan (Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan), salty buttered Tibetan style tea is consumed.
Biscuits are often enjoyed with tea.
Besides tea, there are other drinks that may be included as part of the Pakistani cuisine. All of them are non-alcoholic as the consumption of alcohol is prohibited by Islam. During the 20th century, drinks such as coffee and soft drinks have also become popular in Pakistan. It is very common to have soft drinks nowadays with Pakistani meals. istani meals.
- Lassi – Milk with yoghurt, with an either sweet or salty taste. Lassi is a traditional drink in the Punjab region
- Gola ganda – Different types of flavours over crushed ice
- Sugarcane juice (Ganney ka ras) — In summer, you can get fresh sugarcane juice in many places and even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties. Be careful as fresh juice may contain many germs besides unhygienic ice. The juice vendors do not always clean their equipment properly and do not wash the fruits either.
- Lemonade (Nimbu pani)
- Sherbet (A syrup mixed in water)
- Sikanjabeen – Lemonade (Mint is also added)
- Almond sherbet
- Sherbet-e-Sandal – Drink made with the essence of sandal wood
- Kashmiri chai/Gulabi chai – a milky tea known for its pink colour, with an either sweet or salty taste
- Sathu – Famous drink from Punjab
- Thaadal – A sweet drink from Sindh
- Sardai – Mixture of different nuts and kishmish.
- Sattu – famous drink in lahore