Contributed by Munaza Kazmi
Munaza Kazmi holds MPhil in Management Sciences, is a travel writer, an author, and a co-author of scientific contributions in national and international publications.
Joined by China, Afghanistan, Iran and India – and with a population of more than 200 million people – it’s no surprise that Pakistan is a country of geographical and linguistic diversity. However, there’s common ground to be found in the cuisine. Overall Pakistanis are passionate about their cuisine, which is full of flavor and bursting with color. And they just love eating! We have foods for different occasions and from different regions.
However, a habit from colonial-past, Pakistan is a nation of tea lovers, and there are several varieties of tea offered – from Kawa, Karak Chai, Masala Chai to Gulabi Chai, adding tea leaves into the boiling water. Tea is a social drink bringing everyone together, often served with savory dishes such as samosa, pakora or paratha.
These easy-to-make crispy, fried fritters are a classic finger food served as a starter or a side dish with the sweet cup of tea. Also, it’s our favorite dish in the month of Ramazan. Vegetables are thinly sliced before being soaked in a seasoned and spiced gram flour batter and then fried for a few minutes. Grab them while they are hot! If you prefer a meatier option, chicken pakoras are also on menu.
Abroad, bread is often eaten cold, but here it’s always hot and comes with different flavors. Pakistanis make a range of perfect melt-in-your-mouth flatbreads including roti and naans but the paratha, made with clarified butter or ghee is a particularly delicious indulgence. Eaten for breakfast, you can go for the plain option, but there are also various fillings to choose from including mincemeat, potato, spinach, cauliflower etc.
There are many types of kebabs in the Pakistani cuisine such as the popular seekh kebab, which is ground meat grilled on skewers. Highly favored is the chapli kebab; its name is derived from the Pashto word “chaprikh” which means “flat” and named for the flat shape of minced meat slices, a dish of the North – you can taste the flavors of coriander and pomegranate seeds in this tasty recipe. The shami kebab comprises small patties made with minced meat mixed with split chickpeas, finely chopped onion, mint, green chilli and egg to hold it all together.
A popular street food that has its roots in Bangladesh, it was once sold by cart-pushing vendors. However, with the growing trend of fast food restaurants, you can enjoy this snack along with the ambience of the restaurant. The round shell is made with semolina and fried. Once it cools and becomes brittle, a hole is created and filled with a mixture of tamarind chutney, chilli, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas. It is served with a bowl of spicy tamarind dip.
The dish was created in the royal kitchens of the 16th-19th century Mughal Empire by Beghum Mumtaz Mahal to serve a delicious, nutritious and wholesome meal to the soldiers in her husband Emperor Shahjahan’s army. Today it is among the most celebrated dishes in Pakistan and often served on special occasions. Biryani is made with lamb or beef, but the chicken biryani is a favorite although Karachi is famous for the bone marrow biriyani. The meat and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together with an assortment of spices.
Although Kabuli Pulao is a specialty of Afghan cuisine, it is very common in Pakistan. Kabul’s families made it with tender meat, raisins, nuts, rice and caramelized carrots. The Silk Road traders brought it from Afghanistan to western Pakistan, and it gradually spread throughout the country.
From the Arabic word “narha” meaning “morning”, nihari is a must-have breakfast dish. It used to be left to simmer and cook overnight to be served at sunrise. Logically it’s so rich that surely it will fill your stomach. Born in Old Delhi, the dish includes lamb shanks, mutton, and bone marrow as the main complements. It is also usually served with rice or naan.
Served mostly for breakfast and lunch, it is a popular dish during Holy Muharram and is consumed in the Middle East, Indian sub-continent, and Central Asia. Warm and comforting, this dish is a combination of lentils, wheat, barley and minced beef, slow-cooked overnight in gentle spices to get the sticky consistency.
This warming goat curry, with a soup-like consistency, is often eaten on cold winter mornings. Slow-cooking it will ensure that all the spices have infused into the perfectly tender meat.
Halwa poori and channa
An essential part of Punjabi breakfast, the poori, which is light and fluffy, is served with the rich tasting halwa and chickpea curry.
For lovers of chicken, Chargha is a fantastic meal; it combines chicken, spices, and yogurt to make a distinctive and delicate flavor. Its name “Chargha” is from Pushto, meaning “chicken” and it is an invention in the city of Lahore in Pakistan. You can choose from the Tandoori Chargha version with roasted chicken or the traditional deep-fried version.
This is traditional Balochi dish and my favorite. The whole mutton is cooked very slowly on a mud furnace by first stuffing it with carrots and raisin rice. The aroma and taste are worth the wait!
This mild and delicious recipe has its origin in the Royal Mughal kitchens, requiring lamb shanks to be steamed for about 6-7 hours in dough-sealed pot along with seasonal vegetables and salt. It is served mostly with white rice. You can have this dish in Peshawar or any desi restaurant across Pakistan.
If you are vegetarian, Pakistani cuisine offers a variety of delicious treats including Kadhi Pakora. This delicious yogurt curry is a combination of gram flour, fritters and spices that will add much flavor to this food. The smooth and consistent texture will make your taste buds fall in love with this dish. The recipe originates in Rajasthan; it is a popular dish in both Pakistan and India. It is often combined with rice or roti for dinner.
This is another vegan delight – tasty, simple, and quick to make. A masala base is created by frying onions, tomatoes, with spices, and mixing with roasted eggplant before placing in the oven; this gives the dish a smoky flavor.
A simple dish of lentils served with cumin rice, mostly common in Punjab. When the lentils are thoroughly cooked, the tarka is applied: onions, cumin seeds and crushed garlic cloves are fried until brown in a separate pan and added to the lentils without stirring. It makes a sizzling sound as the tarka mixture hits the lentils.
Gajrela is made with grated carrots, nuts, milk, sugar, boiled eggs, khoya, and clarified butter. This flavorful dessert often makes an appearance at weddings.
Dating back to Mughal India, this was a favorite of the Emperors. An eye-catching multicolor dessert made with sugar, milk, sweet meat, food coloring, flavored with cardamoms, raisins, pistachios, and various dry-fruits.
Another dessert eaten at weddings or on Eid al Fitr, the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, this sweet dish is slow-cooked using milk, vermicelli, sugar, infused with cardamom and topped with crushed pistachios.
I am sure you have found another reason to visit Pakistan. Have a nice holiday.