Pakistani cuisine

Pakistani cuisine

Pakistani cuisine (Urdu: پاکستانی پکوان) can be described as a refined blend of various regional cooking traditions of the South Asian subcontinent. Pakistani cuisine is known for its richness and flavour.[1]

Within Pakistan, cuisine varies greatly from region to region, reflecting the country's ethnic and cultural diversity. Food from the eastern provinces of Sindh and the Punjab, as well as the Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir region, is quite similar to the cuisine of Northern India and can be highly seasoned and spicy, which is characteristic of the flavours of the South Asian region. Food in other parts of Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, involves the use of mild aromatic spices and less oil, characterizing affinities to the cuisine of neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia.

International cuisine and fast food are popular in cities. Blending local and foreign recipes (fusion food) such as Pakistani Chinese cuisine, is common in large urban centres. Furthermore, as a result of lifestyle changes, ready made masalas (mixed and ready to use spices) are becoming increasingly popular. However, given the diversity of the people of Pakistan, cuisines generally differ from home to home and may be totally different than the mainstream Pakistani cuisine.


Historical influences

Pakistani national cuisine is the successor of Indo-Aryan culture and Muslim culinary traditions. The earliest formal civilizations were the Mohenjo-daro and Harappan civilizations in present-day Pakistan. At around 3000 BCE, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley,[2] and spices like turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in the region concurrently.[3] For a thousand years, wheat and rice formed the basic foodstuff in the Indus valley.[4]

The arrival of Islam within South Asia, via modern-day Pakistan, influenced the local cuisine to a great degree. Since Muslims are forbidden to eat pork or consume alcohol and the halal dietary guidelines are strictly observed. Pakistanis focus on other areas of food such as beef, lamb, chicken, fish and vegetables as well as traditional fruit and dairy. The influence of Central Asian, South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine in Pakistani food is ubiquitous[citation needed]


Pakistani dishes are known for having aromatic and sometimes spicy flavors, and some dishes often contain liberal amounts of oil which contributes to a richer, fuller mouthfeel and flavour. Brown cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and black pepper are the most commonly used spices in the making of a wide variety of dishes throughout Pakistan. Cumin seeds, chilli powder, turmeric and bay leaves are also very popular. In the Punjab province it is further diluted with coriander powder. Garam Masala (Aromatic spices) is a very popular blend of spices used in many Pakistani dishes.

Regional cuisines



Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA

Pashtun cuisine is very similar to Persian and Afghan cuisine. It consists of rice dishes, kababs...


Muhajir cuisine refers to the food of the Muhajir people who migrated to Pakistan from other areas of the Indian subcontinent.[citation needed] Muhajir cuisine is an amalgamation of several regional Indian cuisines, such as Hyderabadi cuisine, Bihari cuisine, Bengali cuisine, Gujarati cuisine, Maharashtrian cuisine, Rajasthani cuisine and the cuisine of Uttar Pradesh - reflecting the diversity of different Muhajir immigrants and the tastes they brought.



Eating habits

A Punjabi also comes from Sindhi style wooden woven plate for chapatis (flat bread)

Pakistanis generally eat three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During the evening, many families have green tea without sugar which goes along with baked/fried snacks from local bakery (or prepared at home). During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the eating patterns change to: sehri and iftar. It is considered proper to eat only with the right hand as per Islamic tradition (also a tradition in many other Asian cultures). Many Pakistani families, particularly in rural areas, eat their meals served on a cloth known as dastarkhan which is spread out on the floor. In NWFP, many street eateries serve food on a takht, in a style similar to Iran & Afghanistan. A takht is raised platform on which people eat their food sitting cross-legged, after taking their shoes off.


A typical Pakistani breakfast, locally called (nāshtā ناشتہ), consists of: eggs (boiled/scrambled/fried/omelette), a slice of loaf bread or roti, parathas (lachha/qeema/kolcha), sheermal with tea or lassi, qeema (minced meat), fresh seasonal fruits (mangoes, apples, melons, bananas etc.), milk, honey, butter, jam, shami kebab, and nuts. Sometimes breakfast includes baked goods like bakarkhani and rusks. During holidays and weekends, halwa poori and channay are sometimes eaten. In the Punjab, sarson ka saag (mustard leaves) and maaki ki roti (cornbread) is a local favourite. Punjabi people also enjoy khatchapuri, a savory pastry filled with cheese, much like Bosnian Pita. In Karachi, breakfast might even include nihari, paya and Naan. Due to the comparatively high level of physical activity of agricultural and skilled workers, Pakistani breakfasts tend to be very heavy, almost a feast.

A variety of Pakistani dinner cuisines – Starting from the left, gobi aloo, seekh kebab, and beef karahi


A typical Pakistani lunch consists of meat curries or lentils along with rice. Breads such as roti or naan are usually served for dinner but have become common during the day so that rice maybe served for dinner. Popular lunch dishes may include aloo gosht (meat and potato curry) or any vegetable like gobhi, kadoo, teeda or karela with mutton. Chicken dishes like chicken karahi and chicken korma are also popular. Alternatively highway food stops often sell just daal and tandoori roti or masala Okra and chapaattis, which is cheap and filling for people on the move. People who live near the main rivers also eat fish for lunch, which is sometimes cooked in the tandoori style.


Dinner is considered the main meal of the day as the whole family gathers for the occasion. Food which requires more preparation and which is more savoury (such as pulao, kofte, kebabs, keema, korma) are prepared. Lentils and Roti are staple dinnertime menu. These are served with roti or naan along with yoghurt, pickle and salad. The dinner may (not commonly) be followed by dessert ranging from anything from fruit to traditional desserts like kheer, gulab jamun, shahi tukray, gajraila, qulfi or ras malai.


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, railway station and other such places, although they may also be served at restaurants. Some typical snacks are bhala, chaat, chana masala, pakora, and papadum. Others include khatchapuri, pakoras-either neem pakoras, basin pakoras, or chicken pakoras, samosas--vegetable or beef, and eggrolls.

Main courses

Lahori Beef Karahi, served usually with freshly made tandoori naan

In Pakistan, main courses are usually served with wheat bread (either roti or naan), 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.[5] 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.[6] Of all the meats, the most popular are goat or mutton, and chicken. Beef is also eaten, and is particularly sought after as the meat of choice for kebab dishes or the classic beef shank dish nihari. Seafood is generally not consumed in large amounts, though it is[7] very popular in the coastal areas of Sindh and the Makran coast of Balochistan.

Curries, with or without meat, combined with local vegetables such as bitter gourd, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, cabbage, potatoes, rutabaga, saag, and peppers are most common and cooked for everyday consumption. A typical example is aloo gosht or literally "potatoes and meat", a homestyle recipe consisting of a spiced meat and potato stew, and is ubiquitously prepared in many households. 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.


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.

Beans such as black-eyed beans (lobia) and kidney beans (rajma) are sometimes served in a tomato based masala sauce, especially in Punjab.

Barbecue and kebabs

A variety of dishes cooked under the barbecue method
Seekh kebab – one of the famous Pakistani food specialities

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 stuffed with rice, 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 yoghurt. Barbecued food is also extremely popular in some cities of Punjab such as Lahore, Gujranwala and Sialkot. Al-Hamra Restaurant and Bundu Khan kebab House are famous throughout Pakistan for their taste and variety of kebabs. Kebab houses are said to be the most profitable food businesses in Pakistan.

Types of kebabs (mainly made of Beef or Lamb) are:

  • Seekh kebab (Urdu: سيخ کباب) – A long skewer of beef mixed with herbs and seasonings. Takes its name from the skewer.
  • Shami kebab (Urdu: شامي کباب) – A Shami kebab is a small patty of minced beef or chicken and ground chickpeas and spices.
  • Chapli kebab (Urdu: چپلي کباب) – A spiced, tangy round kebab made of ground beef and cooked in animal fat. A speciality of Peshawar in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
  • Chicken kebab (Urdu: مرغ کباب) (Moorgh-Kuh-bob) – A popular kebab that is found both with bone and without.
  • Lamb kebab (Urdu: کبابِ برہ گوشت) – The all lamb meat kebab is usually served as cubes.
  • Bihari kebab (Urdu: بہاری کباب) – Skewer of Beef mixed with herbs and seasoning.
  • Shashlik (Urdu: شیشلیک ) – Grilled baby lamb chops (usually from the leg), typically marinated
  • Bun kebab (Urdu: بن کباب)- A unique kebab sandwich.
  • Shawarma (Urdu: شاورما) – It is usually a kebab or lamb strips in a naan with chutney and salad.
  • Tikka kebab (Urdu: تکہ کباب) – A kebab made of beef, lamb or chicken cut into cubes, marinated with a yogurt blend and grilled on coals.
  • Boti kebab is made from fillet of meat and is popular in Multan. Sometimes marinated with green papaya to help tenderize the meat.

Rice dishes

Pakistan is a major exporter and consumer of rice. Basmati is the most popular type of rice consumed in Pakistan. Dishes made with rice include many varieties of pulao:

  • 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 Bulgur (a kind of roughly milled cracked wheat). Exclusively vegetarian.

Biryani is a very popular dish in Pakistan 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.

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 cardamon. Such rice dishes have their origins in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Varieties of bread

Peshwari Naans made freshly at a tandoor (open oven)

Pakistanis eat breads made of wheat flour as a staple part of their daily diet. Pakistan has a 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. Some of these are:

  • Chapatis – 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. [[Tortilla]s 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.
  • Tandoori 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.
  • Paratha – 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.
  • Naan – In Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, the word Naan means bread. Unlike chapatis, naans are slightly thicker, typically leavened with yeast and mainly made with white flour. Some varieties like the Roghani and Peshawari 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.
  • Kulcha – This is a type of naan usually eaten with chickpeas and potatoes and mostly popular in urban centers of Punjab.
  • Roghani Naan – (lit. Buttered Naan) is a preferred variety of Naan sprinkled with white sesame seeds and cooked with a small amount of oil.
  • Sheermal – 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. 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.
  • Kandahari naan – Long, salty naan originating in Western Pakistan and commonly eaten with Peshawari Karahi or Chapli Kebab.
  • Puri – is a breakfast bread made of white flour and fried. Typically eaten with sweet semolina halwa and/or gravy of (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.


Popular desserts include Peshawari ice cream, sheer khurma, kulfi, falooda, kheer, rasmalai, phirni, zarda, shahi tokray and rabri. Sweetmeats are consumed on various festive occasions in Pakistan. Some of the most popular are gulab jamun, barfi, baklawa, kalakand, jalebi, and panjiri. Pakistani desserts also include a long list of halvah such as multani sohen 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 popular in Pakistan as well as in other parts of South Asia including Afghanistan.

Tea varieties

Kashmiri noon chai with its distinctive pink color

Pakistanis drink a great deal of tea, which is locally called "chai." Both black and green teas are popular and are known locally as "sabz chai" and "kahwah," respectively. Kahwah is often served after every meal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Pashtun belt of Balochistan. 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.


A bottle of Pakistani famous squash drink, Rooh Afza

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 now days with Pakistani meals.

  • Lassi — Milk with yoghurt, with an either sweet or salty taste
  • Gola ganda — Different types of flavours over crushed ice
  • Sugarcane juice (Ganaay ka ras)
  • Lemonade (Nimbu pani)
  • Sherbet
  • Rooh Afza
  • Shikanjabeen - Lemonade with Mint
  • Almond sherbet
  • Sherbet-e-Sandal — Drink made with the essence of sandal wood
  • Kashmiri chai/Gulabi chai — A milky sweet tea known for its pink color
  • Qehwa - Green tea with Cardamom

Foreign influences

Pakistani dishes are also taking a lead in the western direction, as many Pakistanis are trying out new and modern foods. Many westernized restaurants and fast food outlets are dotted in all parts of Pakistan. The Punjab and Sindh provinces, where the majority of urban, western culture has been greatly advanced and has chains of many American, European and British chains in many metropolitan cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Multan, Rawalpindi and many others. Marketing and advertisements have made these a heaven for social and modern spots for all Pakistanis to try out.

Outside Pakistan, Pakistani cuisine is prevalent in countries which have large Pakistani communities. The Balti curry is a British dish that is claimed to have origins in the Kashmir region of Pakistan.

See also


  1. ^ Taus-Bolstad, S (2003), Pakistan in Pictures. Lerner Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8225-4682-5
  2. ^ Diamond 1997, p. 100
  3. ^ "Curry, Spice & All Things Nice: Dawn of History". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  4. ^ Great Silk Road: Pakistani National Cuisine
  5. ^
  6. ^ Global Production and Consumption of Animal Source Foods, The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 133:4048S-4053S, November 2003. Retrieved on 27 March 2007
  7. ^

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