Pakistan is a country of foodies, and much of our lives revolve around food (run a search for online food groups and you won’t have any second thoughts). Be it the grandest of festivities or a simple breakfast at home, the focus always remains on food. To that end, we have experimented far and wide with our delicacies and spices, making for the most tantalizing of tastes and nicest of combinations. Having perfected our traditional cuisines, we spare no opportunity in celebrating it wherever we can. And to that end, I present to you the best of the best: here is a list of the top traditional Pakistani cuisines, with a little about their origins and popularity.
I would not recommend reading it on an empty stomach!
1. Chapli Kabab
The Chapli Kabab is renowned and appreciated around the country, and considered almost synonymous to Peshawari cuisine, as it finds its origins in the northwest of Pakistan. It owes its existence to Mughal culinary influences but has found new taste since then. The kabab itself gets its name from the Pashto word chaprikh, meaning “flat”, referring to the kebab’s light, round and flattened shape, in the form of a patty. It is fried in either oil or fat, and consists of ground beef or mutton, cooked with various spices. The kebabs are often served and garnished with parsley, chopped onions and tomatoes, along with other accompaniments such as various chutney sauces, salad, yoghurt or pickles, and often with a healthy smarting of lemon juice. While consumed on a daily basis, it achieves the greatest significance during wedding feasts, and visits to the northwest.
Nihari is a stew consisting of slow-cooked meat, either beef or lamb along with bone marrow. Most recently, chicken varieties of it have also found fame with those who avoid beef or lamb. The name originates from the Arabic word “Nahar“, which means “day” as it was served right after the morning prayers. To this day, it is a favorite breakfast food, especially in Lahore, and many would go as far as to declare it a national dish. The actual origins remain unclear, with some sources pointing to Old Delhi and some to Lucknow, in the late 18th century; it is nontheless another present from the Mughals. Spicy and succulent, Nihari can be considered a staple in our diets.
Biryani is an amalgamation of Basmati rice, vegetables various types of spices, and a choice of meat. The exact origins of this gift to mankind are unknown, with the likely creators residing in either the Muslim centers of Delhi or Lucknow, with both having come up with some variant of the modern-day dish. Biryani is a favorite lunch item especially on Fridays, after the afternoon prayers. The food item is an arsenal of choice employed in Karachi-Lahore banter wars. Weddings also feature biryani heavily, but the quarrels over potato or no potato are perhaps more grave than those over pineapple and pizza. However, Sindhi biryani remains especially popular due to its spicier taste, fragrant rice and delicate meat.
While meat tends to dominate when it comes to the Pakistani palate, certain vegetable dishes do make the cut. Saag is one such food. It is often confused with palak, and both are leaf-based, but palak is made from spinach, while saag consists of mustard leaves. There are plenty of extra spices thrown in there in abundance; and additions such as paneer. A particular favorite of Punjab is Sarson ka saag, which is usually eaten with a Makai ki roti, which is bread of maize flour, yellow in color. The saag is also often topped off with either butter or oil, and makes for a very hearty meal. Potatoes or meat can also be added to the mix, and this dish features on the dinner tables quite often, especially when the hosts are Punjabi.
Sajji is a native dish of the desert province of Balochistan, Pakistan. Sajji consists of whole lamb, and is cooked on skewers, with all the fat and meat still intact while cooking. What sets it apart from other barbequed meat across the country is unique preparation; it is marinated only in salt, and occasionally covered with green papaya paste, keeping the taste of the succulent meat intact and untainted. The lamb itself is first stuffed with rice, herbs and other ingredients, and then slowly roasted over the coals, cooking the rice inside as well. Sajji is the native dish of Balochistan, and is considered fully cooked when it is at the rare stage. In the province, it is served with special bread called Kaak, which is baked in an oven, wrapped around a stone. In other parts of Pakistan, chicken may be substituted for lamb, and a much spicier version may be consumed. The meat is also roasted until it is medium or well-done in most other regions.
6. Halwa Puri
Puri’s are the puffy, deep-fried and much lighter version of bread; they are cooked both at home and ordered in. The delicacies are eaten with Halwa, which is a sweet dish commonly made of either carrots or semolina and garnished with nuts and all kinds of dried fruits. The combination is so celebrated around the country that the meal is altogether called Halwa puri. The food originated in Uttar Pradesh and has kept its place in our hearts ever since. The puri’s are also eaten with channas, which is a fare made with chickpeas. Along with the Halwa, these three together comprise the breakfast of champions, while traditional mango onion pickles, served along with fresh yogurt, are a common accompaniment.
Although not a main course item, Chaat is arguably one of the most popular street foods in Pakistan and a favorite every day snack. The variants of chaat are all somewhat based on fried dough, with a couple of other ingredients thrown in. The original was a mixture of potato pieces, crisp fried bread, gram or chickpeas and a number of spices. It is often topped off with sour home-made chili and yogurt, and garnished with fresh green coriander leaves. This food originated in parts of the subcontinent as well, but has enough modern day variations to bare no resemble to its origins!
These are some of the top Pakistani traditional cuisines. What are your favorites? Share with us, after all, there is no sincere love than the love of food!