The food in Pakistan is a mixture of regional cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine and Indian cuisine and defining cuisine that is Pakistani is often difficult because Pakistani cuisine has so much in common with foods of other cultures. Pakistani food tends to be less hot and spicy than Indian food, in part because yoghurt is often added and it has a neutralizing effect on hot chilies and curries.

Pakistani cuisine varies a great deal from region to region. What people eat is often determined by their religion, caste, ethnic group and home region. Different groups have different prohibitions against certain spices, meats and vegetables. Particular castes have koskerlike rules and different methods of food preparation that continue today even when the caste itself has largely disappeared. .

Most meals feature a selection of meat and poultry dishes served in a variety of spicy sauces. Meat dishes are generally made with lamb, mutton, goat or chicken. Dishes made pork are generally not found as Muslims, which make 97 percent of population of Pakistan, don't eat pork though wild boar is available in Islamabad and north if you know where to look. Dishes made with beef are rare. Hindus don't eat beef (even though few Hindus live in Pakistan now, the tradition remains from a time when many Muslims lived in the same villages with Hindus). When beef is served it often comes from water buffalo.

Meats comes from animals that have been killed and prepared using the Muslim “halal” method. Near the sea you can get a wide variety of seafood. Freshwater fish comes from the Indus River, other rivers and lakes but may not be safe healthwise. Vegetarian dishes are available but not as common as in India. They are associated with poor people or are served as side dishes.

Common spices for Pakistani cooking include chili powder, tumeric, saffron, onions, coriander, red and black pepper, cardamom, sesame, and poppy seeds. Cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, and tart-sweet tamarind are also commonly featured. Saffron, cloves, cinnamon and rose water are used to flavor rice. Curry is almost as common in Pakistan as India. Pakistani curries tend to be less spicy that Indian ones. Curry is a mix of spices; sometimes more than 30 of them. Turmeric is often featured in curry.

Dishes are often embellished or garnished with fried onions, raisins, chesnuts, almond slivers, pistachios, boiled greens, sliced tomatoes or shredded lettuce. Walnuts and apricots are common in the north. Rice is often served along with a spiced yoghurt sauce known as “raita”. Raita made with cucumber and mint is particularly common..Using yogurt to marinate meats is a common practice.

Main Ingredients in Pakistani Food

According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World”: As a whole, milk, lentils, seasonal sabzi (vegetables), and flour and wheat products are the most abundant foods, forming the basis of Pakistani cuisine. Chapatis is a flat bread made from wheat and is a staple at most meals. It is used to scoop up food in place of eating utensils. Vegetables such as alu (potatoes), gobhi (cabbage), bhindi (okra), channa (chickpeas), and matar (peas) are eaten according to the season. Dhal (or dal) is a stew made with lentils, one of the most commonly eaten vegetables. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World, The Gale Group, Inc., 2002]

“While these dietary staples may seem bland, Pakistani cuisine is rich with sauces and condiments to spice up their dishes. A variety of spices (an Indian influence), such as chili powder, curry, ginger, garlic, coriander, paprika, and cinnamon, are at the heart of Pakistani cuisine. A wide range of chutneys (a relish usually made of fruits, spices, and herbs), pickles, and preserves that accompany meats and vegetables give Pakistani cuisine its distinct flavor.

“In rural areas, meat is saved for a special occasion. Eating pork is forbidden for Muslims, who make up about 97 percent of Pakistan's population. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mutton (sheep) and beef are not supposed to be sold or served in public places in Pakistan (although the reason for this is considered economic, not religious). Seafood and machli (fish) are commonly eaten in Karachi, located on the coast of the Arabian Sea.

“There are a number of foods to cool off the spicy flavors of a Pakistani meal. Dãi (yogurt) can be eaten plain or used in lassi. Lassi is a drink made with yogurt, ice, and sugar for breakfast, or salt for lunch or dinner. Raita is a yogurt curd with cumin and vegetables. Baked yams and sita (boiled or roasted corn on the cob) may also accompany a spicy dish.

Pakistani Dishes

Pakistani dishes include various kinds of kebabs, spicy stews, meat served in delicious yoghurt and cream sauces, curried chicken and rice, Among those enjoyed by foreigners are Masala chicken (cooked in a barbecue-style sauce), Tandoori chicken (with a spicy coating), “kofta”(meatballs), “kormas” (braised mutton cooked in a yogurt and curry sauce), “pulao” (pilaf, rice and meat cooked with spices), “karashi gosht” (meat fried with hot spices, tomatoes, garlic and green chilies), “goshtaba” (mutton balls cooked in yoghurt and cardamom), “tikka” (meat in a tomato, yogurt sauce). pot roasts, “Dum Pukht” (pressure cooked dishes), “paneer tikka” (roasted cottage cheese) and “subz kabab” (spicy sausage of ground lamb). Dal (lentil soup with vegetables) is found everywhere.

Also worth a try are “haleem” (meat cooked with seven different kinds of grain), “khichra”(similar to haleem except made with ground meat), nihari” (beef served in a special gray made with ginger, chilies, coriander and line and eaten with naan”), “dahi bindi” (okra with yogurt and spices), “shami kebabs” (grilled spiced meatballs), “chapi kebabs” (chopped meat paddies), “pasandry” (spiced beef strips), “chicken tikka” (chicken marinated in a yogurt and herbs), “nargesi kofta” (fried meatball stuffed with hard-boiled eggs), “khati dahl” (lentils and spices)

Also good are “biryani” (saffron flavored rice made with lamb, nuts and a meat sauce), Mughalai roasts, “kathi kebabs” (egg rolls stuffed with barbecued meat), “burra kebabs” (cubes of meat marinated in yogurt sauces and cooked over a charcoal fire), “gustaba” (goat meatballs), “Kashmiri Pullav” (rice with saffron), “Badam Pasand”(meat with almonds), “haaq” (Kashmir spinach cooked in its own juices), methi, Tabakmaaz, Roganjosh, rishat, “phirna” (dessert),

Regional Food in Pakistan

According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World”: “Pakistan is divided into four provinces, each with different cultures and regional specialties. For example, machli (fish) and other seafood are delicacies in the coastal Sindh province. In Balochistan, (the largest province) located in western Pakistan, cooks use the sajji method of barbecuing whole lambs in a deep pit. The people living in Punjab (eastern Pakistan) are known for their roti (bread) and elaborate cooking preparations. The Pathens, who occupy the Northwest Frontier province, eat a lot of lamb. Their cooking, however, is considered more bland than the other regions. Oven-baked bread eaten with cubes of meat, called nan-kebab, is a favorite Pathen dish. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World, The Gale Group, Inc., 2002]

The Brahui are a Dravidian language group of tribes that live mostly in Balochistan and the Sindh. The settled Brahui cultivate wheat and millet, which are ground into flour and baked into unleavened breads. Rice is also eaten, but usually only on special occasions. Mutton and goat are important in the diet of the Brahui, with the flesh of animals that are sacrificed at various rituals and festivals distributed to the community at large. The more-affluent farmers in lowland areas may raise cattle. As is common throughout South Asia, food is eaten with one's hands, and often from a communal platter. Milk is drunk and also made into curds, ghi (clarified butter), buttermilk, and butter. Dates, wild fruits, and vegetables are also part of the Brahui diet. Tea is drunk at meals and is also taken as part of various social ceremonies. Opium is also used. /=\

Pashtun Food

The Pashtuns (Pathans) are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. Due to Islamic prohibitions Pashtun refrain from eating pork and drinking alcohol. Staples in their diet include milk products, meat, naan-style bread, kebabs, biryanai, rice, vegetables, fruits, and tea. Among the favorite dishes are traditional "chappli kebab" and pilau (pulaw, pilaf), a rice and meat dish flavored with coriander, cinnamon, and cardamom. Quetta and Swat valleys are famous for fruit, [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Afghan Dishes including “qabali” (pilau ,often with raisins, mutton, and/or nuts); “norang pilau” (pilau with chicken and orange peel), “gaubili pilau” (pilaf with mutton), kebabs made with lamb, mutton, ground lamb, ground beef and chicken; mutton; yogurt; soup; red bean stew; rice with walnut and yogurt sauce; chicken; lamb; tiny broiled quails, cooked whole, “korma “(Afghan stew, usually made with rice); “kadu” (sweet pumpkin stew); “subzi” (pan-fried spinach), curry dishes, dahl bat, chicken and mustard sauce, boiled chicken, melons, grapes, potatoes, okra, Afghan dumplings, and potatoes. These are often served with naan.

Pashtuns like to drink green tea. Men hang out at tea shops known as “chaikanas” and drink “qawa” (green tea flavored with cardamom and lemon). Pashtun often make deals and settle disputes over tea.

Sindhi Food

Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the lower part of the Indus River, the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. The Sindhi are particularly found of fish, both from the sea and the Indus River, and seafood. The most delicious fishes are “palla” and a white river salmon. In Karachi you can get wonderful prawns, lobsters and a variety of ocean fish. The Sindhi there often flavor their food with amchur (powdered raw mangoes), limes and tamarind. Chapatis and roti — flat unleavened breads made with wheat — are eaten with spiced pulses (dal), vegetable dishes (sabzi), and yogurt (dahi). Lamb, goat, and chicken are eaten. Poorer people eat meat less, typically during special occasions. Sweetened tea, buttermilk, lassi (a drink made from yogurt) are the most popular drinks. Sindhis also enjoy Mughal-style dishes such as biryani (lamb or chicken cooked with rice), rice pilaf and tandoori lamb or chicken. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

The daily food in most Sindhi households consists of wheat-based flat-bread (phulka) and rice accompanied by two dishes, one gravy and one dry. They have complete course meals. In snacks, there is dal pakwan, Sindhi Patties with chola, Dal moong, Alu tikki, Batan paparhi (A Sindhi Chaat), Mirchi Pakora, Bhein Tikki, Lolo or Mithi Loli (Sweeter version of koki), Chhola Dhabal (baked bread with chick peas in thick gravy), Bori (Kutti or crushed koki tempered with hot oil, and sweetened with sugar), Sindhi Koki, a whole wheat flour flatbread, kneaded with onion, chilies, dried pomegranate seeds, cumin and a generous amount of oil, double cooked on griddle, Dodo (Flatbread with millet flour, jowar, bajra etc), stuffed parathas with Curd, Juar (jowar) or Bhaat (cracked wheat) porridge, are favorites of elders of the family, are still the most sought after breakfasts in many Sindhi families. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

The highly seasoned and spicy Sindhi meals are best known all over the world for its tenderly cooked meat items, which are delicately cooked in ghee and served with the various forms of bread such as naan, poori, paratha, tandoori and roti. They are also part of the standard meal in almost every household in Sindh. The different form of Sindhi meat kebabs, Sindhi biryani, mighty Koftas, Sindhi Meat Nehari (mostly made up of camel meat), Mutton Korma, Aloo ghost, Pava (goat's legs), Keemo (ground lamb meet), Seyal Pallo (pamphlet fish in garlic sauce) are the specialty of Sindh. In most of the meat dishes, papaya paste is used as a tenderizer.

Seyal Mani (Cooked Chappati in green sauce with tomato, coriander and spices), Bhugal Bhaji, Seyal Bhaji (mixed vegetables cooked with onion garlic paste), dal chawal (yellow daal with rice), Dhodo Chutney, Meethi Aloo (combination of hot chili peppers, garlic, fennel leaves with potato into a curry), Seyal Pallo (made of onions, tomatoes and Fish), Sai bhaji Pulao along with which a number of side dishes come, such as fried potatoes or fried bhindi, dahi, etc. commonly accompany the dishes.

Sindhis love simple Dal chaawal- subzi -roti combo. They have some popular style of cooking like Daagh (curry with browned onions), Dhaas vegetables (Stuffed vegetables like Okra, Apple gourds, Capsicum etc). Sindhis tend to make use of Besan, and hence Chilra (Gramflour savory pancakes), Chilra kadhi, Aani ji bhaji (Besan dumplings in Onion tomato base), Sindhi Karhi are immensely popular. A spicy curry of lotus stem, potato, peas, cooked in the base of onions, tomatoes and eggplants is called Sindhi degh. Even today this curry is cooked and distributed at Langars in various shrines and on religious occasions.

Sindhi Pickles are the essentiality of Sindhi food. Also sweet pickles like raw mango Muraba, Awran jo Murbo (Awla) and grated mango pickles are the hot favorites amongst Sindhis. Khi-r-ni (hot drink made with milk with flavours of cardamoms and saffron), Rose Sherbert and Thaadal (Thandai) are the most popular beverages. And to wind up, Sindhis satisfy their 'Sweet cravings' with Gaajar ka halwa (Gajru'n jo seero), Maajun, Mohanthal, Gulabjamun, Rabri , Dried grated coconut mithai (Narel ji mithai), Singhar (Sev) Mithai, Falooda icecream etc. At festival time, there is variety of fantastically cooked dishes available. Combinations of dishes are also important in Sindhi cuisine as it has an abundance of foods. Festivals like Muslim Eids, Hindu Diwali and Holi etc are celebrated with typical Sindhi Sweets. Paan, a mixture of tobacco paste, spices and betel nut spread on a betel leaf, is a common way of ending a meal and is believed to help digestion. Hence, the cuisine is an amalgamation of Varity of dishes.

Baloch Food

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The Baloch have traditionally eaten two meals a day: in the morning and evening. Food for the entire family is cooked together, but men and women eat separately. The most important grains in order of importance are wheat, millets (juari and bajra) and rice. Grains are ground into flour and made into unleavened breads (flat breads without ingredients that make them rise), which are baked in mud ovens. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999; D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Meat comes from sheep, goats and to a lesser extent camels and cattle. Pork is not eaten due to Muslim dietary restrictions. Sajji is a favorite dish that is often served to honored guests. A sheep is slaughtered killed, skinned, and divided into portions. The meat is sprinkled with salt. The pieces of meat are spitted on green twigs, which are stuck into the ground in front of a blazing log. /=\

Balochi often eat with a knife, but also eat with their hands. Milk is consumed as a drink and made into and butter, curds (fresh cheese) and buttermilk. In summer, lassi (sherbet) is made with milk, molasses, and sugar. Dates and wild fruits and vegetables are also consumed. Forage Other favorite Baloch include kaak, a very hard bread often served with sajji; dampukht, a meat dish cooked in its own fats; and khaddi kabbab, whole lamb or goat roasted over a fire. The latter usually has raw rice in the stomach and the rice cooks in the fats and juices of the roasted animal. Baloch that live near the sea eat fish prepared their own way. [Source: Wikipedia]

Punjabi Food and Drinks

Punjabis are the largest linguistic group in Pakistan. The speak the Punjabi language and live in or have family in or ancestors from the Punjab region. The Punjabis like healthy, working class food Bread pumpkins, potatoes, dal (lentils) chapatis, pea and potato curry, and milk are staple of Punjab diet. Punjabi cuisine is known for its rich, buttery flavors and wide range of both vegetarian and meat dishes. Main dishes include sarhon da saag (a stew made with mustard greens) and makki di roti (cornmeal flatbreads made). Karrhi is a spicy, yellow gravy with cakes made of chickpea flour (besan) is commonly served with rice or naan. Basmati rice is indigenous to Punjab.

Common dishes found in the Punjab and eastern Pakistan include “khaman dhokla” (salty, steamed cake made with chickpea flour), “dhansak” (lamb or chicken cooked with curried lentils and served with rice), “khadi” (yogurt and fried puffs spiced with chilies, ginger and bay leaves), “khicheri” (rice and lentils), “rajima” (spicy kidney) and “min vela curry” (fish curry with tamarind, coconut and spices).

Among the drinks found in the Punjab are dairy-based beverages such as lassi and butter milk. Water buffalo milk-based products are especially common. Mango lassi, mango milkshakes and chaas are popular. Juices derived from vegetables and fruits, such as watermelon shakes, carrot juice and tamarind juice (imli ka paani).

Burusho Food and Medicine

The Bursusho, also known as Hunzakuts, are dominant ethnic group of the Hunza valley in far northern Pakistan. Apricots are practically the staple of the Burusho diet. They are eaten fresh in the summer and dry in the winter, and their oil is pressed and put to various uses. A lovely time to visit the Hunza is during the autumn when baskets of orange and yellow harvested apricots are laid out all over the place to dry in the sun. Guests are served tea, apples and hard-boiled eggs.

The Burushos also raise corn and barely. Goats and sheep provide milk, meat and wool and oxen are used as beast of burden. Before the Karakorum Highway was built Burushos often were reduced to eating "turnip tops and dandelion leaves" at the end of the winter, now with money generated from tourism and trade they can buy supplies transported along the highway. Goods that arrive from China include lots and lots of thermos and cheaply made porcelain.

A typical Burusho meal is comprised of beef baked in embers and wrapped in chapati and boiled potatoes served with apricot shavings. A Burusho breakfast usually consists of chunks of bread dipped in a bowl of salted tea and milk. Cooked dandelions are often served at dinner. Margarine wasn't introduced to parts of the Hunza valley until 1960 when the first roads arrived. before then people squeezed their cooking oil from apricot seeds. [Source: Sabrina and Roland Michaud, National Geographic, November 1975]

A variety of natural substances such as roots, herbs, and berries are used as medice. Access to Western medicine has increased over the years. The Burusho have traditionally believed that spirits and supernatural forces were involved in sickness and poor health. Medical practitioners are often in short supply.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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