An extensive look at the rich variety of food offered across Pakistan
Pakistanis are a food loving people. The popularity of an event in the country is often dependent upon the quantity, quality and variety of food served to the guests. The people do not shy away from trying food that is not specific to Pakistan. To satiate our taste buds, we frequently look for exotic foods while going through menu cards. It is also why we have such a gorgeous variety available to us in this country.
Every city, culture and province of Pakistan has something unique to offer in terms of food. The local stronghold becomes the standard for the rest of the country to match, which the other cities try to emulate. In some cases, different flavours of the same food made in two different cities make the residents of those cities lock horns with one another while claiming that their version as the better of the two.
The abundance of sugarcane and milk producing cattle in the Punjab paved way for many sugar and milk based sweets to gain popularity in the region. Sohan Halwa in Multan, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Dera Ismail Khan and adjoining areas with minor variations in taste, is now manufactured by a number of brands and has almost become a sweet staple. Doodh Maisu from Sadiqabad and Pairay from Khanpur are the torchbearers of milk-based sweets in southern Punjab. These areas are also renowned for their quality jaggery (gurr); sometimes with a variety of fruits, vegetables and nuts added.
Rosh, a mutton dish, with a side of white mash daal along with a cup of yakhni is a favourite combination in the colder areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. It is popular in Kalabagh, Quetta, Qila Abdullah, Qila Saifullah and Rahim Yar Khan. Dubai Restaurant in Kuchlak, located at an hour’s drive from Quetta, serves some of the best Rosh in the country. Salted camel-milk tea is also quite popular in Rahim Yar Khan, Cholistan and the adjoining areas. Traditionally, residents of Balochistan and KP have preferred qahwa (green tea) as a follow-up drink to hearty meals. Namkeen lassi in earthen glasses is a must in Balochistan, to wash down your meal and maybe start all over again. Most of this food is available on almost all bus stops across Pakistan, since most of the bus and truck drivers coming from these regions, prefer these dishes.
Many believe that Pakistanis are a meat-loving nation and a look at the popular cuisine in Peshawar and the upper KP is enough to understand why. The fascination of Pathans with meat is no secret and many meat-based dishes are popular there. The popular Takht Bhai chappali kebab shops are scattered all along the province, especially in Peshawar, Swat, Balakot and the galiyat. Known for making some of the juiciest chappali kebabs, Jalil Kebab Shop has outlets all over Peshawar and Taru Jabba and a few in Mardan. Food shops opposite the landmark Islamia College University, Peshawar, are famous for their traditional Dampukht, Charsi Tikka, Namkeen Boti, Rosh and Kabuli pilaf.
Tea is hands down the staple drink in Karachi. The highlight of most Karachi hang-outs remains the infamous open-air tea dhabas where people from all age groups can be seen sipping tea or puffing away shisha (when allowed) nonchalantly with their friends. Most patrons stay there till the break of dawn, especially on weekends, sometimes heading back home with a bag of fresh halwa poori. There are hundreds of such roadside tea stalls throughout the city.
Karachiites often treat their guests from other cities to the famous paan at PIDC or Dehli-styled nihari from traditional outlets like Javed, Zahid or Sabir. Karachiites swear that no one can make biryani or haleem like them. Burns Road is the traditional food street in Karachi. The options here include renowned local brands selling lassi, dahi bhallay, bheja, kebab fry, haleem, biryani and, of course, the ever-famous Peshawari ice cream. All these shops are either at least half a century old. Some have been there roughly since independence. There are also a few qulfi, bhel-poori, bun-kebab, sweets and nimco outlets in the city that have been flourishing. A few more food streets are in the various stages of development. Some are fully functional including those in the Federal B Area, Shahbaz Commercial, Port Grand, Nazimabad, Boat Basin and Doe Darya.
Since Karachi has a mix of different ethnicities, two factors are quite distinct here as compared to the rest of Pakistan. First, their staunch preference of different herbs and spices for creating aroma and infusion of taste; and second, the variety of cuisine available in one city including Behari, Sindhi, Indian Hyderabadi, Balochi, Lakhnavi, Meerathi, Gujrati and Burmese.
The pink Chawal ki roti in Moro and the adjoining areas, Shikaarpur’s pickles and a cool drink of sattu or Tando Adam’s Thaadal developed from aromatic, herbal ingredients attract people from all over the country to interior Sindh. Makkai ki roti, baajray ki roti and sarson ka saag attract food lovers to interior Punjab.
While Gujranwala is famous for its love for chirray and batair; all over the country from Sindh to the Punjab wherever you can find a river, dam or barrage you will spot carts lined up, selling fresh fish prepared and fried with local herbs.
The Punjab, particularly Lahore, is famous for its heavy breakfast items like halwa poori, paye (from Phajjay), nalli nehari, murgh cholay and paira lassi (from Chacha Feeka). There are a number of renowned restaurants located at the famous Food Street in old Lahore, adjacent to the Badshahi Masjid, giving the visitors a picturesque view. Gowalmandi and the Old Anarkali are some of the other places where there are numerous outlets serving traditional food. There are a number of food shops at the Gaddafi Stadium, Fortress Stadium, Liberty and on MM Alam Road providing an unforgettable food experience to many. There are some must haves if you find yourself in Lahore, like Chicken karahi from Butt, Baba’s qulfi and Khalifa’s naan khatai. Chicken and mutton karahi can safely be the unifying factor for Pakistan’s food scene with almost all cities in the country having some version of this food item on their menu. However, few brands have a claim on the karhai-scape as single handedly as Butt Karhai at Lakshmi Chowk, Lahore, does.
An interesting variant in this regard hails from Faisalabad where a famous shop, Baba, is thronged by hundreds. It features karhai mixed with BBQ, chicken tikka and seekh kebab pieces. In Faisalabad you can just not miss the signature spicy daal that is available near the railway station and opposite the State Bank. Chinioti mutton kunna from the nearby Chiniot and fritters from Gojra along with barfi and ice cream from a local brand, Shahryar, are some of the other must-haves in the Faisalabad region.
In Islamabad, the very low-priced food at Savour Foods, always bustling with customers, is not to be missed. Their pilaf and Shami kebab are devoured by thousands in Islamabad on a daily basis. Monal and a variety of other options at the Melody Food Park attract many to the mountains. Moving further up towards Nathiagali, the original hot Patakha Chicken, roasted chicken with lots of garlic and red chilli, is not to be missed. Famous all over the nation, Abbottabad’s fritters are sold near the Ilyasi Masjid. A unique pie-like delicacy prepared in wood ovens, on the way from Gilgit to Hunza is also a hit. This pizza is made from Yak’s meat, which is indigenous to the area. I had it some 15 years ago and still crave it. Tourists visiting Hunza and beyond on the trail to Gilgit among the mountains, usually consume it with tea made with fresh goat milk. You may even enjoy a unique, herb-infused Kashmiri kulcha, a local delicacy at Garhi Habibullah as a snack while going towards Muzaffarabad from Koyla in Azad Jammu Kashmir. Kashmiri food often includes saffron in their signature dishes. Goshtaba, Momos, Kashmiri Muji Gaad, Dum Aaloo, Rogan Josh, sweetened Modur pilaf and Matschgand are some of the famous delicacies in Kashmir.
All provincial capitals have international brands offering North American, South American, Middle Eastern, Continental, Chinese and Far Eastern cuisines. Dozens of cities have international fast food chains operating in full swing. It is not difficult to find most kinds of fruit throughout the year in almost all regions when travelling. The variation in the climates, geography, ethnicities, tastes and culture thus blesses Pakistan with a number of local cuisines, enough to attract tourists from all over the world to come here and get a glimpse of the famous Pakistani hospitality.
The writer is a physician, health care leader,
traveller and a YouTuber host for the DocTree Team promoting Organic
Gardening in Pakistan. He tweets @Ali_Shahid82