About the food of Pakistan

Makra Pahari (a.k.a. Spider Mountain) in Siri-Paye-Shogran situated in The Valley of Kaghan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northern Pakistan. Photo by Mughees Ahmed.

Pakistan is said to be the birthplace of the tandoori oven, where white-hot walls glow and crackle with spit-fire. These incendiary cylinders char-roast kebabs and breads alike. Although it is only the exceptional hostess that has a tandoori oven in her private home, if I had one, I would use it to cook our cumin seed naan (the one we made back in Afghanistan. P.S. This bread which would also work for a Pakistani meal. P.P.S. Oh, how far our recipes have come haha).

Even though I swoon for naan day and night, there’s debate from the Pakistani highlands to the plateaus, as to whether a traditional meal goes best with bread or rice – there are local devotees to each. For those who choose flatbreads (typically naan or roti), the meal is easily enjoyed with the fingers.

Ruins of the Sharada Peeth (Temple of the goddess Sarasvatī once considered the center of learning in the region). Photo by Irfan Ahmed.

For those who choose rice, a lovely assortment of biriyani are available. Basmati rice can be seasoned simply with saffron (as we did with Rosewater & Saffron Rice for Bahrain or the Azerbajani Saffron Rice with crusty potatoes) or perhaps with garlic, cilantro, and ghee [Recipe]. There are also elaborate meat and rice dishes, where layers alternate until a towering mountain feast awaits.

Children in Pakistan near the Boarder to Iran. Photo by Graef.

Meals include lots of meat (in fact a diet rich in meat is said to be one of the main distinguishing characteristics between Indian and Pakistani food). There’s tandoori chicken, curried goat, and even a dish called Haleem (or King of Curry), a mixture of several kinds of daal, spices, and beef which is slow cooked for up to six hours. Many of these dishes can be quite spicy, creating an altogether different kind of “tandoori oven” in the mouth.

Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook. Shahi Qila, Baadshahi Qila, Lahore Fort, Photo by M. Umair.

But it’s not all fire and rice – there’s a general love for the delicate dance between sweet and sour, and meals can be laced up with sour plums, pomegranates, limes or lemons. In contrast, garaham masala weaves warmth and comfort through many meals.

Sides might include chutneys, or beans (like chickpeas and lentils), yogurt, and salads with fresh tomatoes  [Recipe].

Drinks include green tea or even coffee laced with cardamom, cinnamon, and the occasional sprinkle of golden saffron [Recipe]. Surely these warm sippers are most welcome during Pakistan’s monsoon season, where water becomes a creature that must be keenly watched, lest it flood too much ground.

Winter in Lahore. Photo by Jugni.


  1. Your post today has me wishing you were cooking a dozen Pakistani dishes for us all to share! I am already aquiver at the promise of this food…

    I chuckled at the irony of the photo depicting a Pizza Hut in Lahore…on a food blog. Very cute!

    • Sasha Martin says

      “Pizza Huts in the Mist” … an altogether different story than “Gorillas in the Mist” 😉

  2. I have been waiting for you to get to two countries, since we already met at the third the day you made it, but I can’t believe you have already arrived at Pakistan! The last picture of Lahore is much like most days where I lived in the Mountains. We could see K2 on a clear day from our window. Besides of course the naan, chappati, parathas, tandoori, tikkas, there was this dish Karahi that we all used to share at a one of those restaurant that had chickens hanging outside and you go for the food not really the ambience. We all would sit around this large black wok pan and dip our naan into it. It was so tasty and brings back so many memories.
    Since we would have a full on winter with feet of snow outside, we would drink a lot of chai and hot coffee to keep warm.

    • Sasha Martin says

      I wish you were here to help me when I was cooking it! I got most of my inspiration from Silk Road Gourmet… love the image of the chai with snowfall all around those gorgeous mountains.

  3. Brian S. says

    If you’ve ever read Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, and if his paeans to the rugged hills and wild desert valleys set you ablaze with yearning for exotic adventure, be aware that he was writing about Pakistan. I’ve been to the remote and hushed mountain valleys around Gilgit and Chitral and explored the rugged, lawless lands of the Northwest Frontier (lawless is the wrong word, the people have their own law, Pukhtunwala) and it was some of the most amazing times of my life.

    This is your chance for a redo of India. Most of the creamy elegant meat “curries” that are the glory of northern India are found in Punjab, Pakistan, and an argument can be made that the Pakistanis make them better. For instance (and courtesy of Wikipedia), here are some lamb dishes. rRgan josh, bhuna gosht, kadhai gosht, raan gosht, dal gosht, saag gosht, nihari gosht, and more.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks for the thoughts. I do have to say I wouldn’t redo anything – our Indian Global Table was delicious and great experience for me. That being said, I went light this week for various reasons. The good news? Palau has quite a bit of overlap with Pakistan and India…. so what is lacking this week, might appear in the next. Actually, I’m sitting here trying to figure that out now.

  4. Amber says

    How exciting that you’re in the P’s already and still doing such enthusiastic posts that make the reader feel right in the country. It’s good to read this and be presented with all these neat foods to try out someday, even if you are limited in what you make now. It’s great to have this blog to help expand cultural and cooking horizons.

  5. Mughees says


    I was just googling random stuff when i came across a familiar pic and learnt it was actually the one taken by me!!! your putting it here in your article about Pakistani Food obviously means you must have liked it … so THANKS!! 🙂

    just wanted to ask how you found it? also do check many other pics i have uploaded on my facebook profile http://www.facebook.com/mugheesahmed of Pakistan… Also check out the group Explore the Beauty of Pakistan on facebook to see many more amazing pictures of Pakistan…

    I wanted to say all this since i think there is a HUGE misconception about what Pakistan really is in the world… Pakistan is an amazing place.

    • Hey Mughees..!! your work is being appreciated globally… really the world has become a global village

  6. tahir says

    Well!! i m impressed that you trudged all the way to unveil Gods Best Kept Secret i.e. Pakistan… Ironically everything is swept in the word Indian Food… actually when it comes to meat of any kind then it cannot be indian food as meat is forbidden for the native Indian. The conundrum thus narrows down to the fact that the origin of all exotic meat recipes in sub continent is owed to the muslim rule of a thousand years and the variety is added as there were three different muslim cultures(Arab, Persian, Turkish, Afghan) that blended to result in an exotic cuisine which became the hall mark of Pakistani food. One cannot attach the same taste to those muslim segments of sub continent who reverted to Islam from other faiths because their basic eating and cooking habits still remained the same. The belend of various races that now forms Pakistan is still composed of dominant proportions of those with Arab, Persian or Turkish/Afghan ancestry and hence the great food… I am glad and thankful that you helped bringing this fora where one can define the finer aspects of Our Pakistani Cuisine….

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