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Pakistani cuisine

PAKISTANI cuisine is an age-old gastronomic art based on ancient Indus Valley cooking tradition involving a refined blend of various aromatic flavours and spices. During the course of history, it also incorporated noticeable Middle-Eastern, Central Asian and Western Asian influences. It observes Muslim dietary/ culinary principles forbidding use of porcine, alcoholic and non-halal ingredients. Its main course recipes include a large variety of vegetable, lentil, rice, beef, veal, mutton, chicken and sea-food dishes, cooked in a liberal amount of oil or ghee, while its traditional deserts are mostly dairy and flour- based items. Overall Pakistani cuisine is meat- oriented with wheat as staple food. Garam masala (a ground mixture of aromatic spices), cumin seedschili powderturmeric, coriander powder, bay leaves, brown cardamom, green cardamomcinnamonclovesnutmegmace, and black pepper are the most commonly used spices in the making of a wide variety of dishes throughout Pakistan.  

Within Pakistan, cuisine varies in variety/taste from region to region, reflecting the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Punjabi and Sindhi cuisine is usually piquant and involves characteristic seasoning with green herbs. The Pashtun and Balochi cuisines are traditionally non-spicy.

Of various varieties of Pakistani cuisine, the fusion Mughlai dishes are most popular in restaurants all over the country. The prominent items are Kebabs (a dish of minced/ boneless meet), Pulao and Biryani (rice dishes), Korma & Karrahi (meat curry dishes), Haleem ( a lentil dish), Gulab Jaman, Kheer, Falooda & Shahi Tukra (desert dishes) and Samosa, Pakora & Dehi Bhalay (snack dishes). Each region has its own varieties of these dishes, but some like the Seekh kebab, Chicken Tikka, Shami kebab, Chicken Biryani, Shai Korma and Mutton Karrahi are especially popular throughout the country.

Pakistani Basmati rice dishes are unique because of their distinctive aroma and long grain. Similarly, Pakistani bread is also peculiar, prepared on a special hot plate called “Tava” or in a traditional clay oven called a tandoor. The main varieties of Pakistani bread are Chapati, Romali Roti, Naan, Paraatha, Puri, Kulcha, Sheermal, and Taftan.

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 mangoescarrotslemon, etc. are also commonly used to further spice up the food. Salads and raita (yogurt sauce) are used as side dishes.

Pakistanis drink a great deal of tea, which is locally called “chai.” Both black (with milk) and green teas are popular and there are different varieties common in different parts of Pakistan.

• In Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, as well as areas near the Chinese border, salty Tibetan-style butter tea is consumed.

• Doodh Pati Chai is made by cooking tea leaves with milk and sugar, sometimes served with cardamom for fragrance. Extremely sweet, this is a local variation of a builder’s tea.

• “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.

• “Sabz chai” or “kahwah”, a green tea often served after every meal in KashmirKhyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Pashtun belt of Balochistan, served with saffron and nuts.

• Sulaimani chai is black tea served with lemon.

Besides tea, there are other drinks that may be included as part of the Pakistani cuisine. All of them are non-alcoholic. During the 20th century, beverages such as coffee and soft drinks have also become popular in Pakistan. It is very common to have soft drinks nowadays with Pakistani meals. Following locally made beverages are popular in Pakistan in various seasons:

  • Almond sherbet–Sherbet (syrup) made with almonds
  • Gola ganda-Different types of flavors over crushed ice
  • Lassi-Milk with yogurt, with an either sweet or salty taste
  • Lemonade (Limu pani)
  • Sardai-Mixture of different nuts and kishmish
  • Sattu – Famous barley drink from Punjab
  • Sherbet (syrup mixed in water)
  • Sherbet-e-Sandal – Drink made with the essence of sandal wood
  • Sikanjabeen – Lemonade with mint
  • Sugarcane juice (Ganney ka ras)
  • Thaadal – A sweet drink from Sindh

Pakistanis generally eat three meals a day, which are breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During the evening, many families have tea, which goes along with baked/fried snacks.

A typical Pakistani breakfast, consists of eggs (boiled/scrambled/fried/omelette), a slice of loaf bread or rotiparathas, sheermal with tea or lassi, kulcha with chole (chick peas), qeema (minced meat), fresh seasonal fruits (mangoesapplesmelonsbananas, etc.), milkhoneybutterjam, shami kebab or nuts. Sometimes breakfast includes baked goods like bakarkhani and rusks. Sometimes during holidays and weekends, halwa poori and chickpeas are eaten. In Punjab, sarson ka saag (mustard leaves) and maakai ki roti (cornbread) is a local favourite. Punjabi people also enjoy khatchauri, a savory pastry filled with cheese. Meat dishes are also eaten in breakfast, especially on holidays. A traditional Sunday breakfast might be Siri-Payay (the head and feet of lamb or cow) or Nihari (a dish which is cooked overnight to get the meat extremely tender. Many people take «Bong» (Shank curry) in their Sunday brunch.

Lunches and Dinners are usually beef, mutton or chicken dishes served with wheat bread (either roti or naan) or rice. Curries, with or without meat, combined with local vegetables, such as bittergourdcauliflowereggplantokracabbagepotatoesrutabaga, saag, and chili peppers are commonly cooked for everyday consumption. Assorted fresh fruit or sometimes desserts are consumed at the end of a meal. Seafood is generally not consumed in large amounts, though it is very popular in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan

As it is said, the best test of the pudding is in eating it. This might leave you with a watery mouth, however, to taste Pakistani dishes one will have to visit Pakistan. However, for those who cannot, there are outlets offering Pakistani cuisine, such as, in Metro Manila, Baggio, Davao etc. The best among these and easily accessible is ‘Kabab n Curry’ on the Jupiter Street in Makati. The restaurant offers a variety of authentic Pakistani dishes and attracts customers from all nationalities including Filipinos. It is mostly famous for its Sunday brunch.     

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