AN age-old gastronomic art based on the cooking tradition of the Indus Valley, Pakistani cuisine involves a refined blend of the various aromatic flavors and spices. It has then evolved through time, incorporating noticeable Middle-Eastern, Central-Asian, and Western-Asian influences. It observes the Muslim dietary and culinary principles, forbidding the use of ingredients that are alcoholic and non-halal. Its main course recipes include dishes with large varieties of vegetable, lentil, rice, beef, veal, mutton, chicken, and seafood that are cooked in a liberal amount of oil or ghee. Its traditional desserts, meanwhile, are mostly dairy- and flour-based items.
Overall, Pakistani cuisine is meat-oriented, with wheat as staple. Garam masala (a mixture of ground aromatic spices), cumin seeds, chili powder, turmeric, coriander powder, bay leaves, brown cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, 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 and taste from region to region, reflecting the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Punjabi and Sindhi cuisine, for instance, is usually piquant and involves characteristic seasoning with green herbs. The Pashtun and Balochi cuisines, on the other hand, are traditionally not spicy.
In the Philippines, some restaurants offer a variety of authentic Pakistani dishes and attract customers of all nationalities, including Filipinos. But one has to visit Pakistan in order to taste authentic Pakistani dishes whose ingredients came directly from the source and prepared by the Pakistanis themselves. Failing this, however, one may scour some areas around Metro Manila and the cities of Baguio and Davao looking for a Pakistani resto. There is one on Makati City’s Jupiter St.—Kabab n Curry, which is the best among the Pakistani restaurants in the Philippines.
Among Pakistan’s cuisine varieties, the fusion mughlai dishes are the most popular in restaurants all over the country. The prominent items are kebabs (a dish of boneless and minced meet), pulao and biryani (rice dishes), korma and karrahi (meat curry dishes), haleem (a lentil dish), gulab jaman, kheer, falooda, and shahi tukra (desserts), as well as the snack dishes of samosa, pakora, and dehi bhalay. Each region has its own varieties of these dishes, but some—such as the seekh kebab, chicken tikka, shami kebab, chicken biryani, shai korma, and mutton karrahi—are especially popular throughout the country.
The 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 mangoes, carrots, and lemon, among other fruits are also commonly used to further spice up the food. Salads and raita (yogurt sauce) are used as side dishes.
The Pakistanis’ favorite drink is “chai” (tea). Both black (and mixed with milk) and green teas are popular, and there are different varieties common in different parts of Pakistan.
Besides tea, there are other drinks that may be included as part of the Pakistani cuisine, all of which are non-alcoholic. During the 20th century, beverages such as coffee and soft drinks also became popular in Pakistan.
Pakistanis generally eat three meals a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the evening, many families have tea, which goes along with baked and fried snacks.
A typical Pakistani breakfast consists of eggs—boiled, scrambled, fried, or omelette—a slice of loaf bread or roti, parathas, sheermal with tea or lassi, kulcha with chole (chickpeas), qeema (minced meat), fresh seasonal fruits (mangoes, apples, melons, bananas, etc.), milk, honey, butter, jam, 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 favorite. Punjabi people also enjoy khatchauri, a savory pastry filled with cheese. Meat dishes are also eaten during breakfast, especially on holidays. A traditional Sunday breakfast might be siri-payay (head and feet of a lamb or a cow) or nihari (a dish 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 bitter gourd, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, cabbage, potatoes, rutabaga, saag, and chili peppers are commonly cooked for everyday consumption. Assorted fresh fruits 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.