Top 25 Most Popular Foods from Pakistan
From the paddy rice fields of Sialkot province down to the southern coasts of Sindh, Pakistan is a haven of rich and flavorful foods.
With the local supply of fresh produce, mounds of spices often found spread out on market stalls, and the availability of highly experienced skilled cooks, Pakistan produces some very fine delicacies.
Exploring Pakistani Cuisine: 25 Most Popular Delicacies
One single article cannot do comprehensive justice to the intricacies of the delights of Pakistan. You may have the impression that it shares most of its cuisine with bordering countries, such as India. But while this conjecture is right, it is at the same time a little over stretched.
Entrenched between a cluster of other closely-related cuisines, the Pakistani menu has notably assimilated cooking styles from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. This blend comprises dishes such as Dhal Makani and Biryani, a diversification of textures and flavors.
Nonetheless, to truly understand Pakistani cuisine, we need to recognize what makes it stand out from the rest. To begin with, most dishes are seasoned with different blends of spices and seasonal herbs compared to neighboring countries. The results are those irresistible, blooming aromatic flavors.
However, the spiciness can vary across regions, as eastern provinces tend to overly season their food compared to their western counterparts such as Kashmir.
Much Pakistani cooking is based on traditional Pashtun cuisine, comprising lamb and goat, with luscious and delicate textures. Most meals are accompanied with an assortment of rice and flattened bread (from wheat), which are both staple foods.
Many of the most popular dishes of Pakistan are vegetarian-friendly, such as Aloo Mutter, prepared with peas and potatoes. Legume dishes are prepared with ingredients sourced fresh from local markets, and turned into spicy curries quickly and easily during hot afternoons or dinner rush hours.
The dishes you will find here are easy to prepare, whether you’re an intermediate or a homemade professional cook. The only hair in the soup is if you are in a part of the world where it is difficult to access some of the typical Pakistani ingredients.
Luckily, if that is the case, you can always find alternatives that make good substitutes for main ingredients, and the result will always be delicious.
Famous Local Pakistani Dishes
Like most countries in the Persian Gulf, Pakistanis tend to pay a lot of attention to their cuisine. For this reason, menus have evolved outstandingly in terms of taste.
In turn, these dishes have not just gained immense popularity among the locals, but the word of their rich flavors has wafted to other parts of the globe.
Unlike the West, Pakistanis tend to be open to a little ad-libbing. This brings out their culinary skills in catering for their preferences and integrates their culture and tradition in a meal. In any cultural region, locals end up consuming more of the dish, as they tend to identify with it.
But before I get you too involved in the detail, let’s dive right in and look at the best foods of Pakistan.
1. Peshawari Chapli Kebab
Commonly served with raita or chutney, Chapli kebabs go fast at any time of day. Whether you prepare them at home or get them fresh in the street, the mixture of minced beef, spices, and a few hours of marination is simply appetizing.
They are flatter in shape than other conventional kebabs.
2. Saag Makhan with Makki
Makki Ki roti tends to be an all-around regional delicacy, not just in Pakistan. Simply put, it is a ball of flattened dough shallow fried on a hot, flat pan.
When it comes to winters in Punjab and Baluchistan areas, a further assortment of saag are offered as relish. In Punjabi, saag refers to greens and, in this case, they are prepared with a sort of spinach, green chilies, makhan (butter), and mustard leaves among others.
3. Chicken Achari Handi
Yet another well-liked dish among Pakistanis is achari, a tangy chicken delicacy prepared with a utensil known as a Handi. Yes, that’s where it gets its name.
The word achari is from the Urdu dialect and refers to pickles and a strong spice known as achar masala, which is used to season the dish.
4. Desi Murga
Also known as country chicken curry, murgh (desi chicken) is marinated in herbs and turmeric. A mix of powdered spices go into the curry before the chicken is sautéed in mustard oil.
More spices are added, and it simmers until the flavors have blended in. Most Pakistanis love it with rice or roti.
5. Zarda Pulao
Last on the list of the locally popular cuisines is the zarda pulao. This is a special recipe most common during ‘Eid festivals. Zarda is a Persian word referring to yellow, which is the predominant color of the rice.
This rice dish is also known as meethe chawal, favored for its distinctive sweet taste and saffron.
Pakistan Meat Dishes
As hinted at earlier, Pashtun cuisine does not include many chicken dishes. It is the soft chunks of lamb, mutton, and the cocktail of flavors in goat meat that are most common.
However, with a diversified population comprising of Arabs, known for their hospitality, and Hindus, famed for their spices, there is no chance of disappointment. When it comes to Pakistanis, the art of cookery is a deeply ingrained skill.
There is also no need to worry about complex recipes as even with a little experience, the simplicity of these dishes could turn you into a master in just a few attempts.
6. Mutton Hareesa
Hareesa shares some similarities with Haleem and Kitchra. The spices do not differ in most cases, but the French and Greek come in with the techniques.
If you don’t mind the extra calories, butter or fat from sheep’s tail is added on top while it simmers, and it is customary in Pakistan to garnish it with cinnamon or sugar. Holy and sweet.
Being a popular dish in the Persian Gulf, there are variations, especially in the choice of meat. And Qatari Arabs prefer it served raw with olive oil drizzled over it.
7. Butt Karahi
Yet another popular Pakistani dish, the smooth texture of this dish will certainly warm your soul. But I’ll spare you the hype and feed you the details.
Depending on where you are, butt karahi can be prepared with either chicken or mutton. In Lahore, you will find it prepared commonly with beef.
Also, the preparation method varies from city to city. Despite the differences, in most cases, the taste remains pretty much the same. But if you happen to stop at Islamabad, then brace yourself for the best karahi ever.
It is strong on spices and full of fat so you might want to take is easy if you have any preexisting medical conditions.
Traditionally, sajji is a lamb dish served with bread known as roti or naan. It has its roots in the Baluchistan province and is baked in a tandoor oven.
It is worth noting that the use of different spices leads to subtle disparities taste-wise. But in most commercial cases, chicken is used in place of mutton. Sajji is a popular street food in most cities and the mildly seasoned chicken and piquant aromas will definitely catch your attention.
With chicken being cheap and readily available, much is made of the humble capon. Marinated in a combination of spices and yogurt infuses the entire bird in delicate flavors.
The best way to go is to use a freshly slaughtered chicken. It is more succulent and quickly absorbs the spices blended with yogurt.
Next, the chicken is left in the refrigerator overnight. For the healthier version, the chicken is roasted, known as tandoori chargah. But the old-fashioned way is to deep-fry it.
10. Kashmiri Biryani
You could reasonably say this is similar to pulao, but in fact it isn’t. Both are rice dishes generously seasoned spices. However, biryani is served as a main dish, unlike pulao, which is a side dish for gravy-based dishes such as dar.
Ingredients such as mint leaves, raisins, and rose water give the long-grained rice authenticity. And if you like, ghee can be replaced with regular oil. Mutton, herbs, toppings such as carrots and saffron, together with nuts are mixed together when it is served.
Other Pakistani Biryanis that might blow your breath away include the Sindhi biryani, originating from the Sindh province, and the infamous bone marrow biryani from Karachi.
Whether you prefer your desserts dry, chilled, particulate, or everything in between, this list has the best offerings for you.
Pakistani menus are not widely known for their desserts, but some of these could satisfy your sweet tooth.
In case you got caught in the sun on a hot day in Pakistani, a chilled treat of gulab jamun (fried dumplings in sugar syrup) will help to cool you down.
Alternatively, there’s kunafa, which is a sweet combination of cheese layered on top of flaky dough followed by a slight drizzle of sugar-based syrup. It can be served hot, but the sweetness entrenched in the cheesy layers will keep you wanting more.
12. Falooda (Ice Cream Dessert)
Next, if you plan to prepare the falooda from home, here’s what you’ll need. Essentially, you have to layer rose syrup, vermicelli, ice cream, chilled milk, and Sabja seeds, or sweet basil seeds.
Ideally topped with some pistachios, this milkshake-type dessert will cool down your afternoon while offering you a pack of nutrients.
13. Gajrela (Carrot Halwa)
With a variety of names, gajrela is a carrot-based dessert pudding prepared by cooking grated carrots in milk, a little water, sugar, and cardamom.
It is a popular dessert among Indians in Pakistani during occasions such as Diwali.
14. Kheer (Rice Pudding)
Kheer is made by boiling rice together with milk and sugar. Served hot or cold, it can be garnished with saffron, raisins, nuts, or, most popular, with desiccated coconut.
It is essentially an Indian formula that has been passed down over 2,000 years, becoming popular in Pakistan during the middle ages.
15. Methi Lassi (Yogurt)
In provinces such as Kashmir and Punjab, this is known as lassi. It is simply a yogurt (dahi) based drink blended with spices or mango, in some cases, and served chill.
If trying out new things is your thing, you could add lassi to your bucket list as it can be spiced up with cannabis.
Pakistani Vegetarian Dishes
Despite the aromatic biryanis and those hot hot-pots brewing with Nihari, Pakistani cuisine comprises vegetarian dishes too.
Could you possibly guess why? Essentially, it’s because a vast number of the Indian population tend to be veggies. However, their vegetarian dishes are equally tangy, savory, and high in protein and the meat dishes.
16. Aloo Ki Tarkari (Potato Curry)
With a thick delectable consistency, Pakistanis like this served for breakfast with paratha or roti. Alternatively, you could take it with a dessert named halwa.
Whichever you choose, the taste is exquisite.
17. Aloo Chawal (Spiced Potato Rice)
This is another savory vegan dish easily prepared from aloo (potatoes) and rice that goes well with vegan yogurt. The variety of ingredients and spices create a spicy flare.
18. Pakora Kadhi
Essentially, this is a yogurt curry prepared with basam or gram flour. This dish is cooked together with spices and pakora (fritters).
A popular dish in Pakistan and India, it is prepared in a variety of ways, though always using bassam. For instance, Sindhi kathi tends to be filled with extra vegetables while Punjabi has more besan.
19. Lobia Ka Salan
Another vegan recipe served hot, lobia (black-eyed peas) are prepared in tomato sauce with garlic and spices. When serving, it is topped with coriander and flakes of green chili served on the side.
As well as the tasty, healthy treat, you will not have to worry about counting your peas.
20. Kaali Daal
This delicious recipe is prepared with dark gram lentils, which are a great source of protein and carbs. In Hindi, kaali means black and daal means lentils.
It is served with roti, paratha, or rice.
Pakistani Street Food
Street vendors and other easy-going eateries will offer slight variations to complex dishes such as biryani.
Most of them are deep-fried; unhealthy, perhaps, but finger-licking good and delectable.
21. Seekh Kebabs
Seekhs are traditionally prepared outdoors. For that reason, most of the streets of Punjab and other cities will have vendors serving seekhs prepared for you.
If you are not visiting Pakistan any time soon, you could always prepare them at home as they are easy to make.
22. Gol Gappa
There are many variants of this rather sour snack, and you could easily confuse it with pani puri. The outer layer is comprised of crisp fried semolina and it is stuffed with a paste of tamarind chutney, potatoes, chickpeas, and often served with tamarind dips.
23. Pani Puri
The method of devouring pani resembles that of gol gappa. After nudging a hole on the puri, it is filled with your favorite fillings. It might be a combo of sprouts, chopped onions, or mashed potatoes, but they all taste great.
Finally give it a quick dip in tamarind and savor the taste.
24. Aloo Samosa
Samosas are prepared in a triangular shape and stuffed either with diced or cubed potatoes. The potato fillings are fried with butter, salt, and spices, creating a soft, juicy texture.
With different names and variations, kachori is a popular snack that you will find every few yards along Pakistani streets.
They are served hot and spicy and can be stuffed with onions, lentils, or butter-fried potatoes. They make a tasty snack along with chai.
The bottom line is that although you could prepare these delicacies in the comfort of your own home, you will get so much more is you plan a trip to Pakistan. While soaking up the the culture, and you will get taste hot gol gappas directly from the hot pans of the specialists.
And you will experience and explore all the other dishes that didn’t fit on this page. So, the next time you get the chance, book some tickets to Pakistan and experience these 25 most popular delicacies first hand.