History: With a country so rich in culture and diverse in identities, the food in Pakistan has evolved travelling so many years since the inception of the subcontinent. As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling through many millennia, Pakistan as a part of the subcontinent has benefited from numerous food influences. Pakistani cuisine depicts the history of this land with major reminisces from the past coming from Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Afghan and Mughal influences. As our land experienced invasions and governance from all over the world, with the exact pace evolved the kind of food that we now see today. The Mughal Era saw a great fusion of culinary traditions. As Indian, Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine evolved they reached the peak of sophistication under the Mughals.
The Mughal Era is what marks the true formation of the cuisine we see today. Throughout this time food and its presentation remained one of the most important aspects of the functioning of the Mughal mansion. Wealthy people feasted on refined, expensive and selected foods at festivals and religious celebrations. The courtly traditions of Muslims, Hindus and the Mughal Empire emphasised hospitality, an open and generous kitchen, and the use of seasonal and local delicacies. Even a simple daily meal began with ritual cleansing and appreciation. The preferences for particular foods could denote caste, ethnic group and religious orientation. The flavoursome aromatic cuisines produced in that era have sustained improvisation over the years and have become some of the most eaten dishes in Pakistan. Food like Birayni, Pulao, Pasanday and Qorma all find their precedence in the Mughal Era.
Creating centuries-old food traditions as well as innovative dishes to form contemporary rudiments around the cuisine have formed an integral basis of the food of today’s Pakistan. Pakistan’s major cities have had some traditional cuisines that people go miles to have. The spices used in homes, their descent from the years that came long before the Mughals. The coriander, chillies, fried onions, aromatic spices all have strong bases when it comes to Pakistani cuisines. We also produce some of the best fruits in the world. The various varieties of Mangoes we produce are known worldwide. Chaunsa, Sindhiri, Langara and the timeless favourite Anwar Ratole are some of the types that are known worldwide and produced here in Pakistan.
From dhabas (roadside eateries) to the continental and contemporary restaurants incessantly exploring new boundaries, when it comes to food Pakistan has no limits. Pakistan has an illustrated past that traces the culinary history of food found on the streets of Karachi and the ancient Silk & Spice route, all the way to the mountains of Kashmir giving Pakistani cuisine some much needed context.
The voyage was made interesting by the arrival of various ethnicities that put their own spin on regional food. It is duly sweetened with tales like the beloved rasgulla which is really a ‘sandesh’ in disguise, born when a 19th century sweet maker tossed it in sweet syrup.
The meat used is essentially of three types; beef, mutton and chicken. Where as many provinces in Pakistan are meat lovers with the majority of their dishes being cooked with mutton or beef, but the urbanized preference has now moved significantly more towards chicken.
The crossover appeal of Pakistani cuisines has been tossed and turned into what the Pakistani taste buds can accept. The Chinese food in Pakistan is also quintessentially Pakistani as its recipes, the spices and the method used are nowhere near the making of authentic Pakistani cuisine. It has been accepted and is made and sold that way.
Sunday plus takes a look at the entirety of cuisine in Pakistan that is an exotic blend of foreign imprints, royal whims, migrant contributions, cultural preferences and leftover legacies courtesy of conquering armies.
The country us rich in values and ethnicity where food plays a significant role in developing its culture. Pakistani food isn’t for faint of palate instead the exotic flavors rich with aroma and savory combinations serve as a festivity for all food aficionados. The country popular for its fabulous and diverse food variety, from snacks and beverages to main courses and desserts, has always something striking and flavoursome to offer the foodies! Pakistanis do not need an occasion to celebrate rather they prefer food for achieving eternal happiness. Food to Pakistanis is what a pen is to writer or a credit card to a shopaholic. They can go beyond lines to try something that satisfies their taste buds. We also talk about the major contribution of wheat being the staple food of Pakistan and the various uses of khoya in Pakistani cuisines. Fish also plays a substantial role in Pakistani cuisines as it is widely used across Pakistan in every possible way.
We gathered some famous dishes that are traditionally acknowledged in Pakistan and would definitely serve as a treat for all the bon vivant. So get ready to spruce up your taste with some spectacular cuisines offered by this culturally rich country!
Sajji: Sajji is a native dish of the desert province of Baluchistan. It is a unique and indigenous way of cooking lamb, adopted now in urban areas of Pakistan by replacing lamb with chicken. It consists of whole lamb, in skewers (fat and meat intact), marinated only in salt, sometimes covered with green papaya paste, stuffed with rice, then roasted over coals. Sajji is considered done when it is at the 'rare' stage. For making Sajji the meat is roasted to a delightful degree of tenderness and is not very spicy. It is a whole leg of a lamb or chicken that is deliciously marinated in local herbs and salt, barbecued beside an open fire. It is very popular among the locals and is offered with great insistence to the guests. It is served with special bread ‘kaak’, ‘roti’ or ‘naan’, which is baked in oven wrapped around a stone. The urban people prefer to use chat masala (spice), lemon juice, Raita (yogurt) and salad with it, originally it was eaten with bread.
Sarson ka saag : Sarson ka saag is a popular curry in the Punjab region of Pakistan which is made from mustard leaves (Sarson) and spices like green chillies, ginger, garlic, coriander, lemon and garam masala. It is regarded as the traditional way of making mustard leaves and is usually served with ‘makkai (corn) ki roti’, which literally means unraised corn bread. It can be topped with either butter (unprocessed white or processed yellow butter) or more traditionally with ghee (clarified butter). Some spinach can be added for color and thickening the dish, even if this could alter the taste.
Biryani: Biryani is a special meat and rice dish originating from the Sindh province of Pakistan. Owing to its popularity, it forms one of the most consumed dishes of Pakistani cuisines. This dish strikes a balance between the tastes and textures of rice, meat or chicken, and curry masala, which is fragrant with herbs, hot chillies, ginger, and other spices. The curried meat or chicken and rice are cooked separately, and then steamed into layers, so that the sauce and juices drip into, but don't saturate, the fluffy grain. The result is a beautifully striated centre piece that offers rice, spice, and meat in waves of astounding flavour. The spices and condiments used in biryani may include, nutmeg, mace, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, onions, and garlic. The dish may be served with yogurt chutney or raita, korma, curry, a sour dish of eggplant (brinjal) and salad.
Siri Paye: Paya is a traditional breakfast dish of Pakistan. It is also served at various festivals and treated to special guests at different occasions. Historically, when people used wood or coal as a cooking fuel, women would start this dish at night and cook it on slow heat using coals. This dish has a soup-like consistency and is usually eaten as a breakfast food in the winter months with ‘naan’. Siri means the head of the animal and Paya means the feet. The main ingredients of the dish are the Trotters or Hoof of a cow, goat or lamb; cooked with various spices. It is slow cooked on low heat for hours (usually overnight).Recipes for this dish varies slightly from region to region. The soup base is created by sautéed onions, tomatoes, and garlic to which a number of curry-based spices are added. The cooked dish is served with a garnish of fresh diced ginger and fresh cilantro leaves along with fresh sliced lemon.
Chapli kebab: Chapli Kebab is a rich mouth-watering cuisine of Peshawar also known as the iconic dish for Pashtuns who are famously recognized as meat lovers. Chapli kebab is a traditional dish from the Pakistani cuisine and is a spicy recipe. It is one of the most popular street food snack or appetizer. The word Chapli derives from the Pashto word ‘Chaprikh’ which means flat. The dish originates from Mardan and Mansehra regions of Pakistan. Mardan is famous for chapli kebab not only locally but also internationally. It is a patty made from beef mince and is one of the popular barbecue meals in Pakistan. Chapli kebab is flat round in shape and is prepared with minced beef or lamb meat, green chilies, egg, fresh herbs like mint and coriander leaves and spices. These kebabs are usually served with yoghurt sauce (raita), rice, salad and naan.
Cholay: Chana masala also known as ‘cholay masala’ is a common Punjabi dish of Pakistani. Chickpeas are the main ingredient along with other spices. It is fairly dry and spicy with a sour citrus taste. Along with chickpeas, the ingredients typically include onion, chopped tomatoes, coriander seed, garlic, chillies, ginger, dried mango powder , crushed pomegranate seed and garam masala. Aloo cholay is a Pakistani variation of chana masala made with potatoes and chickpeas. In Lahore, a variation of the dish called "murgh cholay" is popular; the dish consists of chickpeas and chicken and is part of the traditional breakfast of Lahore.
Kabuli Pulao: Kabuli Pulao is a savory Central Asian dish that is extremely relished in Pakistan. It is often prepared with cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and various kinds of nuts. It is traditionally cooked with large pieces of lamb. Kabuli Pulao is equally delicious when made with beef and chicken. This is a healthy and hearty dish that works just as well in the summers as in winters. The combination of textures, colors and nutritional value make this a popular dish that can be served as a complete meal. Kabuli Pulao consists of steamed rice mixed with lentils, raisins, carrots and lamb. It is made by cooking basmati or long grained rice in a brothy sauce which makes the rice brown. Kabuli Palau is baked in the oven and topped with fried sliced carrots, raisins, pistachios or almonds. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the middle of the dish.
Gajjar ka Halwa: Gajjar Ka Halwa is a popular Pakistani dessert which is also a commonly used worldwide dessert with many variations such as Red Velvet Halwa, Carrot and Beetroot Halwa, and Cheesy Carrot Halwa. Being a combination of milk and carrots it is known as Milk Flavored Gajjar Ka Halwa but in the other case, the combination of khoya and carrot is described as mava flavored Gajjar ka Halwa. It is made by placing grated carrot in a pot containing a specific amount of water, milk and sugar and then cooking while stirring regularly. It is often served with a garnish of almonds and pistachios. The nuts and other items used are first sautéed in ghee and then sprinkled on the top. Khoya is also added to give it a rich flavor. It is a famous dessert which is savored all over Pakistan. It is traditionally eaten during all the festivals, mainly on the occasions like Eid, dinners and weddings. The Gajar Ka Halwa is served hot during the winter.
Firni: This dish probably would have been an influence of the Mughal invasions to India. Along with them came the rich fragrant food and thereafter mingled & planted their roots into Pakistani cuisine to form a part of it. Similar kind of Rice Pudding desserts, with little variations are also a part of Turkish, Lebanese, Greece, Afghan, African & many other European & Mediterranean cuisines. Firni is a kind of rice pudding, made with powdered rice. It is similar to what we call “Kheer” in Pakistan, but unlike Kheer, it does not use whole rice grains. Firni is flavored with lots of saffron and cardamom, adorned with a lot of nuts & sometimes dry fruits too. The consistency of Firni varies from thick- where one has to really scoop out with a spoon, to creamy -where it will gently coat a spoon. In Pakistan it is served chilled in earthenware or clay cups .It tastes better when the flavors are allowed to mature for 6-7 hours or even for a day. Some versions of Firni are baked in the cups after they are cooked, chilled & served.
The story of three sources
Wheat: Wheat is the most important cereal grain and a staple food for more than one third of the world population. It is also a staple food crop of Pakistan, and accounts for nearly 36 per cent of the total cropped area. Pakistan made an important breakthrough last year by not only achieving self-sufficiency in wheat production, but also being able to become a wheat exporting country. Wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having a higher protein content than other major cereals, maize (corn) or rice. Wheat grain is a staple food used to make flour for leavened, flat and steamed breads (roti), biscuits, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, pasta, noodles etc. Wheat is planted to a limited extent as a forage crop for livestock, and its straw can be used as a construction material for roofing thatch. The whole grain can be milled to leave just the endosperm for white flour. The by-products of this are bran and germ. The whole grain is a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, and protein, while the refined grain is mostly starch. Raw wheat can be ground into flour or, used as hard durum wheat only, it can also be ground into semolina; germinated and dried creating malt; crushed or cut into cracked wheat. If the raw wheat is broken into parts at the mill, as is usually done, the outer husk or bran can be used several ways. Wheat is used as a major ingredient in breads ( roti), porridge, crackers, biscuits, pancakes, pastries, pies, cakes, rolls, doughnuts, gravy and breakfast cereals. Among the wheat producing country, Pakistan stands at 10th place in terms of area (8.5 million hectares) and 59th in terms of yield (21.0 m ton) annually. The production of wheat per acre differs from area to area and farm to farm as weather and the availability of the irrigation water through canals contribute to a great deal for its production.
Khoya: Khoya is a milk food widely used in Pakistani cuisine, made of either dried whole milk or milk thickened by heating in an open iron pan. It is similar to ricotta cheese, but lower in moisture and made from whole milk instead of whey. Khoya is made by simmering full-fat milk in an iron karahi for several hours, over a medium fire. The gradual vaporization of its water content leaves coagulated solids in milk, which is khoya. The ideal temperature to avoid scorching is 175–180°F (about 80°C).There are three types of khoya - batti, chickna, and daanedaar. Batti, meaning “rock,” has 50% moisture by weight and is the hardest of the three types; it can be grated like cheese. Chickna (slipper or squishy) khoya has 80% moisture. For daanedaar, the milk is coagulated with an acid during the simmering; it has moderate moisture content. Different types of khoya are used for different preparations.
Khoya is used as the base for a wide variety in Pakistani sweets. Itis made from both cow and water buffalo milk. Apparently it is white or pale yellow in color. If prepared in winters, it may be saved for use in the summer, and may acquire a green tinge and grainier texture from a surface mould. This is called hariyali (green khoya) and is used to make gulab jamun.
Khoya is used in various types of sweets:
- Pedha is sweetened khoya formed into balls or thick disks (like patties) with flavorings such as saffron and/or cardamom added.
- Gulab Jamun, also a ball sweet made from khoya and then deep fried and soaked in rose water flavored sugar or honey syrup.
- Barfi is also flavored, but khoya is not the only ingredient. Typically, another ingredient, such as thickened fruit pulp or coconut shavings, is added to khoya and slow cooked until the moisture evaporates sufficiently to give the consistency of fudge, so it can be flattened and cut into rectangles, parallelograms or diamond shapes.
- Gujia, a sweet dumpling stuffed with khoya.
- Halwa is essentially fudge made by adding khoya to give a dairy-like taste and texture and as a thickening agent.
Pakistani cuisines are well-known for their richness and astounding flavours and fish contributes immaculately as a popular dish at homes, dinners, weddings and various occasions.
Fish is widely used in Pakistan in a variety of ways; however, preferences vary from region to region, and are dictated in part by local produce. It is one of the popular meats admired by food fanatics in Pakistan. From Khyber to Karachi, fish is extremely popular and used in several ways especially in winters. It is a healthy source of protein, and omega 3 fatty acids, that aid in keeping our health and heart in check. There are various types of fish out there, that one can be eaten, but not all fish are edible. The most common types of fish used in Pakistan are Rohu, Baam and Trout. Fish may be eaten raw and fresh, it may be salted, dried and salted, smoked, boiled, fried, left in a specially dug hole until it gets rotten a little, made into a soup, and so on. It is a versatile meat that goes well with any kind of spice, and thrives in regions where each one has their own way of preparing the dish. Some places may be able to stomach some kinds of fish that others can't, but at the end of the day, it has its nutritional content and amazing favour.
For the love of food-tete a tete with Andleeb, a food goddess
Andleeb Naveed is the jack of all trades. A chef, an entrepreneur and a very successful service runner, she has achieved it all when it comes to the food industry. A woman of unlimited prowess, she has emerged as one of the biggest woman entrepreneurs who have made it big in this industry. With impeccable food sense and a successful chain of restaurants in place, Andleeb nowhere near exudes any flash of power and is one of the most humble and thankful ladies that we have ever met. She is one of the ladies who has the perfect profile to be quoted here as a food goddess. She has twenty years of experience as a chef and an entrepreneur in a number of restaurants that specialize in Pan Asian cuisine. Her passion for food has put her on the highest pedestal when it comes to restaurateurs. Currently running the infamous X2 which has taken Lahore by a storm, Andleeb talks to Sunday Plus about her food aspirations and her journey towards becoming the woman of power she is today.
What kick started this journey?
I think anybody who gets into this side of the business has to have an infallible love for food. That has always been my driving power. I have always been a food lover and it was always my passion. Food makes me happy and content. Along with my family, I first started off with Xinhua Restaurant. It was a very successful family venture which enjoyed itself 10 years of good repute. I have had the love of food for as long as I can remember.
You are now running the newly opened X2 Pan Asian Cuisine Restaurant. Tel us how this came about?
After Xinhua I had to take a break because we moved from Pakistan. It would be safe to say that my love of food couldn’t be kept under wraps. So when we came back, the location where X2 is situated used to be my family home. I came up with the idea of opening up another restaurant and then X2 came about. My brothers encouraged me and my family pitched in.
Why a Pan Asian Restaurant?
We had an ample experience of running a Pan Asian Restaurant. Even when we started Xinhua, it was the first fine dining restaurant of its time in Lahore. I also felt that we have a very few restaurants that offer good Pan Asian cuisines. It seemed like there was still a market for it. So we diversified the range we offered, moving from just Thai to adding more Malaysian and Asian Cuisines.
There has been a general move towards opening of Mexican, Italian and Chinese Restaurants. Do u think Pakistani food has evolved? Do you think that the taste preferences have moved towards a more contemporary setting rather then a desi one?
There is a hefty base of desi food lovers. There is nothing wrong with that, but as far as preferences are concerned we do have a typical following. They might go to an Italian or a Chinese Restaurant once in a while but it might never be their first preference. I have people who come here see the menu and ask me,’ Don’t you have any Pakistani food?’ and then they just walk out. Right now, I am more focused in being an authentic Pan Asian Restaurant at the moment as that is my forte. We used to have a lot of Restaurants that catered Pakistani food only in the past. We had a successful run with ‘Takht Lahore”. At the moment I am also working on opening up a Bistro. We are deciding what its menu will be. By the 15th of September the Bistro will be in place.
When it comes to food, what’s your forte?
Desserts. I bake a lot. Even in X2 I make desserts. I have always been passionate about cooking desserts. Although I am a reasonably good chef otherwise too, desserts is something that id never give up. I can cook Thai or Chinese and I can cook for 50 to 60 people all by myself easily. I have a lot of experience in that regard.
Did you always want to get in the food business or did you have any other ambitions?
For me, the plus point always was that my family supported me whatever i wanted to do. Especially my father. My family supported my love of food and soon after my Bachelor’s from Kinnaird College I tied the knot with my husband. My husband himself has been a darling throughout and has supported me on every step f the way. So throughout whatever new ventures I got myself into or any new ideas had regarding anything that have always been brought to fruitation due to the support of my family.
Did you ever get any professional training?
No. I kept on experimenting and learning stuff on my own. When it comes to food, I have always been curious and also wanted to try and experience new things. This passion started two decades ago and now i can stand tall and say that I have more then 20 years of experience in the field. I have looked after the service in restaurants. So I have learned through my experience a lot. We will start serving gluten free bread also because that is my latest experiment.
Do you have any new thing u want to do
I want to introduce sugar free stuff. We are already making sugar free cheesecakes and gluten free desserts.
How did you decide your menu?
I have included some of our signature dishes that are all time favourites. E.g. sweet n sour, Manchurian and chicken with cashew nuts. We are trying to cater to all age groups. Moving on t the contemporary side we do have some Thai cuisines and sushi etc. Along with it we add some Malaysian, Korean and Japanese dishes too. The Bistro that we are designing is going to have French, Mediterranean, Mexican and Continental Dishes. It’s a wide variety.
Who is your biggest critic?
My own family is my critic. They assess and analyse everything that i do and give me honest feedback. I take every one’s criticism very seriously because I know that they have the best of my interests and they want me to succeed. They can pinpoint even the minutest detail if anything is wrong. Other then that, I go through all comment cards thoroughly. It’s a daily ritual. And if i find any complain, I work with my team and try to overcome it the next day.
Culinary art especially in Pakistan is a man’s forte. How have you been able to come forward in a male oriented environment?
I’m actually the second women entrepreneur who’s running the largest chain of restaurants here in Pakistan. X2 is regarded as one of the biggest restaurants in Lahore that is privately owned. I for one have not faced many difficulties because my love for my food and my family’s support has pretty much gotten me everywhere. If it weren’t for my family, I would not be able to achieve even half of what I have today.
What new ventures are you looking into at the moment?
We are in the process of opening up a bistro, but along with that I am also going to be opening up a restaurant that deals specifically with traditional Pakistani cuisine. Since we have so many desi food lovers, it is only apt to open up something that honours and celebrates the rich cultural cuisine of Pakistan. Hopefully we will be able to embark upon this venture the coming year and I am really looking forward to it.
A Contemporary Look
Over the years, we have witnessed great culinary traditions and exquisite traditional cuisines making their way in Pakistan. Taking in account that how cuisine in Pakistan has evolved over the years, many new types of cuisines have entered the fast growing food scene in Pakistan. Over the years as the food conscious people have grown we see that cuisines from different countries have entered the manifold. We now entertain some of the best Mexican, Italian, Chinese and Thai cuisines in Pakistan. .Many restaurants have opened up whose expertise lies in these particular areas of cuisines. Sunday Plus takes a look at what’s hot in the Pakistani food platform today and how many international cuisines have opened their doors to Pakistan.
Specializing in Mexican Cuisines, this recently launched restaurant has been able to capture the essence and the ambience of a Mexican restaurant. With food varying from snack bites like nachos and burritos to fine dining it caters all types of Mexican food. The fine dining has to be their forte where scrumptious enchiladas, chimmichangas and some spicy Mexican cuisines can be eaten. With bags of flavour in tow, Loca is the perfect place to experience Mexican Cuisine here in Pakistan.
One of the very few restaurants that make dining experiences memorable, X2 has emerged as one of the finest Pan Asian Cuisine Restaurant in Pakistan. Exuding a proud team of well trained chefs, the restaurant offers some of the best fusions of Chinese, Thai and Malaysian Cuisines all in one. Apart from its expertise in Pan Asian cuisine it also offers some of the most intricately designed desserts.
PappaSalli Italian Restaurant
With an attractive interior, delicious food and courteous service, Pappasalli's is deservedly popular. There are plenty of tempting pasta dishes, including hearty spaghetti bolognaise, as well as ample other choices such as minestrone and steak Tuscany. For dessert there's a divine tiramisu as well as some glorious ice creams including praline. With some amazing Napotelian Pizzas in tow, it is definitely the place to be when it comes to trying out Italian Cuisine.
Offering some of the best Chinese dishes, Hsin Kuang has made its name as one of the most authentic Chinese Restaurants in Pakistan. A dominant Chinese style red-roof with red lanterns hanging in the standing, this Chinese restaurant splurges out tradition. Each dish indicates Chinese authenticity because of which they have earned a huge customer base.
La Terrasse is the perfect fusion of continental and French cuisine. With delicious continental dishes inspired by recipes around the world and French delicacies, it’s a sweet temptation for your taste buds. You are guaranteed a delectable experience. Whether you are celebrating a happy occasion with friends or want a quiet dinner with a loved one, La Terrasse offers the ambiance, menu and service to give you just the kind of meal you are looking for.
Offering delectable Japanese authentic cuisine, this restaurant has the repute of maintaining an impeccable service and one of the most authentic productions of Japanese Cuisine. The Sakura spicy tuna sushi roll and their Wasabi prawns have pushed people to try and appreciate Japanese Cuisine at its best. Japanese cooking is very simple with limited condiments, Sakura’s chefs have also borrowed various cooking techniques from around the world (Brazilian, Italian) and infused it with traditional Japanese cooking to take it one step further.
A restaurant portraying the renowned majesty of impressive and dignified past – Lal Qila Restaurant in Karachi is a dramatic and eye-catching insight of the glory of our sparkling esthetical essence. All the way a blend and modernism, adorned with courtesy of mughlai era lal qila Menu & buffet Pakistan offers you to dine out genuine Mughlai, Tandori, and Live Bar-B-Que & Traditional Pakistani cuisine. With an extensive range of over 90 dishes from diverse food genres in tow, it has one of the most diversified menus.