Pakistani cuisine can be characterized by a blend of various regional cooking traditions of the Central Asia, South Asia as well as elements from its Mughal legacy. The various cuisines are derived from Pakistan’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
Cuisine from the eastern provinces of Punjab and Sindh are characterized as “highly seasoned” and “spicy”, which is characteristic of flavors of Northern India. Cuisine from the western and northern provinces of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Tribal Areas and the Gilgit-Baltistan are characterized as “mild” which is characteristic of flavors of the Central Asian region.
International cuisine and fast food are popular in the cities. Blending local and foreign recipes (fusion food), such as Pakistani Chinese cuisine, is common in large urban centers. Furthermore, as a result of lifestyle changes, ready-made masala mixes (mixed and ready-to-use spices) are becoming increasingly popular. However, given the diversity of the people of Pakistan, cuisines generally differ from home to home and may be different from mainstream Pakistani cuisine.
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Video – Prasanth Paravoor
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 from a local bakery (or prepared at home).
During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the eating patterns change to suhur, pronounced “Sehar” in Pakistan, and iftar. It is considered proper to eat only with the right hand as per Islamic tradition (also a tradition in many other Asian cultures). Many Pakistani families, particularly when guests are too many to fit at a table, eat sitting at a cloth known as Dastarkhān, which is spread out on the floor.
In Pakistan, many street eateries serve food on a takht, in a style similar to what is seen in Afghanistan. A takht is a raised platform, where people eat their food sitting cross-legged, after taking their shoes off. Most Pakistanis used to eat on a takht. Pakistanis often eat with their hands, scooping up solid food along with sauce with a piece of baked bread (naan) or rice.
In Pakistan, main courses are usually served with wheat bread (either roti or naan) or rice. Salad is generally taken as a side dish with the main course, rather than as an appetizer beforehand. Assorted fresh fruit or sometimes desserts are consumed at the end of a meal. Meat plays a much more dominant role in Pakistani food, compared to other South Asian cuisines.
According to a 2003 report, an average Pakistani consumed three times more meat than an average Indian. Of all the meats, the most popular are goat, mutton, beef and chicken, which are particularly sought after as the meats of choice for kebab dishes or the classic beef shank dish nihari.
Seafood is generally not consumed in large amounts, though it is very popular in the coastal areas of Sindh and the Makran coast of Balochistan and was a dominant element of the cuisine of the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Curries, with or without meat, combined with local vegetables, such as bitter gourd, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, cabbage, potatoes, rutabaga, saag, and chili peppers are most common and cooked for everyday consumption. A typical example is aloo gosht (literally “potatoes and meat”), a homestyle recipe consisting of a spiced meat and potato stew, and is ubiquitously prepared in many households. Korma is a classic dish of Mughlai origin made of either chicken or mutton, typically eaten with naan or other bread, and is very popular in Pakistan.
Outside Pakistan, Pakistani cuisine is prevalent in countries, where they have large Pakistani communities. The Balti curry is a British dish that is claimed to have origins in the Kashmir region that borders Pakistan.
Pakistani food makes use of fresh hand-pounded masalas. Ghee is used, but the main component of the meal or a dish is meat (beef, lamb, chicken, goat, or fish), and vegetables are sparingly used. Surprisingly, Pakistani food also makes extensive use of olive oil. Sparingly used vegetables does not mean there is no vegetarian food on the menu. Since the cuisine is very similar to Punjabi-style of cooking, tikka, simmered dals, tawa sabzi, and chaat feature here.