At its simplest, Pakistani food today consists of staple ingredients which are
cheap and abundant. Wheat and other flour products are the mainstay of the
diet, one familiar form being CHAPATI, an unleavened bread akin to a
Mexican tortilla. This is made with dough prepared from whole wheat flour.
Another basic Pakistani food is LASSI, milk from which curds and butterfat
have been removed. Vegetables, usually seasonal, lentils are commonly used.
Families with larger incomes eat more meat, eggs and fruits. And the more
affluent cook with GHEE, which is clarified butter, instead of with
From the earliest times, the imaginative - and sometimes heavy - use of
spices, herbs, seeds, and flavorings and seasonings have helped
cooks transform rather ordinary staple Pakistani foods into an exotic cuisine.
Consider some of the most common of these in wide use in Pakistan today:
chilli powder, turmeric, garlic, paprika, black pepper, red pepper, cumin
seed, bay leaf, coriander, cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, saffron,
mace, nutmeg, poppyseeds, aniseed, almonds, pistachios, and yogurt.
Their use in a wide range of pickles, chutneys, preserves, and sauces,
together with curries of all descriptions and special treatment for meats,
sea, food, vegetables and lentils, gives Pakistani food much of its
Cultural influences, whether religious precepts, practices, and ceremonies
or local traditions, or even esthetic preferences, have made their
contribution toward the evolution of Pakistani cuisine.
The Influence Of Islam:
The spread of Islam to what is now Pakistan, starting in the Eighth
Century, has given a basic character to the food of Pakistan. The Quranic
injunctions against eating pork or drinking alcoholic beverages has
channeled tastes and appetites in other directions. Lamb, beef, chicken and
fish are basic foods, although their consumption by persons of low income is
modest and often ceremonial.
Some of the Muslim feasts involve special dishes. Eid-ul-Adha,
which commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim's readiness to obey God even to the
point of being willing to sacrifice his son, is observed by the sacrifice of
a goat, a lamb, or a cow from which special dishes are made.
On Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of RAMZAN, the month of
fasting in the Islamic Calender, the serving of a special dessert of
vermicelli cooked in milk is a must. Almond and pistachios are added as
decorations as is the silver foil. The latter is so thin that it will
disintegrate unless it is immediately transferred from the protective layers
of paper onto the dish.
Food And The Moghul Emperors:
Another major influence in the development of Pakistani food cookery was the
establishment of the Moghul Empire starting in 1526. The opulent tastes
exhibited by such Emperors as Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and
Aurangzeb in art, architecture, music, dance, and jewelry was also extended
A style of cookery called Moghlai' evolved at the Moghul court and
even today it remains centered in Lahore. Some latter-day and widely known
survivors of court cookery are, for example, chicken tandoori, a dish in
which chicken is cooked at low temperatures in special ovens called TANDOORS,
and murgh musallum' in which the whole chickens are roasted with special
spices and ingredients. SHAHI TUKRA, a dessert of sliced bread,
milk, cream, sugar and saffron, is another left-over from the days of the
Perhaps the ultimate Moghul cuisine was reached when the imperial chefs
perfected the recipes for desserts made from ginger and garlic. Ginger and
garlic puddings are still made in some homes for truly special occasions.
Fruit drinks, squeezed from pomegranates, apples, melons, and mangoes, and
called SHARBAT, are an important part of the Moghlai cuisine and,
indeed, the inspiration for American "sherberts."
Cookery in Pakistan has always had a regional character, with each of the
four provinces offering special dishes. In the Punjab, for example, the
Moghlai' cuisine using tandoor ovens and elaborate preparations is
important. In Baluchistan, cooks use the SAJJI method of barbecuing whole
lambs and stick bread in a deep pit.
BUNDA PALA (fish) is a well known delicacy of Sind. The fish is
cleaned and stuffed with a paste made from a variety of spices and herbs,
including red pepper, garlic, ginger, and dried pomegranate seeds. It is
then wrapped in cloth and is buried three feet deep in hot sand under the
sun. There it stays baking for four to five hours from late morning to early
afternoon. THANDAL, made from milk and a paste of fresh almonds, is
a popular drink. Cooking in the Northwest Frontier Province is a great deal
plainer and involves the heavy use of lamb.
Ceremonial occasions such as weddings have inspired a number of fancy
dishes. A traditional dish at marriage feasts, for example, is chicken curry
with either PILAU or BIRYANI. FIRINI, made from cream of rice and milk, is
an equally traditional wedding dessert. It is served in clay saucers topped
by silver foil. At Zoroastrian (Parsi) weddings, which are not frequent
because so few followers of this ancient Iranian religion live in Pakistan,
a special fish dish is served. This is PATRANI MACHCHI, consisting of sole,
plaice, or a local fish called pomfret, wrapped in banana leaves, steamed or
fried, and then baked slowly for half an hour.