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Roaring with dazzling flavor combinations and often accompanied with plenty of heat and spice, Pakistani food takes you on a culinary experience like no other in Asia.
A cuisine as diverse as the country’s culture and population, the foods of Pakistan bring together influences from across Asia.
Foodies with a love of sweet, spicy, and exotic flavors will find plenty to get excited about in Pakistan’s rich and wholesome array of dishes.
While you may encounter some of these dishes in other cuisines on the subcontinent, such as India and Bangladesh, preparation, spices, and other ingredients will vary in different regions and countries.
So, guided by the expertise of a local, let’s look closer at one of Asia’s most underrated cuisines. Here are 22 foods you simply have to try in Pakistan.
Foods to Try in Pakistan
1 – Lassi (Yogurt Cream and Water)
Lassi is a traditional Punjabi drink made from yoghurt, cream, and water. It is Pakistan’s favorite drink in the summertime.
A big glass of namkeen lassi and mangoes is something Pakistanis love to have on a hot summer’s day. Usually, lassi is blended with ice and served with a heavy meal to wash everything down.
Lassi was made famous by Punjabi farmers who would mix their milk with sugar and curd. They kept this refreshing beverage in clay pots and would drink it after a long hard day in the fields.
Nowadays, you can try flavored lassi too. It can be salted (Namkeen lassi) or mixed with fruits, like mangoes and strawberries. Sweet lassi (Meethi lassi) is often served with mint, rosewater, and cardamom.
2 – Doodh Patti (Milk Tea)
Doodh patti, or chai, is the national drink of Pakistan. It is a beverage that is very important in Pakistani culture.
The nation starts its day with chai. From dining rooms to street corners, to dhabas (roadside cafés), where you will find all sorts of people having their daily chai fix.
If you are a guest in a Pakistani home, you will nearly always be offered a cup of chai. Conversation over a cup of chai can lead to two strangers becoming friends.
The process of making chai is a simple one. The drink is made from milk, tea leaves, some cardamom, and sugar. It is usually served piping hot, so be careful when taking your first sip.
3 – Gol Gappay (Pani Puri)
Also known as pani puri in the Indian subcontinent, gol gappay are deep-fried crisps that are filled with chickpeas. Once fried, they are dipped in sweet tamarind sauce and chili water. The crisps are made with whole-wheat flour or suuji, a type of semolina.
Gol gappay are circular crisps with a broken shell, stuffed with goodness. To maximize the flavor, Pakistanis fill each gol gappay with sauce, dip it in chili water, and crunch away.
These popular street foods snacks can be found at street vendor stalls, fairs, festivals, and weddings. They are a must-try Pakistani food in regions across the country.
4 – Pakora (Fritters)
Pakoras are essentially a Pakistani version of a deep-fried fritter, made with besan, a type of chickpea flour, potatoes, and vegetables. Usually served as a snack with a cup of chai on a rainy day, pakoras are loved across the country. Especially during Ramadan, pakoras are a popular food at iftar time.
There are many types of pakoras. These include aloo pakoras (potato fritters), palak pakoras (spinach fritters), and vegetable pakoras (vegetable fritters).
5 – Samosa Chaat
A samosa is a small triangular-shaped pastry, filled with spices, potatoes, and qeema (minced meat). It is a very popular snack in the subcontinent.
Samosa chaat is made by crushing a samosa, then serving it with chutney, potatoes, vegetables, and chickpeas. This savory dish is a very popular street food in Pakistan. It can be found all over the country, sold by street vendors, desi cafes, and tea stalls.
6 – Bun Kebab (Kebab and Bun Sandwich)
Bun kebab is a popular choice amongst students in Pakistan. It is essentially a Pakistani take on a burger, and very inexpensive to try. The dish originates from Karachi, where you’ll find bun kebab sellers on every street corner.
This rich, spicy Pakistani snack consists of a bread bun, which is seared on a tava, a type of griddle, until crisp and golden brown.
Once seared, the bun is filled with shami kebab, a flat chicken kebab, chutney sauce, ketchup, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and served with raita, a refreshing mint yogurt dip.
For a few extra rupees, many street vendors will add an egg omelet inside the bun, too. If you want a taste of beloved, authentic Pakistani street food, bun kebab is a must-try dish.
7 – Chapshurro (Meat Flatbread Cake)
Chapshurro is a famous meat-based dish of Gilgit Baltistan, in the north of Pakistan. Essentially, chapshurro is a meat-heavy hotplate cake, often made of a mixture of beef, mutton, or chicken, with onions, chilies, and vegetables.
Once prepared, the filling is stuffed between two flatbreads and cooked on a large steel or iron plate. It is very famous among the locals of Gilgit Baltistan, and a popular snack during the colder winter months in Pakistan.
8 – Qeemay Wala Naan (Minced Meat Flatbread)
Almost identical to the chapshurro, the qeemay wala naan is a delicacy of Punjab and Sindh. It is made from a soft and elastic dough of flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Once rolled, the dough stuffed with qeema, chilies, onions, and spices.
You can find a staggering range of different naans in Pakistan. You can find qeemay wala naan, aloo wala naan, Nutella naan, pizza naan, vegetable naan, afghani naan, cheese naan, sausage naan, chicken naan, and so many more.
Whether you get naan as a grab-and-go food or enjoy it in a resturant with chai or kehwa, a type of green tea, there are so many flavors and combinations to choose from.
9 – Paratha (Baked Flatbread)
Paratha is a flatbread made from wheat flour and baked in ghee. Originating from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, the paratha is a truly irresistible flatbread. It is commonly paired with chai and lassi.
Pakistanis all over the country commonly enjoy paratha, eggs, and chai for breakfast. You can also enjoy paratha with yogurt, too. Many Pakistinas like to roll their flatbread, dip in in the yoghurt, and enjoy the flavor combinations.
Parathas are made all over Pakistan, served with all sorts of food and drinks. You can find them in restaurants, sold by street food vendors, in dhabas, and at roadside eateries.
10 – Chicken Karahi
Chicken karahi is a delicious poultry dish, made from chicken, chili, spices, ginger, cardamom, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic. The word karahi refers to the deep cooking pot in which it is made.
Traditional karahi is a tomato and ginger-based, thick masala curry, with a rich creamy flavor, loaded with juicy, tender chicken. It is a must-try for those who enjoy chicken dishes, and it is served with roti, naan, and raita.
Originating from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this dish has evolved through the ages. Today, it is one of the most famous dishes in Pakistan, and it can be found at almost every desi restaurant in the country. In many Pakistanis’ opinions, chicken karahi is one of the country’s greatest dishes, and hence, it is a must-try if you visit.
11 – Mutton Karahi (Lamb Karahi)
The default meal on Eid, mutton karahi is traditonally seen as the big brother of chicken karahi. Mutton karahi is made from a rich mixture of lamb or mutton, with tomatoes, chilies, ginger, and garlic.
As with chicken karahi, a rich, thick gravy is cooked inside the karahi. Once the gravy is prepared, the mutton is marinated, and cooked until tender and juicy.
Mutton karahi is a simple and truly mouthwatering dish for meat lovers. Served with roghni naan, raita, and a soft drink, this is a Pakistani dish enjoyed by millions throughout the country.
12 – Lahori Paaye (Lahori Goat Feet)
Using goat in a dish may raise a few eyebrows, but in Pakistan, goat is a meat that has been eaten for centuries. Lahori paaye is a traditional stew, which uses both goat’s head and feet in the recipe.
To prepare, the meat is stir-fried with onions, ginger and garlic paste, spices, chilies, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom, and served hot. As a dish, paaye is rich, nutritious, and packed with flavor.
Phajjay kay paaye are very popular all over the world. If you ever find yourself in Lahore, you should definitely try this authentic dish.
13 – Nihari (Meat Stew)
Nihari is a flavorful, juicy meat stew, made from beef shanks, mutton, and sometimes chicken. The meat is cooked together with stock and spices like garam masala, cardamom, ginger, garlic, and cloves, adding spice and depth to the flavor.
The stew is cooked in large cauldrons, sealed for six to eight hours to let the stew cook slowly, releasing the flavors.
As a dish, nihari is eaten for breakfast, often with roti or plain nan. Some people also garnish it with green chilis and mint leaves.
Nihari was made famous by the Mughal empire because the nawabs used to eat the dish with chapatis or rotis before their morning prayers. It is a nutritious and protein-rich meal, that will keep you going for the whole day.
14 – Kata Kat (Offal Dish)
Originating from Karachi, kata kat gets its name from the sound the tava, a type of griddle, makes when different parts of meat are dissected and cooked on it.
Kata kat is a dish of different parts of the animal. These include kidneys, brain, testicles, heart, liver, and lungs, all of which are mixed with spices such as coriander, ginger, mint, garam masala, tomatoes, garlic, and onions.
The final dish is served with paratha, naan, or roti. Kata kat is a dish dating back centuries in Pakistan, and it is a dish of deep historical importance.
15 – Halwa Poori & Channay (Poori, Pudding, and Chickpeas)
This dish is a favorite Sunday breakfast for Pakistanis across the country. Halwa poori and channay is a wholesome dish of three core foods. The dish features the semolina pudding of halwa, the soft crispy fried dough poori, and chickpeas, or channay.
Combined, halwa poori and channay is a dish that offers so much textural depth. The channay are rich and wholesome, while the poori is soft and light. Halwa, served with pistachio, almond, and sugar syrup, then brings in a generous amount of sweetness.
Served with aloo ki bhujiya, a dish of spiced potatoes, and a glass of lassi, this is a Pakistani food fit for feasts of all kinds and occasions.
16 – Peshawari Chapli Kebab (Peshawari Flat Kebab)
Pashtuns are master chefs at making meat and the whole province prides itself in its ability to make world-class meals from meat.
The trademark of Pashtun cuisine, the Peshawari kebab or chapli kebab is prepared from minced beef or mutton. It is called chapli kebab because chapli means flat in Pashto. The minced meat is combined with spices, dried coriander, pomegranate seeds, green chili, and mint. These are served with naan, yogurt, and salads.
17 – Sindhi Biryani
Biryani is a dish that was introduced by the Mughal Empire. It is believed that the wife of the emperor, Shah Jahan, first inspired this dish in the 16th century. The word ‘birian’ means ‘fried’ in Persian, further highlighting the Persian influence on Pakinstani food through the ages.
Originated in Sindh, the Sindhi biryani is the most popular version of biryani in Pakistan. It is prepared with a huge variety of ingredients.
This delicious main is a dish of chicken, basmati rice, tomatoes, yogurt, masala, onions, spices, ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, mint, and bay leaves. It is packed with flavor, and one of the country’s must-try main courses.
18 – Balochi Sajji (Balochi Rotisserie Meat)
Sajji is a famous Balochi dish, made from roasted lamb or chicken. Traditionally, the meat used is marinated in salt and a small amount of spice, before cooking.
The whole chicken is then roasted over an open fire, with the burning wood giving the chicken a distinct smoky flavor. A perfect balochi sajji sees the whole chicken crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.
Sajji is usually sprinkled with a little lemon juice, roti, and yogurt.
19 – Khaddi Kebab (Stuffed Lamb)
Khaddi kebab, or khadda kebab, is a traditional food of Balochi cuisine. A dish to satisfy any meat lover, khadi kebab is made from a full lamb, which is traditionally barbecued in an underground pit, known as a khadda.
The pit is filled with searing coals inside, and before cooking the lamb is covered with an iron sheet. Once the lamb is inside, the pit is made airtight with a clay covering, before the iron sheet is finally covered with more burning coals.
To truly maximize the flavor of the meat, professional Pakistani chefs stuff the lamb with rice, raisins, cashews, almonds, and dried nuts. The lamb is then stitched together before roasting.
It takes around three hours to prepare the lamb properly. Traditionally a dish of rural and mountain settlements, khaddi kebab often feeds an entire settlement or tribe, who come together to enjoy the feast, eating the meat with their hands, under a setting sun or a moonlit night.
20 – Sohan Halwa (Sohan Pudding)
Sohan halwa is a sweet dish, traditionally from Multan, Punjab. It is a pudding made from milk, flour, wheat, salt, sugar, lemon, and ghee, a type of buttermilk.
The mixture is boiled until it thickened, then nuts, such as pistachios, almonds, and walnuts, are added to the mixture. Cardamom and saffron are also added, adding an intense aromatic quality to the dish.
Once ready, sohan halwa has a hard, candy-like texture to it, and is very sweet and nutty. It is sold commercially in beautiful tins, commonly gifted to visitors and tourists in Multan.
21 – Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Pudding)
Gajar ka halwa is a sweet pudding, made from carrots, milk, sugar, ghee, nuts, and khoya, a type of dried milk. The dessert is often served at special occasions, Eid, festivals, and weddings.
It can be consumed either warm or chilled. Various regions of Pakistan also have their own versions of this beloved sweet dish. Some chefs add saffron, almonds, and pistachios to it, for example, to add more flavor.
22 – Kheer (Rice Pudding)
Kheer is a rich Pakistani dessert, famous not only in Pakistan, but also India, where it is known as shahi kheer, or ‘sheer’.
This is a wholesome, sweet, and tasty dessert, enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and ages. Pakistani rice pudding is a dish of boiled rice, to which dried fruits and pure milk are added. Pakistanis also like to flavor it with nuts, cardamom, and saffron, once ready to eat.
Kheer is served at Eid, before prayer, and at festivals and weddings. Though a common dish at festivals, kheer can be consumed any time of the year.
Pakistani Food Summary
Pakistan has heat, spice, richness, and sweetness, all in abundance. It is a truly unique and exciting Asian cuisine, and one that foodies from all walks of life can enjoy.
Whether it be on the streets of Pakistan or from the comfort of your home kitchen, there are so many wonderful dishes on this list to sample, enjoy, and fall in love with.
From spicy curries served with fresh naan bread, to succulent meat and delicious chicken dishes rife with sweet and spicy ingredients, traditional Pakistani cuisine is alive with so much heat, flavor, and texture, and lifetime simply isn’t enough to sample and savor it all.
Be sure to keep this list of Pakistani foods handy, ready for wherever your next culinary adventure takes you. One last time, here’s the list in full:
- Lassi (Yogurt Cream and Water)
- Doodh Patti (Milk Tea)
- Gol Gappay (Pani Puri)
- Pakora (Fritters)
- Samosa Chaat
- Bun Kebab (Kebab and Bun Sandwich)
- Chapshurro (Meat Flatbread Cake)
- Qeemay Wala Naan (Minced Meat Flatbread)
- Paratha (Baked Flatbread)
- Chicken Karahi
- Mutton Karahi (Lamb Karahi)
- Lahori Paaye (Lahori Goat Feet)
- Nihari (Meat Stew)
- Kata Kat (Offal Dish)
- Halwa Poori & Channay (Poori, Pudding, and Chickpeas)
- Peshawari Chapli Kebab (Peshawari Flat Kebab)
- Sindhi Biryani (Meat and Rice Biryani)
- Balochi Sajji (Balochi Rotisserie Meat)
- Khaddi Kebab (Stuffed Lamb)
- Sohan Halwa (Sohan Pudding)
- Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Pudding)
- Kheer (Rice Pudding)
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Contributor: Momin Asif is a content specialist hailing from Lahore Cantt. He writes on a wide range of topics, including Pakistani cuisine, culture, and travel.