United as one country, the Britain took control over
Pakistan, India, and
Bangladesh in the 1800s and again left their mark on the cuisine. This influence
didn't make as strong an impact as previous influences, but it did open the
food up to the world. This not only spread Pakistani food abroad, but also brought
in outside foods. Although British foods arrived, it was this opening of the country
to world trade that changed the cuisine as today "ethnic" restaurants
are popular as are pre-packaged foods. While these foods can be found in many town
and cities, they are significantly more popular in the large cities.
Curry: any "wet dish" cooked in oil, can contain any
combination of spices
Naan: thin round-shaped bread served with most meals;
sometimes topped with seeds
Pulse/legumes: any bean, chickpea, or lentil dish, each
of which act as a staple in various parts of India; dal and masoor
are both forms of pulses
Rice: served as a base in many dishes and is prepared in numerous
Roti: another form of bread
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Biryani: a spicy rice dish often made with vegetables
and sometimes meat
Kebab: spiced meat, usually made from lamb or chicken served on
naan with vegetables
Palao/Pilaf: dozens of varieties exist, but it is a rice-based
dish usually made with meat and carrots
When eating in Pakistan, remember that you are in a Muslim
country and with that comes a couple etiquette rules you must know and follow. First,
dress on the conservatively side (see our Pakistan
Culture Page for more details). Second, in conservative homes and even some
restaurants, it is not acceptable to eat with a person of the opposite sex unless
it is your child, sibling, or spouse. While this isn't the rule everywhere and
among all company, to some conservative Muslims this is important so observe the
local restaurant's situation or your present company and follow their lead.
If in doubt, refrain from eating with anyone of the opposite sex who is not a family
member (a co-worker for example).
If you get by those first initial rules, try to arrive on time for a meal and if
eating in a local's home remove your shoes at the door if others have done so.
Greet the elders first, but men should not touch the hand of a woman unless she
offers her hand, although you should greet and acknowledge everyone. Let your host
seat you and when sitting be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor or pointed
behind you as pointing the soles of your feet at another can be offensive; you may
be asked to sit on the floor around the dastarkhan. You will also be asked
to wash your hands prior to eating; this may mean you wash at a faucet before sitting
or you may be asked to sit down then someone will come around with a wash basin
so you can wash your hands at the table.
Once the food begins to arrive, and there will be a lot, your host may direct you
to certain dishes you should eat; accept all of your host's suggestions as turning
down food can be rude (but not taking food that your host doesn't recommend
is not offensive). Although you must take all of their suggestions, try to limit
the amount you take so you can later accept additional food, which is a great compliment.
Many times all dishes are brought out at the same time, but avoid taking desserts
or fruits with your entree as these foods are reserved for after the main meal.
Eat as the locals eat; in nearly all settings this means eating directly with your
right hand (and your right hand only), but in rare settings you may be offered dining
utensils (cutlery), in which case eat in the continental style (knife or spoon in
the right hand, fork in the left). If a knife is not present, most locals will hold
the spoon in their right hand and eat primarily from the spoon. No matter which
utensil you hold in which hand, be sure to only bring food to your mouth with the
utensil in your right hand. As you finish your food, and your second helping of
food, leave a bit on your plate to show there was more than enough then place your
fork and knife together in the 5:00 position. You may be offered tea after the meal
and after tea will be offered dessert or fruits, which usually ends a large meal.
After everyone gets up from the table, you should again follow the lead of others
and wash your hands once more, which again may come from a water basin passed around
the table or you may be asked to use a faucet.
Dining in a restaurant in Pakistan is limited as there
are few restaurants and most of those that do exist are catered to foreigners. More
likely, if meeting a local out, you'll do so for tea at a teahouse. If at a
restaurant, a service charge is usually include, which will replace the tip, however
at many local teahouses and some restaurants no service charge is included; tip
about 10% to the server.
Celebrations & Events
Pakistan has a couple celebrations that are closely tied
to particular foods; weddings and certain religious events tend to be celebrated
with certain foods. In the center of every Pakistani wedding, other than the wedding
couple of course, is the food. The selection is always extensive, but usually is
centered around local national foods, the most important perhaps being the presence
of numerous sweets. In addition to the wide variety of dessert, the main course
generally includes biryani, as well as other vegetarian and non-vegetarian
In Pakistan, Eid al Fitr is known as Choti Eid,
which is a celebration that occurs immediately after Ramadan, a religious holiday
that requires fasting for 30 days. Choti Eid is celebrated with the heavy
use of both meat and oil, two items which symbolize wealth and are rich and filling
enough to satisfy anyone who has fasted for a full month. However, these foods are
followed with desserts so one must leave some room for more food. The desserts are
again traditional Pakistani foods, including rice pudding among others.
The second major religious food celebration in Pakistan
is Eid al Adha, which is only celebrated after a pilgrim returns from haj,
the mandatory journey for every able Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival
contains a large number of traditional Pakistani dishes such as biryani,
meat dishes, and desserts; the foods served are not unlike those served during Eid
If you want to meet locals in Pakistan, stop for some tea,
all the locals do numerous times each day. The tea options vary, but black tea and
green tea are the most popular. Soft drinks and coffee are quickly gaining popularity
as well and are now very easy to find throughout the country. A couple local specialties
include lassi, which is a yogurt-based drink and flavored crushed ice drinks.
As a primarily Muslim country, Pakistan has very little
alcohol available, but it can be purchased in some hotels catered to foreigners,
although it is banned for Muslims to drink.
The tap water in Pakistan should not be consumed. Be sure
to also avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water. Salads
and fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with those
foods as well.