Pakistan lies northwest of India and west of China. The country's
name comes from the Urdu language (Pakistan's official language),
meaning "Land of the Pure." It is approximately the size of
Texas and its southern coast borders the Arabian Sea. The Hindu Kush and
Himalayan mountain ranges of northern Pakistan have some of the most
rugged land found anywhere in the world. Nearly all of the land in these
mountains lies above 7,800 feet. The Indus plains are in the central
region of the country. The climate there is hot and dry. The region
usually receives only about eight inches of rain a year and temperatures
may hover around 104°F for months at a time. Despite these
conditions, the Indus plains support the largest part of Pakistan's

Urdu is Pakistan's official language, although only 10 percent of
Pakistanis speak it. Sixty percent of the population speak Punjabi. Other
languages include Sindhi (13 percent); Pushto or Pashtu, spoken by the
Pathans (8 percent); and Kashmiri, 2 percent. With this diversity, and
because of the role of language in cultural identity, Urdu has been
adopted as Pakistan's national language.


The spreading of the Islam religion, starting in the


700s, forms the basis of Pakistani cuisine. Because Muslims (those who
practice the Islam religion) are forbidden to eat pork or consume alcohol,
they concentrated on other areas of food such as beef, chicken, fish, and

The Moghul Empire (from India) began its ruling in present-day Pakistan
around 1526. Its style of cooking, called


, typically includes such ingredients as herbs and spices, almonds, and


cooking remains an important part of Pakistani cuisine. Foods such as

shahi tukra

, a dessert made with sliced bread, milk, cream, sugar, and saffron (a
type of spice),


and chicken tandoori are still enjoyed in the twenty-first century.
Chicken tandoori is chicken that is cooked at a low temperature in special
large clay ovens called tandoors.

Shahi Tukra


  • 5 slices bread
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 4 cups milk
  • Saffron powder, to taste (optional)
  • Raisins or prunes (dried plums)


  1. Remove the crusts from the bread with a knife. Cut the bread into four
    triangular pieces.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan (over medium heat) and fry the bread pieces
    one at a time on both sides until golden brown.
  3. In a saucepan, add the milk and sugar and bring to a boil, making a
    slightly thick sauce.
  4. Add the saffron to the sauce (optional). Reduce heat to low.
  5. Soak the bread slices in the milk sauce and garnish with the raisins or
    prunes (dried plums). Serve immediately.

Serves 5 to 10.

Pakistan was part of India until 1947. Although Pakistani cuisine has
obvious Indian roots (found in its heavy use of spices, for example), its
foods reflect Irani, Afghani, Persian, and Western influences to give it
its own distinct character. These cultures brought different uses of
herbs, flavorings, and sauces to Pakistan, transferring ordinary staple
foods into unique dishes.


Pakistan is divided into four provinces, each with different cultures and
regional specialties. For example,


(fish) and other seafood are delicacies in the coastal Sind province. In
Baluchistan, (the largest province) located in western Pakistan, cooks use


method of barbecuing whole lambs in a deep pit. The people living in
Punjab (eastern Pakistan) are known for their


(bread) and elaborate cooking preparations. The Pathens, who occupy the
Northwest Frontier province, eat a lot of lamb. Their cooking, however, is
considered more bland than the other regions. Oven-baked bread
eaten with cubes of meat, called


, is a favorite Pathen dish.

As a whole, milk, lentils, seasonal


(vegetables), and flour and wheat products are the most abundant foods,
forming the basis of Pakistani cuisine.


is a flat bread made from wheat and is a staple at most meals. It is used
to scoop up food in place of eating utensils. Vegetables such as








(chickpeas), and


(peas) are eaten according to the season.




) is a stew made with lentils, one of the most commonly eaten vegetables.

Dhal (Lentil Stew)


  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (a common spice found in supermarkets)
  • 1½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or saucepan.
  2. Sauté the onion, garlic, and spices.
  3. Add the water and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 45
  5. 5. Remove the cover and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, about
    20 more minutes (until lentils are mushy and thick).
  6. 6. Serve with rice.

Serves 4.


Dhal is made from lentils. There are several varieties of
lentils—red, brown, and green. All are used by South Asian
(Pakistani and Indian) cooks.

EPD Photos/Himanee Gupta

Pakistan offers many fresh fruits that are most plentiful in the summer
and autumn months. Mangoes, papayas, bananas, watermelon, apricots, and
apples are some examples.


have the taste of a date and the texture of a kiwi fruit. Many Pakistanis
eat their fruit (especially watermelon) with a light dusting of salt to
offset the sweetness or tartness.

While these dietary staples may seem bland, Pakistani cuisine is rich with
sauces and condiments to spice up their dishes. A variety of spices (an
Indian influence), such as chili powder, curry, ginger, garlic, coriander,
paprika, and cinnamon, are at the heart of Pakistani cuisine. A wide range
of chutneys
(a relish usually made of fruits, spices, and herbs), pickles, and
preserves that accompany meats and vegetables give Pakistani cuisine its
distinct flavor.

Aaloo Bukhary Ki Chutney (Plum Chutney)


  • 1 cup prunes (dried plums)
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Red chili powder, to taste


  1. In a saucepan, add the water, salt, peppers, and chili powder to dried
  2. Bring to a boil and cook until plums are tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce
    heat to medium and add sugar.
  3. Stir, and cook until the sugar melts and the mixture thickens, about 2
  4. Add the vinegar and bring the mixture to a boil, about 2 minutes.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature as a condiment with


    (bread), meat, or vegetables.

Those who can afford it eat meats such as sheep, poultry, and sometimes

gayka gosht

(beef). There are a number of ways meat is prepared in Pakistan.


is a method where the meat is cooked with vegetables and served in its
own pan.


is meat stir-fried with tomatoes, egg, and chilies.



bhoti kebab

both refer to meat grilled on a spit (a slender rod or skewer) over an
open fire.

Chicken Karaii


  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
  • ¼ cup green chilies, finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon allspice powder
  • ½ cup vegetable oil


  1. In a saucepan, boil the chicken in the water for 5 minutes. Remove the
    chicken and set aside.
  2. In a frying pan, heat oil over medium heat and add the tomatoes.
  3. Stir and cook the tomatoes until they form a thick paste.
  4. Add the ginger, salt, allspice, black pepper and chicken.
  5. Cook on low heat until the chicken is tender.
  6. Add the green chilies and cook for 2 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6.

In rural areas, meat is saved for a special occasion. Eating pork is
forbidden for Muslims, who make up about 97 percent of Pakistan's
population. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mutton (sheep) and beef are not
supposed to be sold or served in public places in Pakistan (although the
reason for


Fruit and vegetable vendors in Pakistan.

Cory Langley

this is considered economic, not religious). Seafood and


(fish) are commonly eaten in Karachi, located on the coast of the Arabian

There are a number of foods to cool off the spicy flavors of a Pakistani


(yogurt) can be eaten plain or used in




is a drink made with yogurt, ice, and sugar for breakfast, or salt for
lunch or dinner.


is a yogurt curd with cumin and vegetables. Baked yams and


(boiled or roasted corn on the cob) may also accompany a spicy dish.

Raita (Yogurt and Vegetable Salad)


  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 to 4 cups mixed vegetables, such as raw spinach and cucumber, cooked
    potatoes or eggplant
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh mint, minced
  • ½ teaspoon each cumin, salt, and black pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Mix well.

Serves 6 to 8.

Lassi (Yogurt Drink)

This popular drink can be enjoyed sweet or salty. Pakistanis usually
drink lassi sweet for breakfast, or salty for lunch or dinner.


  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 3 to 4 ice cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt or sugar
  • ½ cup water


  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Pour into individual glasses.

Serves 3 or 4.

Pakistanis may enjoy such desserts as


(rice puding) or


(pistachio ice cream). Some sweet shops may sell


which are deep-fried orange "pretzels" made with flour,
yogurt, and sugar, and


made from dried milk solids. Offering sweets to one another to celebrate
happy events is a popular Pakistani tradition.

Kheer (Rice Pudding)


  • 1 cup rice, uncooked
  • ½ gallon milk
  • ¼ cup almonds or pistachios, crushed
  • 1½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup raisins


  1. Combine the rice and milk in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low and add the sugar and nuts. Stir.
  3. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with raisins. Serve hot or cold.

Serves 4.


The majority of Pakistanis are Muslims, about 97 percent. The other 3
percent include Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and Baha'is. Within
the Muslim community, the majority are Sunnis, and about 25 percent are
Shi'ah. The difference between these two Muslim groups generally
lies in a dispute of authority, not beliefs.

The two major religious festivals celebrated by the Muslim Pakistanis are
Id al-Fitr (also spelled Eid al-Fitr), which celebrates the end of
Ramadan, and Bakr-Id, the feast of sacrifice. Ramadan is the Muslim month
of fasting from sunrise to sunset. This means that no food or drinks,
including water, may be consumed during that time. Most restaurants and
food shops are closed during daylight hours. Breakfast must be finished
before the sun rises, and the evening meal is eaten after the sun goes
down. Children under the age of 12 are encouraged, but generally not
expected, to fast.

During Ramadan, Muslims rise before dawn to eat a meal called


(pronounced soo-HER). Foods containing grains


Ground turmeric, which gives dishes a deep yellow color, is made by
grinding the dried turmeric root. The turmeric plant is a member of
the ginger family.

EPD Photos/Himanee Gupta

and seeds, along with dates and bananas, are commonly eaten because they
are considered slow to digest. This helps to ease hunger during the fast.
At sunset, the day's fast is broken with


, a meal that traditionally starts with eating a date. After that, water,
fruit juice, or


and snacks such as


(meat or vegetable-filled pastries) are eaten, followed by dinner. Dinner
may include tandoori chicken or lamb. If a family can afford it, dinner is
shared with those less fortunate.

Id al-Fitr, or the "Feast of Fast Breaking," is celebrated
after the month of Ramadan ends. Family and friends visit and eat festive
meals throughout the day. Families use their best dishes, and bowls of
fruit are set out on the table. Meats such as beef, lamb, and fish (in
coastal areas) are eaten along with rice,


, and desserts.

Bakr-Id is an occasion to give and sacrifice. A


(goat), sheep, camel, or any other four-legged animal is slaughtered as a
sacrificial offering, and the meat is given out to the poor and needy.
Muslims who can afford two meals a day are expected to sacrifice an



derives its name from the Urdu word


, which means "morning." A


breakfast in Pakistan can be very filling.


(stewed beef), and mango are common breakfast items. Sometimes a dish
made of meat cooked with chilies and other spices is cooked overnight to
be consumed for breakfast the next morning, when it is eaten with


, a type of bread, or


, which is a flat cake fried in oil. Women prepare breakfast and all other
meals for their family.

Pakistani lunch and dinner dishes are similar.






(vegetables), and


(meat) are the main elements of a meal.




accompanies every meal. Rice is usually boiled or fried. Some rice dishes

kabuli pulau

, made with raisins, and


rice cooked in a yogurt and meat sauce. For the main dish,


(meat curry in gravy),


(lamb meatballs), or

nargasi qofta

(minced beef and egg) might be served. Water may be offered at the
beginning or after a meal to quench thirst, but rarely while eating.

Street vendors offer a variety of drinks and snacks.


, or tea, is a very popular drink. It is usually boiled with milk, nutmeg,
and sugar.


(a yogurt drink) and sugarcane juice are popular during the summer
months. Another refreshing summer drink is

nimbu paani

, or "fresh lime." It is made of crushed ice, salt, sugar,
soda water, and lime juice.


are deep-fried pastries filled with potatoes, chickpeas, or other
vegetables and are a popular snack. Other snacks are


(spicy barbequed meat) and


(deep-fried vegetables).


The use of child labor in Pakistan is widespread. Children not only work
on farms, but in low-paying carpet weaving centers. In the mid 1990s,
between 500,000 to 1 million Pakistani children aged 4 to 14 worked as
full-time carpet weavers. UNICEF believed that they made up almost 90
percent of the carpet makers' work force. Little has been done to
enforce child labor laws. In 1999, the United Nations got involved by
setting up 300 schools in eastern Pakistan to encourage education for
children in schools, not trade.

Because of overpopulation only about 56 percent of Pakistanis have proper
sanitation and access to safe drinking water. About 19 percent of the
population of Pakistan are classified as undernourished by the World Bank.
This means they do not receive adequate nutrition in their diet. Of
children under the age of five, about 40 percent are underweight, and over
50 percent are stunted (short for their age). The Pakistani government has
established several programs to improve these conditions, including the
Child Survival/Primary Health Care program, to reduce malnutrition and
deaths due to diseases.



Amin, Mohamed.

We Live In Pakistan.

New York: Bookwright Press, 1985.


. Melbourne, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1998.

Spectrum Guide to Pakistan.

Brooklyn, NY: Interlink Books, 1998.

Weston, Mark.

The Land and People of Pakistan.

Armonk, NY: HarperCollins, 1992.

Web Sites

Asia Recipes. [Online] Available

(accessed April 16, 2001).

Contact Pakistan. [Online] Available

(accessed April 16, 2001). [Online] Available

(accessed April 16, 2001).

Mississippi State University. [Online] Available

(accessed April 16, 2001).

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