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Pakistan Monument, Islamabad
Within Pakistan, cuisine varies greatly from region to region, reflecting the country's ethnic and cultural diversity. Food from the eastern provinces of Punjab and Sindh are similar to each other and can be highly seasoned and spicy, which is characteristic of the flavors of the South Asian region. Food in other parts of Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas also hold distinct tastes based on various regional influences.
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 centres. Furthermore, as a result of lifestyle changes, ready made masalas (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 totally different from the mainstream Pakistani cuisine.
Muslims follow the Islamic law that lists foods and drinks that are Halal and permissible to consume. Halal foods are foods that Muslims are allowed to eat and drink under Islamic dietary guidelines. The criteria specify both what foods are allowed, and how the food must be prepared. The foods addressed are mostly types of meat which are allowed in Islam.
Pakistani national cuisine is the inheritor of Indo-Aryan culture and Muslim culinary traditions. The earliest formal civilizations were the Mohenjo-daro (موہنجو دارو) and Harappan civilizations in present-day Pakistan. At around 3000 BCE, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley, and spices like turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in the region concurrently. For a thousand years, wheat and rice formed the basic foodstuff in the Indus valley.
The arrival of Islam (اسلام) within South Asia, via modern-day Pakistan, influenced the local cuisine to a great degree. Since Muslims are forbidden to eat pork (سور) or consume alcohol, halal (حلال) dietary guidelines are strictly observed. Pakistanis focus on other types of meats such as beef, lamb, chicken, fish and vegetables as well as traditional fruit and dairy. The influence of Central Asian, South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine in Pakistani food is ubiquitous.
Pakistani dishes are known for having aromatic and sometimes spicy flavors, and some dishes often contain liberal amounts of oil which contributes to a richer, fuller mouthfeel and flavour. Brown cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and black pepper are the most commonly used spices in the making of a wide variety of dishes throughout Pakistan. Cumin seeds, chili powder, turmeric and bay leaves are also very popular. In the Punjab province it is further diluted with coriander powder. Garam masala (aromatic spices) is a very popular blend of spices used in many Pakistani dishes.
Rice dishes and kebabs feature prominently in Pashtun cuisine. Lamb meat is eaten more often in Pashtun cuisine than any other Pakistani cuisines. Rice haleem, chapli kabab, tika, and motton karahi are the most famous dishes and historical cuisines are Peshawari. The Pashtun cuisine and the Balochi cuisine are traditionally non-spicy.
Since Punjabi identity is considered geographical and cultural, almost all inhabitants of Punjab follow some variations within the cuisine but on the other hand show many similarities together. This cuisine then falls into the broad category of Punjabi cuisine. Regional cuisine is mutual with some differences in many regions, including the South Punjab regions.
Pakistanis generally eat three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During the evening, many families have tea without sugar 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: sehri 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 Iran & Afghanistan. A takht is a raised platform on which 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 the baked bread, naan, or rice.
A typical Pakistani breakfast, locally called nāshtā (ناشتہ), consists of eggs (boiled/scrambled/fried/omelette), a slice of loaf bread or roti, parathas, sheermal with tea or lassi, kulcha with chole, qeema (minced meat), fresh seasonal fruits (mangoes, apples, melons, bananas, etc.), milk, honey, butter, jam, shami kebab, and/or nuts. Sometimes breakfast includes baked goods like bakarkhani and rusks. During holidays and weekends, halwa poori and chickpeas are sometimes eaten. In Punjab, sarson ka saag (mustard leaves) and maakai ki roti (cornbread) is a local favourite. Punjabi people also enjoy khatchauri, a savory pastry filled with cheese. Pakistan is quite atypical in the sense that meat dishes are eaten as breakfast especially on holidays. A traditional Sunday breakfast might be Siri-Payay (the head and feet of lamb or cow) or Nihari (a dish which is cooked overnight to get the meat extremely tender. The name "Nihari" comes from the Persian word "Nihar" meaning "Day" or "Day break".). Many people used to take "Bong" (Shank curry) in their Sunday brunch.
A typical Pakistani lunch consists of meat curry or rotis along with rice. Daal chawal is among the most commonly taken dishes at lunch. Breads such as roti or naan are usually served for dinner but have become common during the day so that rice may be served for dinner. Popular lunch dishes may include aloo gosht (meat and potato curry) or any vegetable with mutton. Chicken dishes like chicken karahi is also popular. Alternatively, roadside food stalls often sell just lentils and tandoori roti, or masala stews with chapatis. People who live near the main rivers also eat fish for lunch, which is sometimes cooked in the tandoori style.
Dinner is considered the main meal of the day as the whole family gathers for the occasion. Food which requires more preparation and which is more savoury (such as nihaari, pulao, kofte, kebabs, qeema, korma) are prepared. Lentils are also a dinnertime staple. These are served with roti or naan along with yogurt, pickle and salad. The dinner may sometimes be followed by fresh fruit, or on festive occasions, traditional desserts like kheer, gulab jamun, shahi tukray, gajraila, qulfi or ras malai.
Pakistani snacks comprise food items in Pakistan that are quick to prepare, spicy, usually fried, and eaten in the evening or morning with tea or with any one of the meals as a side-dish. A given snack may be part of a local culture, and its preparation and/or popularity can vary from place to place. These snacks are often prepared and sold by hawkers on footpaths, railway stations and other such places, although they may also be served at restaurants. Some typical snacks are dahi bhala, chaat, chana masala, pakora, and papar. Others include katchauri, pakoras-either neem pakoras or besan (chickpea) pakoras, gol gappay, samosas—vegetable or beef, bhail puri or daal seu, and egg rolls. Nuts, such as pistachios and pine nuts, are also often eaten at home.
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 or mutton, beef and chicken and is particularly sought after as the meat 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.
Curries, with or without meat, combined with local vegetables such as bitter gourd, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, cabbage, potatoes, rutabaga, saag, and peppers are most common and cooked for everyday consumption. A typical example is aloo gosht or 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 nan or bread and is very popular in Pakistan.
Meat plays a much more dominant role in Pakistani and Afghan cuisine compared to the other South Asian cuisines. The meat dishes in Pakistan include: bovine, ovine, poultry and seafood dishes. The meat is usually cut in 3 cm cubes and cooked in a stew. The minced meat is used for Kebabs, Qeema, and other meat dishes. The meat dishes are also cooked with pulses, legumes and rice.
Meat and grilled meat has played an important part in the Pakistan region for centuries. Kebabs are a staple item in Pakistani cuisine today, and one can find countless varieties of kebabs all over the country. Each region has its own varieties of kebabs but some like the Seekh kebab, Chicken Tikka, and Shami kebab are especially popular varieties throughout the country.
Various kinds of pulses, or legumes, make up an important part of the Pakistani dishes. While lentils (called daal), and chick peas (called channa) are popular ingredients in homestyle cooking, they are traditionally considered to be an inexpensive food sources. Because of this reason, they are typically not served to guests who are invited for dinner or during special occasions. Combining meat with lentils and pulses, whether in simple preparations or in elaborate dishes such as haleem, is also a distinctively Pakistani touch not commonly seen in neighbouring India where a substantial number of its population are vegetarians.
Dishes made with rice include many varieties of pulao:
Biryani is a very popular dish in Pakistan and has many varieties such as Lahori and Sindhi biryani. Tahiri, which is also a form of vegetarian biryani, is also popular. All of the main dishes (except those made with rice) are eaten alongside bread. To eat, a small fragment of bread is torn off with the right hand and used to scoop and hold small portions of the main dish. Pickles made out of mangoes, carrots, lemon, etc. are also commonly used to further spice up the food.
In the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, feasts using mountains of spiced rice combined with pieces of slowly roasted lamb are often served for guests of honour. These kind of pulaos often contain dried fruit, nuts, and whole spices such as cloves, saffron and cardamom. Such rice dishes have their origins in Central Asia and the Middle East.
Pakistanis eat breads made of wheat flour as a staple part of their daily diet. Pakistan has a wide variety of breads, often prepared in a traditional clay oven called a tandoor. The tandoori style of cooking is common throughout rural and urban Pakistan and has strong roots in neighboring Iran and Afghanistan as well. Some of these are:
Popular desserts include Peshawari ice cream, sheer khurma, kulfi, falooda, kheer, feerni, zarda, shahi tukray and rabri. Sweetmeats are consumed on various festive occasions in Pakistan. Some of the most popular are gulab jamun, barfi, ras malai, kalakand, jalebi, and panjiri. Pakistani desserts also include a long list of halvah such as multani, sohan, and hubshee halvah.
Kheer made of roasted seviyaan (vermicelli) instead of rice is popular during Eid ul-Fitr. Gajraila is a sweet made from grated carrots, boiled in milk, sugar, green cardamom, and topped with nuts and dried fruit. It is popular in Pakistan, as well as in other parts of South Asia including Afghanistan.
Besides tea, there are other drinks that may be included as part of the Pakistani cuisine. All of them are non-alcoholic as the consumption of alcohol is prohibited by Islam. During the 20th century, drinks such as coffee and soft drinks have also become popular in Pakistan. It is very common to have soft drinks nowadays with Pakistani meals.
Today occasionally many people in Pakistan having dinner outside with foreign influenced food specially Western, Arabian and Chinese Dishes. Many westernized, Chinese restaurants and fast food outlets are dotted in all parts of Pakistan. The Punjab and Sindh provinces, where the majority of urban, Chains of many American, European and British chains in many metropolitan cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Multan, Rawalpindi, and many others. Marketing and advertisements have made these a haven for social and modern spots for all Pakistanis to try out.
Outside Pakistan, Pakistani cuisine is prevalent in countries which have large Pakistani communities. The Balti curry is a British dish that is claimed to have origins in the Kashmir region of Pakistan.
Pakistani food makes use of fresh hand-pounded masalas, unlike the dried herbs and powders that are used in the Indian cooking. Ghee is used, but the main component of the meal or a dish is meat (beef, lamb, chicken, fish) and vegetables are sparingly used. Surprisingly, Pakistani food also makes extensive use of olive oil. Sparingly used vegetables don't mean there is no vegetarian food on the menu. Since the cuisine is very similar to Punjabi style of cooking, simmered dals, tawa sabzi, chaat and tikkas feature here.
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