Introduction to Pakistani Cuisine

Food is an essential part of any country’s culture and traditions, historically shaped by social, economic, political and cultural factors.

Autumn trees surrounding small houses in Gulkhin Gulmit Model village (2021)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The geographical landscape and topography of a country also plays a major role in cultivating food habits.

By Larry BurrowsLIFE Photo Collection

For Pakistan, this evolution can be traced back as far as the Indus Valley Civilization.

Skewers of lamb and beef being grilled on a coal fire (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Over time, indigenous food habits have been influenced by local personalities and foreigners alike. Traders, travelers, and even invaders have brought along with them their own rich history and culture, intricately weaving it with the local cuisine, reimagining and adapting techniques to local tastes.

Close Up of the naan (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Perhaps the most substantial culinary influences from the subcontinent’s rich and long history are from the Mughal Empire, an era when rich, decadent meals for royalty were adapted to more affordable, commonfolk fare. To this day Mughlai cuisine still has a firm foothold in professional and home kitchens alike, and will probably continue to do so long into the future.

Fruits and vegetables (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The staples of Pakistani cuisine vary from region to region, but essentially there are a few factors that hold true throughout the nation.

Tandoor (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation


In an average Pakistani house, bread is served three times per meal, as no meal is complete without bread.

Fresh Naan (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

However, the cornerstone of Pakistani cuisine, found at every table, is bread. Traditionally made in the form of an unleavened flatbread, a meal is considered incomplete without a form of bread as part of the meal, even if it is just the humble homemade roti.

Murgh channay with naan and salad (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Bread is served throughout the year alongside meats, lentils and vegetables.  Naan / Roti is served with stews and vegetable dishes that often have a salan or gravy.

Lamb fat being prepped before cooking (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation


Beef, chicken and mutton are the most popular meats you will find across Pakistan, with mutton being the most expensive and chicken being the most easily available and affordable.

Palla fish is ready to serve with chutney (2019)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Another important staple of Pakistani cuisine is fish, with the fishing industry playing an important role in Pakistan’s economy and food. Thanks to the Arabian Sea, Indus River and its tributaries, there are many varieties of freshwater and seawater fish along with shrimp and crab available in Sindh, Balochistan, KPK and Punjab.

Local fishermen preparing the fishing net for the overnight fishing (2021)SOCH Outreach Foundation

In fact, the city of Jamshoro, located in the southern province of Sindh is next to the famous Kotri Barrage - a dam constructed for fishing and agricultural purposes.

Chef adding spices to fish (2019)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Depending on the region and availability, seafood is cooked in a variety of ways but traditional street food will exhibit fish marinated in local spices and herbs, which is then either grilled or deep fried. Fresh lemon, coriander and green chilies are often used as reliable condiments to enjoy with fish.

Fried Pomfret Fish (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Thanks to which the freshwater fish known as palla (hilsa herring) has become tremendously popular for locals and tourists alike.

Skewers of meat and fat being grilled over a coal fire (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

In the same manner, the northern areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are renowned for their love of dumba and fatty meat.

Close Up of chilli seeds (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Seasonal Foods

Seasonal fruits and vegetables can be found across the country.

Thari cuisine on a thaal (serving dish) (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Some regions such as Tharparkar in Sindh (a desert area with a religious mix of Hindu and Muslim communities) focus more on vegetarian food and seasonal produce, as there are only two to three months for regional crops to grow.

Adding garam masala (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation


In Pakistan, masalas are an integral part of any locally cooked dish. Some commonly found masalas include Garam Masala (a blend of aromatic spices), Elaichi (cardamom), Laung (cloves), Kala Namak (Black salt) and Ajwain (carom seeds).

Assorted whole spices (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Pakistani food is known to be aromatic, spicy, packed full of flavor and herbs, primarily because many spices and herbs are produced in the country. Red chili powder, coriander, mint, turmeric, cumin and other basic whole spices, which may be rare and exotic in the Western and European world, but are quite commonly found in the subcontinent.

Kebab being fried (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The use of spices and herbs does not necessarily translate into spicy food per se. In fact, it is common knowledge that spicy food is more commonly consumed in the southern regions of Pakistan.

Cooking Chaamp over a grill (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

As one travels north, the tendency for spicy fare diminishes to simpler, less complex spice blends. That does not mean food becomes less flavorful, it only means the spice blends change according to local palates and the locally produced spices, making masalas an imperative foundation of Pakistani food.

Chilli crops (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The love for spicy food is so strong that a town named Kunri, located in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh is recognized as the red chilli capital of Asia, and is important to both local and international markets.

Longi Chilli (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The Kunri community is a close-knit one, where Muslims, Hindus and Christians live in harmony, bearing the fruits of success and the burdens of hardship together.

Men transporting chillies (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The Kunri Chilli Market is located 270 kilometers east of Karachi. It is Asia's second largest Red Chilli market (after Guntur) and is extremely important to domestic and international markets.

Karahis being prepared for customer (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Pakistani Culture and Food

Food holds its importance and relevance according to different occasions. People come together to celebrate and mourn over food.

Exterior of New Salateen Hotel (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Whether it is a traditional sweetmeat distributed amongst friends and family to celebrate a birth, or an elaborate wedding feast consisting of different varieties of curries, rice, and desserts, or a sombre funeral where loved ones bring simple homemade food for the mourning family members, food brings people together.

Multiple karahis (vessels) being prepared over high flame (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

In Pakistan, food isn’t just a means to nourish one’s body, it must be pleasing to the eye as well. To serve this purpose, a love for elegant crockery and cutlery has prevailed over the ages. For centuries, beautifully designed earthenware has been used in most households across the subcontinent.

Terracotta Pottery storage (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Whether the purpose was to store cool water in a matka (a round clay pot meant to keep drinking water cool) or a handi (a lidded earthen pot to cook a stew), earthenware played an essential role in most cities and still does in the rural areas of Pakistan where access to modern-day utensils is often scarce and unaffordable.

Silverware (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Along with earthenware, archaeological finds revealed that metal work was also part of the Indus Valley Civilization, with brass and copper used to create kitchen utensils. Craftsmanship in metal-ware became common in the 13th century, with kitchen utensils showing the craftsmanship of that era. As time progressed, stainless steel and non-stick cooking utensils came to the forefront and took over the Pakistani market as well.

Kachhe qeeme ke kebab serving (Fried patty) (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Today food enthusiasts from all over the world visit Pakistan to experience not just the delicious traditional and regional cuisines, but to also enjoy the warm hospitality associated with its people.

Chai being poured into small cups on a counter at Quetta Alamgir hotel, Karachi (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

In fact, Pakistani hospitality is so well-known, that books such as “Three Cups of Tea” (written by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson) have been published in recognition of how tea is associated with welcoming guests in Pakistan.

A Karahi (vessel) with braised meat being cooked at high temperature (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Whether it is a well-established restaurant in the most posh locale, local street food in a crowded marketplace, or even a simple homemade meal cooked by the lady of the house, there is no doubt that love for fine food prevails in every Pakistani’s heart.

Credits: Story

Produced by SOC Films
Project Director: Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
Producers: Syed Ayub , Sameer Khan
Project Manager: Huma Shah
Director of Photography: Murtaza Ali
Photography: Karim Baig , Murtaza Ali
Photography Editor: Karim Baig
Additional Video & Photography: Khurram Victor
Exhibits Writer: Nazia Latif , Sameer Khan
Exhibits : Syed Ayub , Sameer Khan
Art Direction : Rahat Niazi
Associate Producer : Asad Pabani
Video Editors: Nina Zehri, Farhad Jamali
Color Grade: Sourath Behan
Additional Video Editing: Mishal Adhami
Sound Design: Sameer Khan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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