Skip to Content

National Food of Pakistan: Top 18 Dishes

Welcome to a tempting exploration of one of South Asia’s culinary treasures; the National Food of Pakistan. Have you ever wondered what dishes define the rich textile of Pakistani cuisine? Or perhaps you’re curious about the dining customs and etiquette woven into the fabric of Pakistani hospitality. Join us on a flavorful trip as we uncover the answers to these questions and more, exploring the heart of Pakistani gastronomy.

In this comprehensive guide, we will initiate a culinary quest, spotlighting the top 18 dishes that exemplify the diverse flavors and cultural heritage of Pakistan. From delicious stews like Nihari and aromatic biryanis to mouthwatering street snacks like samosas and gol gappas, each dish tells a story of tradition, innovation, and culinary mastery.

Get ready to tempt your taste buds and expand your culinary horizons as we celebrate the lively flavors and rich traditions of Pakistan’s national cuisine. And remember, this is just the beginning; so grab a seat at the table and prepare to enjoy the heart of Pakistan, one delectable dish at a time.

Top 6 National Foods of Pakistan

1. Nihari

photo by Kxnyshk

Nihari, often considered the national dish of Pakistan, is a rich and flavorful stew originating from Arabic cuisine. It’s particularly popular in urban areas where it is a luxurious treat for those who can afford it. Made with slow-cooked meat, typically beef or lamb, and a blend of spices, nihari is traditionally enjoyed as a hearty breakfast dish, accompanied by naan or paratha.

2. Biryani

photo by s4’s world

Biryani is a celebrated national dish of Pakistan, renowned for its aromatic spices, tasty meat, and flavorful rice. This mixed rice dish is typically prepared with chicken, beef, or mutton, and sometimes includes potatoes or eggs. Each region in Pakistan has its own unique twist on biryani, making it a versatile and beloved staple across the country. The rich blend of spices, such as cumin, cardamom, and cloves, combined with the delicate meat and aromatic basmati rice, creates a symphony of flavors that has garnered global popularity.

3. Shami Kabab

photo by Miansari66

Shami kababs are a beloved Pakistani appetizer made from a blend of meat, lentils, and spices. The mixture is cooked until tender, then ground into a smooth paste, formed into patties, dipped in egg, and shallow-fried to perfection. These kababs are known for their melt-in-your-mouth texture, offering a delightful combination of rich, meaty flavor with the creaminess of lentils and a crispy exterior. Often served with chutney or as part of a larger meal, shami kababs are a favorite at both festive occasions and everyday meals.

4. Haleem

photo by Kake

Haleem is a rich and hearty stew that combines meat, lentils, grains, and a variety of spices, cooked slowly to create a creamy, paste-like consistency. This labor-intensive dish is traditionally prepared by stewing the ingredients overnight and constantly stirring them with a wooden spoon called a ‘ghota’. The result is a deeply flavorful and spicy dish, often garnished with fresh coriander, green chilies, lemon, ginger, chaat masala, and fried onions. Haleem is typically enjoyed with naan or on its own, offering a comforting and nutritious meal.

5. Sabzi Roti

photo by Lopanayak

Sabzi roti, or vegetables with flatbread, is a staple in Pakistani households, featuring a variety of vegetables such as cauliflower, peas, potatoes, aubergine, and ladyfingers. These vegetables can be cooked individually or in combination, creating a diverse range of dishes. While not as celebrated as meat-based dishes, sabzi roti is likely one of the most consumed meals across Pakistan due to its simplicity, nutritional value, and adaptability to different tastes and ingredients.

6. Chicken Karahi

photo by James

Chicken Karahi is a perfect Pakistani curry that is a favorite on restaurant menus and in homes alike. This dish is made with chicken cooked in a traditional wok-like pan called a ‘karahi’, and is characterized by its thick, dry gravy. The preparation involves cooking the chicken with a blend of spices, garlic, ginger, coriander, green chilies, yogurt, and plenty of tomatoes. The result is tasty chicken in a zesty, spicy tomato sauce, offering a bold and satisfying flavor experience that is beloved by chilli lovers.

8 Traditional Dishes to Eat

7. Crispy Aloo Tikki

Crispy Aloo Tikki is a Pakistani-style potato cutlet made with mashed potatoes, onions, herbs, and spices. This recipe simplifies the process by using a microwave to cook the potatoes and a food processor to chop the vegetables. The result is a deliciously spiced and crispy cutlet, perfect for a quick snack or appetizer.

8. Fruit Chaat

photo by Abhijit Mulye

Fruit chaat is a lively Pakistani fruit salad featuring local fruits like guava, mango, pomegranate, and citrus. The fruits are diced and soaked in orange juice, then sprinkled with chaat masala and a bit of sugar, creating a sweet, tangy, and spicy treat. It’s a staple at iftar feasts during Ramadan and a popular food during the summer.

9. Sarson Ka Saag

Sarson Ka Saag is a beloved Punjabi dish made with mustard greens and spinach, creating a flavorful vegetarian curry. This recipe provides stovetop and Instant Pot instructions, ensuring it’s ready in under an hour. Perfect for those seeking a nostalgic, yet simple, home-cooked curry.

10. Bhindi Masala

photo by TabassumJawed

This Bhindi Masala recipe offers a delicious Pakistani and Indian-style okra curry. Stir-fried okra is combined with a delicious onion and tomato curry, resulting in a flavorful dish that has been tested extensively to ensure it delights the palate every time.

11. Aloo Gosht

photo by Miansari66

Aloo Gosht is a traditional Pakistani curry made with delicate pieces of mutton or lamb and potatoes. This rich and hearty dish can be prepared using either the stovetop or an Instant Pot, making it a versatile and satisfying meal for any occasion.

12. Zarda

photo by Nadir Hashmi

Zarda is a cherished Pakistani dessert made with rice, milk, sugar, cardamom, and saffron, creating a dynamic yellow dish. Garnished with nuts, raisins, rose petals, and tutti frutti, zarda is a popular choice for festivals and weddings, and it’s enjoyed as a dessert, breakfast, or spicy biryani.

13. Halwa Puri

photo by Jeremy Higgs

Halwa Puri is a beloved Pakistani breakfast dish featuring sweet sooji halwa and crispy puris. Sooji halwa is a ghee-rich pudding made from semolina, while in winter, it transforms into gajar ka halwa with grated carrots. Often served with tangy chana masala, this dish is a delightful start to the day.

Spices: The Heart of Pakistan Cooking

photo by LASZLO ILYES

The heart of Pakistani cuisine lies in its complex and harmonious blend of spices, each contributing unique flavors and aromas to the dishes. Chaat masala, a staple in Pakistani snacks, offers a distinctive sour yet sweet taste, created from a mix of fennel seeds, cumin seeds, black salt, mint, ground ginger, amchur (mango powder), and cayenne pepper.

This effective blend, often stored in a tightly sealed container to preserve its freshness, adds a burst of flavor to street foods and salads. Cardamom, known locally as Elaichi, comes in two varieties: brown (Badi Elaichi) and green (Choti Elaichi). The brown cardamom, with its intense aroma, is commonly used in hearty dishes like curries and biryanis, while green cardamom is favored for sweet dishes and lighter curries.

Cloves, or Laung, are another vital spice in Pakistani cuisine, derived from the dried buds of the clove tree. These dark brown or black spices, resembling tiny flowers, impart a distinct and robust flavor, whether used whole or ground. It’s important to use cloves sparingly due to their strong taste. Black salt (Kala Namak), despite its name, has a pinkish-gray appearance and a pungent smell. Mined in Pakistan and India, it adds tanginess to delicious dishes and is also known for its medicinal properties, such as relieving heartburn and intestinal gas.

Pakistani Family Dining

photo by Asim Bharwani

Mealtimes in a Pakistani family are a cherished tradition, bringing together loved ones to enjoy a rich textile of flavors and aromas. The gatherings are not about a single dish but a culinary experience featuring a main course; be it curry, lentils, meat, or vegetables; accompanied by fluffy rice, hot roti, chutneys, pickles, salads, raita, and a range of spices.

In Pakistani culture, mealtimes are structured around breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with some families including Shaam ki chai, an informal evening meal. The distinctiveness of Pakistani cuisine lies in its diversity, representing a wide range of dishes, flavors, meal courses, and spices.

Starting with breakfast, the day begins with a flavorful range of options that show the richness of Pakistani food culture. This diversity not only highlights the variety of ingredients used but also reflects the deep-rooted culinary traditions passed down through generations.

See Also Famous Buildings in Pakistan

Street Food

14. Samosa

photo by Soniya Goyal

Samosas are deep-fried, triangular pastries that offer a perfect introduction to Indian cuisine with their crunchy texture and diverse fillings. Typically stuffed with spiced potatoes, peas, lentils, or ground meat, samosas are a popular snack that travels to India from Central Asia. They are also common in Middle Eastern countries, where they are often filled with meat or cheese and come in various shapes.

15. Gol Gappa

photo by Olivesil

Gol gappa, also known as panipuri in other regions, is a beloved street snack in Pakistan. It consists of small, crispy puris that are filled with tangy and spicy flavored water, tamarind chutney, potatoes, onions, hot chilies, and chickpeas. The name gol gappa refers to the crispy shell and the method of eating these snacks one at a time.

16. Paratha

photo by Soniya Goyal

Paratha is a golden-brown, flaky, and layered Pakistani bread commonly eaten for breakfast. Made from whole wheat flour and baked in ghee, parathas come in various shapes and can be stuffed with ingredients like potatoes, cauliflower, paneer, or radish. Often accompanied by pickles, yogurt, or curries, parathas are a versatile and hearty street food staple.

17. Qatlama

photo by Food Recipes

Qatlama is a tasty, pizza-like flatbread from Pakistan, known for its lively red topping made from gram flour, spices, and herbs. The dough is stretched into a large disk and deep-fried until crispy, creating a spicy and flavorful dish. Commonly enjoyed as a street food and breakfast item, qatlama is also found in Pakistani restaurants worldwide.

18. Jalebi

photo by Shail devi

Jalebi is a popular sweet treat believed to have originated in Persia and spread throughout the Middle East, India, and Asia. Made from a batter of flour, yogurt, and ghee, which is fried into circular patterns, jalebi is then soaked in a thick syrup flavored with rosewater, saffron, or cardamom. This crispy, syrup-drenched dessert is often served on special occasions and garnished with chopped pistachios or saffron threads.

Farm-to-Table Movement

The farm-to-table movement in Pakistan is gaining power, reflecting a global shift toward renewable and locally sourced food. This movement emphasizes the importance of consuming fresh, organic produce directly from local farms, reducing the distance food travels and supporting local economies.

In Pakistan, this trend is helping to reconnect consumers with the origins of their food, developing a greater appreciation for the labor and care involved in its production. By prioritizing seasonal and locally grown ingredients, the farm-to-table approach not only ensures higher nutritional value and better taste but also promotes environmental sustainability through reduced carbon footprints.

In urban areas like Karachi and Lahore, farm-to-table dining experiences are becoming increasingly popular. Restaurants and cafes are collaborating with local farmers to provide fresh, organic meals that highlight the rich agricultural diversity of the region. As more people become aware of the benefits of eating locally sourced food, the farm-to-table movement in Pakistan is poised to make a significant impact on the nation’s food culture, health, and environment.

See Also Traditional Pakistani Clothing

Dining Etiquette

photo by Abbashuru

Dos

1. Accept Drinks Offered: In Pakistani culture, it’s customary to accept drinks offered by the host, even if they only take a few sips. This gesture shows respect and honor to their host.

2. Use Right Hand for Eating: When cutlery is provided, it should be used with the right hand. However, in many Pakistani households, food is eaten with the hands, especially during traditional meals.

3. Wash Hands Before Meal: It’s a sign of respect to the cook and the host to wash their hands before a meal. This simple gesture is appreciated and shows appreciation for the food being served.

4. Wait for Instructions: If they’re invited to a formal meal in a Pakistani home, they wait until the host gives them instructions before sitting down. The host typically directs guests where to sit, and it’s courteous to follow their lead.

5. Express Gratitude: At the end of the meal, it’s polite to thank the host or hostess for the wonderful meal. Expressing gratitude shows appreciation for their hospitality.

Don’ts

1. Don’t Pass Food with Left Hand: It’s considered bad etiquette to pass, serve, or spoon food to their mouth with the left hand. The left hand should be used to hold the plate or assist the right hand in serving food.

2. Avoid Pouring Own Drinks: Guests should not pour their own drinks in Pakistani culture. Instead, it’s the responsibility of the guest next to them to refill their glass. Pouring theeir own drink can be seen as disrespectful to their neighbor.

3. Don’t Talk Business During Meals: Meals are not the appropriate time to discuss business matters in Pakistani etiquette. They wait for their Pakistani colleagues to initiate a discussion about business before engaging in such conversations.

4. Don’t Start Eating Without Signal: It’s impolite to start eating before receiving a signal from the host. They wait until the host begins eating or gives the signal to start.

5. Avoid Loud Eating Noises: Loud eating noises such as slurping and burping are considered impolite in Pakistani dining etiquette. They practice good table manners by avoiding these habits.

Global Influence and Popularity

photo by Shubert Ciencia

Pakistani cuisine has gained significant recognition, ranking 47th in TasteAtlas’ World’s Best Cuisine Awards 2022 with a commendable 3.95 out of five-star rating. The hallmark of Pakistani food lies in its robust and aromatic flavor profile, characterized by spices such as coriander, cumin, turmeric, and garam masala. Each dish, whether it is a hearty biryani, a spicy curry, or a sweet jalebi, offers a complex symphony of flavors that reflects the rich cultural influences of the region.

The culinary heritage of Pakistan is proof of its diverse historical influences, representing elements from Indian, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian cuisines. Staples such as rice, bread, and wheat form the foundation of Pakistani meals, often accompanied by a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Pakistani cuisine places a strong emphasis on meat, particularly lamb, chicken, and beef, as well as an extensive use of seafood. The generous use of spices, herbs, and flavorings has led some to regard Pakistani food as among the world’s spiciest. Popular dishes include pilafs, kebabs, curries, and breads like naan and roti. Unique dishes such as Shabdeg, Aloo Ghosht, and Nihari, along with desserts like kheer and gulab jamun, further highlight the richness and variety of Pakistani culinary traditions.

Key Takings About National Food of Pakistan

1. National Food of Pakistan: Explore the heart of Pakistani cuisine with these top 6 dishes, including the iconic Nihari, aromatic Biryani, and melt-in-your-mouth Shami Kabab.

2. Traditional Dishes to Eat: Experience the authentic flavors of Pakistan with traditional favorites like Aloo Tikki, Fruit Chaat, and Halwa Puri, each offering a delightful blend of taste and tradition.

3. Spices: The Heart of Pakistan Cooking: Explore the dynamic palette of Pakistani spices, from the tangy Chaat masala to the aromatic Cloves, which infuse every dish with a symphony of flavors.

4. Pakistani Family Dining: Discover the warmth of Pakistani family meals, where a rich textile of dishes, from hearty curries to fluffy rotis, creates a culinary experience to cherish.

5. Street Food: Investigate the busy world of Pakistani street food, where delights like Samosa, Gol Gappa, and Jalebi tempt the taste buds with their spicy, crispy, and sweet flavors.

6. Farm to Table Movement: Join the movement towards sustainable and locally sourced food in Pakistan, celebrating the nation’s rich agricultural diversity while promoting health and environmental consciousness.

7. Dining Etiquette: Explore the variations of Pakistani dining etiquette with dos and don’ts that honor tradition and show respect for hosts and fellow diners.

8. Global Influence and Popularity: Appreciate the global recognition of Pakistani cuisine, with its diverse influences, robust flavors, and rich culinary heritage ranking among the world’s best.