Sharing land borders with China, Afghanistan, Iran, and India, it’s no surprise that Pakistani cuisine provides stunning flavor combinations with unmatched gourmet diversity.
Founded on the Halal principle, which bans the consumption of pork and alcohol, Pakistani food is still rich, spicy, and extremely delicious. This South Asian country is well-known for its Moghal-inspired dishes, ranging from Pulaos to Biryanis.
If you want to try a new gourmet experience, Pakistani food is a brilliant option. This article will introduce the 22 dishes that are most indicative of Pakistani cuisine.
22 Must-Try Pakistani Dishes
Details about my 22 Pakistani suggestions for you are right up next. Yet, before learning what they are, let’s have a quick overview of my list below:
- Paratha (Layered Flatbread)
- Chicken Karahi (Chicken Stew)
- Chapshoro (Fried Pie With Yak Meat Filling)
- Nihari (Pakistani Slow-Cooked Spicy Beef Stew)
- Haleem (Thick Meat And Grain Stew)
- Pulao (Steamed Rice Mixed With Chicken And Veggies)
- Biryani (Pakistani Rice And Meat)
- Pakora (Fritters)
- Pani Puri (Deep-Fried Flatbread With Filling)
- Chapli Kebab (Mince Flat Kebab)
- Saag (Mustard Green)
- Paya (Mutton Trotter Curry)
- Katakat (Pakistani Meat Stir-Fry)
- Brain Masala (Brain Gravy)
- Halwa Puri (Poori, Pudding, And Chickpeas)
- Samosa Chaat
- Sajji (Roasted Whole Chicken)
- Kheer (Pakistani Rice Pudding)
- Zarda (Pakistani Sweet Rice)
- Falooda (Ice Cream Dessert)
- Doodh Patti (Milk Tea)
- Lassi (Pakistani Yogurt-Based Drink)
1. Paratha (Layered Flatbread)
Let’s start my Pakistani food collection with Paratha. Its name is the combination of “parat” (layers) and “atta” (flour). Together, Paratha means flatbread featuring multiple wheat flour layers.
Originating in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Paratha comes in various shapes, including triangles, squares, and heptagons. Yet, round Parathas are the most prevalent form.
Pakistani people often prepare Parathas in lots of oil or ghee (clarified butter) over a frying pan (tawa) to impart an enticing scent to the dish.
In addition to the standard version above, there are various filled variations available, including potato-stuffed Parathas (Aloo ka Parathas), radish-stuffed Parathas (Mooli ka Parathas), and meat-stuffed Parathas (Qeemah ka Parathas).
To enjoy this Pakistani food like a native, you should roll it up, dip it in yogurt (Lassi) or milk tea (Doodh Patti), and savor its sharp taste in your mouth.
2. Chicken Karahi (Chicken Stew)
This hearty stew is a must-try Pakistani dish for chicken lovers. First introduced by the people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a northern region in Pakistan, the dish has undergone various development and won the hearts of all Pakistanis.
The dish’s name refers to the black iron pot that resembles a wok but has a flatter base. Local people use this utensil for both preparing and enjoying Chicken Karahi. That way, you can sample the thick stew in sizzling hot conditions.
Typically, Karahi is a hearty stew with boneless chicken pieces cooked with ginger, garlic, fresh chilis, coriander, and tomatoes. The tomatoey base gives this Pakistani stew a rich taste that pairs well with succulent chicken and other fragrant spices.
3. Chapshoro (Fried Pie With Yak Meat Filling)
Chapshoro is a popular meat-based pie that originated in the Hunza Valley of Gilgit Baltistan, a mountainous region in Northern Pakistan. In the local language, “chap” refers to meat or yak meat, the main filling of the food.
This delicacy comprises wheat flatbread stuffed with a blend of minced meat, herbs, and spices. Then, it is cooked on a convex steel or iron plate with apricot or walnut oil. You may add carrots or tomatoes to the dish for a more native cuisine experience.
On chilly days, Pakistanis like to serve Chapshoro right from the iron plate on which it is prepared. While the original Chapshoro features yak meat, many posh restaurants nowadays offer numerous variations of this pizza pie, including a vegan version.
4. Nihari (Pakistani Slow-Cooked Spicy Beef Stew)
Nihari stems from the Arabic word “nahar”, meaning “dawn”. According to legend, this delicacy originated in Old Delhi, when Mughal nawabs had it in the morning to keep them going throughout the day, giving rise to the name.
This Karachi hit is a slow-cooked spicy beef stew thickened with wheat flour (atta). Although beef shank is a preferred option of Pakistani people for Nihari, other meat types, such as chicken and mutton, are also brilliant choices.
Meat is presumably the soul of every dish. However, with Nihari, it is not. The actual essence here is Nihari Masala, a fragrant ingredient made from powdered dry spices. It makes the meat more flavorful and gives the stock an appealing crimson hue.
After six to eight hours of slow cooking, the end result is a soul-comforting stew with tender meat blocks floating in thick stock. Pair it with rice or toast (naan), and add green chilis as a garnish to complete the meal.
5. Haleem (Thick Meat And Grain Stew)
Inspired by the Harees of Arabic cuisine, Haleem is an excellent complement to Pakistani cuisine with its distinguishing texture. It was introduced to this South Asian nation in the 10th century by Arab warriors.
Haleem includes barley, wheat, beef, and chickpeas (chana), slow-cooked for a full day at low heat to acquire the greatest flavor. Traditionally, Pakistani people prepare each component separately before combining them for the slow-cooking process.
Add mint leaves, onions, and masala spices to the mother pot, followed by some squeezes of lemon juice to complete the dish.
Pakistanis consume this delicious stew throughout the year, especially during Ramadan and Muharram. They often pair Haleem’s rich taste with roti and a glass of tea on the side.
6. Pulao (Steamed Rice Mixed With Chicken And Veggies)
Although this aromatic and tasty dish is originally an Afghan specialty, Pulao is equally popular in Pakistan. Silk Road merchants carried the dish from Afghanistan to Western Pakistan, and it quickly spread across the nation.
You can use any size grain of basmati rice for cooking Pulao. The locals always heat rice in oil before seasoning it with lots of dry spices, such as cardamom and sultana raisins.
There are various scrumptious protein options for Pulao. At the core of each batch, you can have bone-in chicken, mutton, beef, or even fish. Veggies like potatoes, carrots, and peas are often added for extra flavor.
You can easily recognize if a restaurant offers Pulao by looking for an enormous steel cooking pot in its cooking space. This distinct, bell-like form often rests at an odd 45-degree angle and is used exclusively for making Pulao.
7. Biryani (Pakistani Rice And Meat)
At first glance, Biryani may resemble Pulao. However, they are indeed two different dishes. Unlike Pulao, which features many items fried together in oil, authentic Biryani from Pakistan has ingredients that are fried separately.
There are two primary types of Biryani: Kachi Biryani (featuring raw meat) and Pakki Biryani (utilizing cooked meat). Among them, Kachi Biryani is more popular. In fact, most typical Pakistan eateries offer this Biryani type.
Both types require seasoning basmati rice with various dried spices, such as nutmeg, cumin, and cardamom, before steaming it. Then, add marinated chicken and finish with a final layer of carrots and peanuts.
The interesting part is that there is no stirring or combining of ingredients until the food is ready on your plate. Since this midday meal is a little dry, it is usually served with light yogurt (raita) as a side dish.
8. Pakora (Fritters)
Pakoras are a popular finger snack throughout Pakistan. Local people prepare these crispy, deep-fried fritters by soaking thinly sliced veggies in chickpea flour (besan) before cooking them for a few minutes.
On special occasions, especially during Ramadan Iftar, you will likely see Pakistanis enjoy this street food epitome with a cup of chai.
Besides the typical version above (called Veggie Pakora), this dish also comes in various flavors, such as Aloo Pakora (potato fritter), Palak Pakora (spinach fritter), and even Fish Pakora.
9. Pani Puri (Deep-Fried Flatbread With Filling)
Also known as Gol Gappa, Pani Puri are deep-fried dough balls with crispy shells and various tasty fillings inside. The meal is a bit hit in Pakistan, previously offered by street merchants who would sing while selling their food.
The outer shells are made from semolina and cooked until they turn brittle. When cooled, a hole is created to insert the filling, including sprouts, chopped onions, boiled potatoes, tamarind chutney, and chickpeas.
To enjoy, serve Pani Puri with a bowl of sour and spicy liquid. What makes this Pakistani gem unique is the way you eat it. Make sure to consume and pop the whole Pani Puri in one mouthful without spilling it!
10. Chapli Kebab (Minced Flat Kebab)
Chapli Kebab consists of minced beef or mutton, seasoned with a myriad of spices, such as ground coriander, pomegranate seeds, green chile, and mint. The end result is a slightly tangy and crispy meat patty that can blow your mind.
Its name derives from the Pashto word “chaprikh”, which means “flat”. Another theory states that the name “chapli” refers to the meat patty’s oval shape, which is similar to a “chapal”, meaning slipper in Urdu.
The dish is the creative invention of Northern Pakistani people, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Peshawar. Pair Chapli Kebab with naan, yogurt, and salads to enjoy it the local way.
11. Saag (Mustard Green)
This Pakistani vegetable dish will hook you in with its distinctive green tint. This Mustard Green is slow-cooked until the leaves become so soft and mushy that they actually fall apart, resulting in a sloppy stew.
To infuse a native flavor, people will season Saag with coriander, mint, pepper flakes, and a generous helping of Desi Ghee. Then, pair Saag with naan, roti, or rice to render an authentic Pakistani cuisine experience.
Among various Saag variations, Saag Paneer is undoubtedly the most famous one globally, featuring soft cheese. There is also a meaty Saag version containing large mutton pieces. It originated in Skardu, a town in Northern Pakistan.
12. Paya (Mutton Trotter Curry)
Paya literally means “trotters”, which refers to goat legs used in this Pakistani curry. Besides the enormous bowls of bone-in goat legs, Paya also requires onions, red oil, and curry spices.
After hours of simmering, the tendons and cartilages become juicy and soft, while the curry broth turns red and infuses wonderful flavors. The long process also ensures all spices soak into the succulent meat.
Pakistanis usually serve this cozy curry with a heaping amount of fresh and bread. If you are still unsure what to order in a Pakistani restaurant, look for Paya on the menu. You will not regret it!
13. Katakat (Pakistani Meat Stir-Fry)
Unlike most Pakistani specialties that entice you with their intense flavors and aromas, Katakat does the job by playing with your ears! The dish’s name depicts the sound produced when chefs cut the offal on a griddle using two sharp blades.
Although traditional Katakat utilizes meat offal, such as kidneys, hearts, and testicles, for the main ingredients, there are also other delectable versions. One of them even features fish.
Cover your favorite Katakat with a generous dollop of dark green chutney. Then, take a handful of paratha or roti, freshly sliced red onions, and a fiery chili to ensure a complete Pakistani meal.
14. Brain Masala (Brain Gravy)
If you like delicacies made from animal organs (just like Katakat above), you should give Brain Masala a shot! In Hindi, “masala” means “gravy”. Thus, this Mughal-inspired dish refers to a plate of brain gravy.
Typically, Brain Masala calls for goat, cow, or camel brains, simmered with red chili powder, onions, and cilantro in a hot iron pan.
The dish is essentially a side dish when served individually. Yet, feel free to accompany it with rice or roti for a full main meal.
15. Halwa Puri (Poori, Pudding, And Chickpeas)
First introduced in Punjab, an Indian subcontinent, Halwa Puri quickly became a breakfast favorite in other nations, especially Pakistan, where the natives enjoy it on Eid mornings.
This specialty contains two main ingredients: Halwa – a delightful pudding-like dish made from semolina, and Puri – a thinly rolled bread with countless crispy layers. Besides, Pakistanis often add chickpeas (channa) to the recipe to make it more savory.
Like other Pakistani delicacies, the dish becomes yummier when served with pistachio, almond, and a cup of Dood Patti.
16. Samosa Chaat
Samosa Chaat is created by crushing a samosa and serving it with chutneys, potatoes, veggies, and chickpeas curry (chole). In Pakistan, this savory meal is a popular snack offered by street sellers, desi cafés, and tea booths around the nation.
The dish has everything you want from authentic street food: spicy and tangy in flavor, crunchy in texture, and paired well with chai! Samosa Chaat is better when served immediately after you have layered all ingredients together.
17. Sajji (Roasted Whole Chicken)
Sajji is a popular Balochi meal featuring whole lambs or chickens skewered, marinated in salt and simple spices, then roasted over an open fire until rare. Such preparation imparts a characteristic smokey taste to the meat.
There is very little spice used since Sajji is all about two things: the charcoal heat and the quality of the meat. Some variations even feature rice being stuffed inside the animal.
You can enjoy Sajji as an individual dish with rice inside. Alternatively, you can serve it with sizzling hot roti. The crisp skin outside and juicy flesh inside will undoubtedly captivate your taste bud.
18. Kheer (Pakistani Rice Pudding)
Pakistani rice pudding is a meal made of boiling rice with dried fruits, sugar, cardamom, and pure milk. Once cooked, Pakistanis prefer to season it with crushed pistachios, almonds, cardamom, desiccated coconut, and saffron.
This meal originated in India 2000 years ago at the Lord Jagannath Temple in Orissa and was brought to Pakistan during the Middle Ages. Although Kheer is called rice pudding, its texture is not too slumpy. On the contrary, the dish is only a bit runny.
Pakistani people typically serve this classic dessert at weddings or on special events, such as Eid al Fitr, which marks the conclusion of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Depending on your preferences, you can eat it hot or cold.
19. Zarda (Pakistani Sweet Rice)
Zarda, or Pakistani sweet rice, derives its name from the Persian word “zard”, meaning “yellow”. The term refers to the sweet rice’s gorgeous yellow hue.
Pakistani people typically prepare Zarda by cooking basmati rice with milk, sugar, and other dried spices (cardamoms, pistachios, almonds, and raisins) to generate a sweet flavor and crunchy texture for each mouthful.
Besides the signature yellow hue, you can use different food colorings to achieve a more appealing rainbow appearance. Besides pairing it with regular chai, there is a tradition in Pakistan to enjoy it alongside a meaty Biryani or Pulao.
20. Falooda (Ice Cream Dessert)
Falooha is a favorite treat in the summer heat. It is an interesting beverage produced from various ingredients, such as milk, rose syrup, ice cream, jelly cubes, vermicelli, and basil seeds. The pistachio layer on top will elevate this dish to new heights.
This delectable meal originated in Iran, but it has since become a vital element of Pakistani and other nations’ cuisines. Pakistanis would consume this cuisine during Islamic festivals, marriages, and other significant events.
21. Doodh Patti (Milk Tea)
It would be unfair to leave out the one beverage most close to Pakistanis’ hearts from my definitive Pakistani culinary guide. There’s no better way to cap a Pakistani meal than slurping this blissful milk tea.
Typically, Doodh Patti is a cardamom-infused tea with as much milk and sugar as you prefer. It is normally served blistering hot, so take your first drink with caution.
Doodh Patti’s precise origins are uncertain. However, legends say that it came from Pakistan’s northern region. Local folks would rely on this cozy Doodh Patti to stay warm and battle the harsh weather condition there.
22. Lassi (Pakistani Yogurt-Based Drink)
This delicious and refreshing beverage is an excellent way to cleanse your palate. Its most basic form features a delicious blend of yogurt, water, and various spices.
This velvety smoothie also comes in a myriad of flavors, including salty (Namkeen Lassi), sweet (Meethi Lassi), and a fruit variant with mangoes and strawberries. Some varieties even use cream and butter to improve the creamy mouthfeel.
Which Pakistani Dish Is Your Most Favorite Pick?
Traditional Pakistani food is famous for its diversity in flavor and texture. There are endless options of delectable dishes for you to fall in love with, from hot curries served with fresh naan bread to luscious meat stews with sweet and spicy spices.
Among my 22 suggestions above, which dish impresses you the most? Feel free to share your Pakistani culinary experiences in the comment section below.