The most important tip I can give you on Pakistan  local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Pakistan, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.

What to Eat in Pakistan

Pakistani food mainly consists of various kinds of kebabs eaten with either flatbread or rice. Food tends range from mild to spicy depending on where you are and who your cook is. So state your preference before beginning to eat. In general, most of the food that you find in the high end hotels is also available in the markets (but European-style food is generally reserved for the former).

Pakistan Foods photo

Photo by Umair Mohsin

The types of flatbread (collectively referred to as Naan are: Naan – A soft and thick flat bread that often requires special clay ovens (tandoor) and cannot be properly made on home stoves. Roti/Chapatti – A homemade bread, much thinner than naan and usually made out of unrefined flour, and which is ready in minutes.

Paratha – An extremely oily version of the roti. Usually excellent if you’re going out to eat, but beware of health concerns; often it is literally dripping with oil because it is meant to be part of a rich meal. Paratha is more declicious if you cook it in pure oil like “desi ghee”. Sheer Mal – This is a slightly sweetened, lightly oiled bread that has waffle-like squares punched in it.

It is often considered the most desirable bread and is a delicacy to most people. Often paired with nihari. Another breakfast version of sheermal is very much like the Italian Panettone (albeit in a flat naan-like shape) with added dried fruits and candy. Taftan – Much like the ‘sheer mal’ but with a puffed-up ring around it. As you might have noticed, ‘Naan’ is usually used to pick up liquid and soft foods like shorba and beans. Forks and knives not commonly used during meals in Pakistan (unless someone is eating rice or is dining out). Attempting to cut a naan with a knife may elicit some amusement around you. Watching others may help. Types of ‘kababs’ (mainly made of Beef or Lamb): Seekh Kabab   – A long skewer of minced beef mixed with herbs and seasonings. Shami Kabab   – A round patty of seasoned beef and lentils, softer than seekh kababs. Chapli Kabab   – A spicy round kabab that is a specialty of Peshawar. Chicken Kabab   –

A popular kabab that is found both with bone and without. Lamb Kabab    – The all lamb meat kabab is usually served as cubes. More Pakistani Foods: Roasted Chicken (whole)   – A whole chicken roasted. Very famous around Pakistan. You’ll see them on the rotisserie while driving on Lahore streets. Also known as ‘charga’ locally. Biryani  – A dish with mixed pieces of chicken and rice. It smells nice from the saffron and other seasonings added. Chicken Tikka – Barbequed chicken with a spicy exterior. Looks like a huge, red chicken leg and thigh.

For all meat lovers. Is available most anywhere. Haleem – Thick stew-like mix of tiny chunks of meat or chicken, lentils and wheat grains. Nihari – Thick gravy made from local spices. Is made with both chicken and beef. Is oily and spicy. Available mostly everywhere. There are too many shorbas, or sauces/soups, to enumerate. However, you should know of the most common ones. Vegetarian Daal – Yellow (made of yellow/red lentils) or brown (slightly sour) lentil “soup”. Usually unspiced. Common to all economic classes. X + ki sabzi – A vegetarian mixture with ‘X’ as the main ingredient. With Meat Meat is a major ingredient in most dishes. The variety is endless, but here are a few examples: Aloo Gosht (Potatoes and Meat) – Chunks of potato and goat meat in gravy. Levels of spice vary.

One example of a generic dish that includes most things + Gosht(meat). Nihari- Beef simmered for several hours. A delicacy often eaten with Nan, Sheer Mal, or Taftan. Few people will have this available without spice. Eat with lemon, fried onion and caution: it is one of the spiciest curries. Paye – or ‘Siri Paye’ is a stew of goat/beef/mutton bones (typically hooves, skull) and bone marrow. Extremely nutritious and generally eaten for breakfast with naan.

Desserts Enjoy a variety; ice cream can be found in an abundance of flavors such as the traditional pistachio flavoured Kulfi; Falooda  is tasty rosewater dessert. Traditional ice-cream known as ‘kulfi’ mixed with vermicelli, pistachio nuts and flavored with rose-water. Most ice-cream shops have their own versions. Shirini or Mithai: is the generic name for a variety of sweet treats in Pakistan. The sweets are extremely popular in Pakistan and called different things depending on where you go. Eat small chunks at a time, eating large pieces can be rude and will generally be too sweet. Kulfi is a very traditional made ice-cream mixed with cream and different types of nuts.

If you want to go to some ice-cream parlors, there are some good western ice-cream parlors in Lahore like “Polka Parlor” “Jamin Java” “Hot Spot”. For traditional ice creams, the ‘Chaman’ ice cream parlor across town is quite popular. A part from local restaurants, international fast food chains have also popped up throughout Pakistan. They include, KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Nandos, Mr.Cod, Papa Johns, Dominoes etc. You are also prone to finding more European chains than North American.

What to Drink in Pakistan

The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 21, one of the highest in the world. Tap water can be unsafe for drinking. However, some establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water is safe to drink. Packed drinking water (normally called mineral water in Pakistan) is a better choice. The taste of the water is said to be very good in the north-eastern side of Pakistan, especially in Swat, Kaghan and Gilgit.

Pakistani tea photo

Photo by Adeel Anwer

Ask for bottled water wherever possible, and avoid anything cold that might have water in it. Tea (or Chai as it is referred to in Pakistan) is popular throughout the country. Both black and green tea (Sabz chai or qahvah) are common and are traditionally drunk with cardamom and lots of sugar. Lemon is optional but recommended with green tea. Kashmiri chai is a milky tea with almonds and nuts added to give additional flavour.

This tea is very popular during weddings and in the cold season. Coffee is also available in all cities. In the warmer southern region, sweet drinks are readily available throughout the day. Look for street vendors that have fruits (real or decorations) hanging from their roofs. Also, some milk/yogurt shops serve lassi. Ask for meethi lassi for a sweet yogurt drink and you can also get a salty lassi which tastes good and is similar to the Arabic Laban if you are having “bhindi” in food or some other rich dish. There is also a sweet drink called Mango Lassi which is very rich and thick, made with yogurt, mango pulp, and pieces of mango. Being a muslim country use of Alcohol (both imported and local) is not allowed openly in the country. It is available to non-Muslim foreigners at licenssed bars in most top end hotels. The local alcoholic beer is called ‘Murree Beer. It is illegal for Muslims to buy, possess or consume alcohol in Pakistan.

Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend Please add and comment.