If you’re travelling to Pakistan and you’re wondering about Pakistani cuisine, you’ve come to the right place.

When exploring the country, Daniel and I tried lots of Pakistani foods. The cuisine of this country is as diverse as its regions, and you can expect curries, lentil or rice dishes, various types of bread and more.

Our most important advice is to be courageous and order as many different food items as you can. You never know, one of them might be your new favourite.

If you’re unable to travel right now and you want to try cooking Pakistani dishes instead, we have included a few links to recipes of Pakistani food in this post.

Traditional Pakistani food you need to try

Pakistani meat dishes

#1 Chicken Karahi

Chicken Karahi from Pakistan

Chicken Karahi might be the most famous food in Pakistan.

When you ask a local about their favourite dish, there’s a good chance they’ll reply with Chicken Karahi. It is, therefore, ubiquitous on menus all across the country.

In my opinion, you can consider it a national food in Pakistan, even though it’s not officially the national dish (which we’ll get to a bit later).

Chicken Karahi is named after a karahi, a cast-iron pan similar to a wok but with a flatter base. Originally, the recipe was cooked in this pan. The dish is a thick tomato-based curry with lots of ginger, garlic and spices.

Cooks often use the whole chicken for this dish, so be careful with bones when eating. Also, if you’re not used to spicy food, make sure to ask if the restaurant can prepare a less spicy version for you. Pakistani food can be very spicy, and it would be a shame if you’re unable to eat the dish because there’s too much chilli in it.

If you want to prepare Chicken Karahi yourself, you can find an authentic Pakistani recipe here.

#2 Chicken Handi

Plate of Chicken Handi, one of the traditional Pakistani foods

We got the advice to try Chicken Handi from our guide when we asked him about his favourite food.

If you’re not a fan of spicy Pakistani food, you will love this dish. Chicken Handi is mild and creamy. Pieces of chicken are cooked in yoghurt and cream in a clay pot. They go perfectly well with any roti, but some restaurants will also have rice as a side dish on their menu.

Most of the time, chefs use boneless chicken for preparing Chicken Handi. If you’re not a big fan of bones in your meat, then this is also a great Pakistani dinner for you.

If you want to try cooking this creamy curry yourself, we found a recipe written by a Pakistani on Chili to Choc. The author has multiple recipes for Pakistani food on her website, so make sure to check her out.

#3 Chicken Malai Tikka & Chicken Malai Boti

Plate with Chicken Malai Tikka in Pakistan

If you like grilled meat, you should try Chicken Malai Tikka. For this recipe, chicken pieces are marinated with ginger, garlic, green chilli and lots of yoghurt and cream.

The results are tender chicken pieces with a moderately spicy aftertaste.

In Pakistan, if you order Chicken Malai Tikka, you will receive chicken pieces with a bone inside, like a chicken leg or a chicken wing. On the other hand, if you prefer boneless meat on a skewer, you should order Chicken Malai Boti.

The famous Haveli restaurant is a great place to try Chicken Malai Boti in Lahore. We ordered this popular Pakistani food there, and it was delicious.

#4 Beef Korma

Beef Korma dish from Pakistan

Let’s move away from the chicken for a moment (although you can also get Pakistani Chicken Korma if you prefer chicken over beef, or even Mutton Korma).

Korma is a type of curry that comes with a rich gravy. The main spices used are cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. For me, this combination almost tastes like Christmas.

Even though there’s cream and yoghurt in Beef Korma, this curry can get very spicy. Daniel and I were almost unable to finish it when we ordered it. Specify in advance that you’d like a less spicy version or get lots of roti, rice and yoghurt on the side to help with the spiciness.

#5 Chicken Boti Kabab

When we ordered Chicken Boti Kabab, I could already see that it was going to be spicy. The meat looked so red, I would have been surprised if it had been a mild dish.

Nevertheless, if you want to try traditional Pakistani food, you should order some Chicken Boti Kabab. It consists of grilled chicken pieces on a skewer, marinated with lots of different spices and, of course, lots of chillies.

#6 Chapli Kabab

Plate of Chapli Kabab from Pakistan

Chapli Kabab is a classic meal from the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but you might also find it in other parts of the country.

If you get the chance to try it, you should 100% go for it, as it’s one of the most unusual Pakistani foods that we have tried. Chapli Kabab is basically a meat patty, but it’s prepared in such a way that it doesn’t taste like a hamburger patty at all.

Instead, it’s very crunchy and almost dry on the outside. The texture is unique to this dish, and the seasoning gives it a flavour that you won’t forget anytime soon.

If you see it on the menu, make sure to try this unusual Pakistani dish.

#7 Chicken Jalfrezi

Several traditional Pakistani dishes
Chicken Boti Kabab at the top left, Reshmi Kabab at the top right, Chicken Malai Tikka at the bottom left and Chicken Jalfrezi at the bottom right

We tried Chicken Jalfrezi on our first day in Pakistan after an exhausting overnight flight and only three hours of sleep.

It was delicious, but I was overwhelmed by its spiciness at the time.

Chicken Jalfrezi is a chicken curry based on tomatoes and bell peppers. It has a rather thick texture because it’s usually stir-fried, and the sauce is reduced a lot.

If you live in the UK, you might find it at a Pakistani restaurant. If not, you’ll sometimes see it on a menu while travelling around the country. It’s not the most popular traditional food in Pakistan, so if you didn’t get a chance to try it while there, here’s a link to a recipe.

#8 Chicken Soup

Bowl of Pakistani chicken soup

Yes, we are aware that chicken soup exists in many cultures. But we have eaten it multiple times while in Pakistan, and we even went to a shop that only specialised in chicken soup, so in my opinion, it belongs on this list of Pakistani food.

Pakistani chicken soup contains chicken and corn. You’ll see chicken pieces in a broth that has thickened from the corn. Depending on the restaurant, the chef might add eggs and other types of meat.

The soup is already delicious, but the real fun is adding flavour to it. Try soy sauce, chilli sauce or white vinegar for a different taste.

#9 Yak Stew

If you’re visiting the Northern areas of Pakistan, you might get the chance to try yak meat.

You can find chicken, beef and mutton almost everywhere in the country. Yaks, however, live in colder climates, so your chances are highest when travelling to the mountains.

We tried some yak stew in Hunza, but we also came across a place that sold yak burgers and even yak pizza. While yak might not be the most famous food of Pakistan, it’s a great thing to try if you come across it.

#10 Dawdaw

Bowl of Dawdaw, a traditional Pakistani food

We’ve already mentioned that there are different Pakistani cuisines throughout the country. The next few dishes are all from Gilgit Baltistan, in Northern Pakistan.

Dawdaw, which can also be spelt dodo or dawdo or anything in between, is a noodle soup. The noodles are usually handmade, and they swim in a meat-based broth. If you haven’t had yak yet, you might find yak-based dawdaw. Otherwise, it’s often based on beef.

This dish is particularly popular in winter, but in Karimabad, for example, you can get it all year round.

#11 Chapshurro

A whole Chapshurro dish in Pakistan

When Daniel saw Chapshurro, he mentioned that it looked like a Spanish empanada. Both consist of pastry and a filling, and while they can look similar, they taste very different.

Chapshurro is bread filled with meat and onions. Just like dawdaw, it’s a typical traditional Pakistani food you can find in Gilgit Baltistan.

To prepare Chapshurro, the chef will prepare the dough, fill it and then cook everything on a hot steel or iron plate. The outside is often folded together with a nice pattern. If you’re lucky, you might get an opportunity of seeing locals prepare this dish and put everything together.

#12 Mantu

Manu, traditional Pakistani dumplings

Here’s another food in Pakistan that originated in the Northern areas.

Mantu are dumplings filled with meat. If you’ve travelled to Central Asia before, you might have seen similar dumplings in other countries. We tried them in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, but they also exist in Turkey and Afghanistan.

Afghan refugees likely brought the recipe to Northern Pakistan, where you can now find Mantu on many menus. If you’re visiting Gilgit, you can even find a restaurant that is exclusively dedicated to Mantu and where you can try many variations.

#13 Chicken Shami

Chicken Shami Kabab is a patty made of minced chicken, lentils and various spices.

We didn’t see it much on menus in the restaurants we visited, but we found a Chicken Shami burger on our room service menu once and decided to order it.

Due to the spices, the patty has lots of flavours and works very well in a burger. It’s also great on its own, with some roti or a salad on the side.

#14 Shinwari Karahi

Pan with Shinwari Karahi, Pakistan

Shinwari cuisine is an interesting trend in Pakistan, and we only got a brief glimpse of it.

The Shinwari are a Pashtun tribe, with the majority of its members living in Afghanistan and some roaming on the Pakistani side of the border. Over the last few years, Shinwari food has become very popular in Pakistan, with many restaurants opening.

We ate Shinwari Karahi at a restaurant in Rawalpindi, and while it’s not one of the most traditional Pakistani dishes, it’s certainly delicious. Shinwari cuisine uses a lot of lamb and very specific spices.

If you want to learn more, you should check out this article about Shinwari food.

#15 Reshmi Kabab

Reshmi Kabab is a chicken kabab that dates back to the Mughal Empire. Reshmi means silk and refers to the tenderness of the meat.

The kabab is made with minced chicken mixed with lots of cream, which gives it its famous smooth texture. Spices like cumin, garlic, cardamom, and cinnamon round up the taste. The meat is then shaped on skewers and grilled, so you’ll find a crunchy exterior and a very soft interior when you eat it.

Pakistani Rice Dishes

#16 Biryani

Plate of Pakistani Biryani

You might have seen Biryani on the menu of some Indian restaurants.

Biryani is also a popular Pakistani food. It is a rice dish made with layers of curried rice and meat. If you watch your plate carefully, you’ll notice that the individual grains of rice have different colours. That’s because rice, meat and garnish are layered in a pot and then steamed.

Plus, the chef will usually mark some rice with food colouring, giving it its distinctive shades of yellow and orange.

Pakistani Biryani and Indian Biryani both use different spices, so they’re not entirely the same dish. Plus, in Pakistan, you might find raisins in your food, which you’ll rarely see in India. On the other hand, you’ll find more vegetables in Indian Biryani.

If you’re looking for recipes from Pakistan to make Biryani yourself, check out Butter Over Bae and their Biryani recipe.

#17 Pulao

Plate of Pulao, a common Pakistani dish

Pakistani cuisines received lots of influence from Central Asia, and one of the dishes that spread to Pakistan is Pulao. You might have heard of it as pilau, pilaf or plov.

If you’re travelling around Central Asia, make sure to check out the Central Asian Plov Centre in Tashkent. It’s a great place to try the Uzbek version of this rice dish.

Pulao likely spread around Asia and Europe at the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, with the earliest written records of the rice dish dating back to the 10th century.

In Pakistan, it’s a one-pot dish made with basmati rice, meat, stock and lots of spices. If you don’t eat meat, you might also find a vegetarian variation, but make sure to double-check that it’s not made with chicken, beef or mutton stock.

Fish & Vegetarian Pakistani Dishes

#18 Trout

A plate with Pakistani Trout

If you’re travelling to the mountain regions of Pakistan, you’ll see trout farms everywhere. Both KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan are big on trout farming, and in Gilgit-Baltistan alone, 200 new trout farms have opened in the last ten years.

When you order trout, you’ll often get it grilled, sometimes also baked.

Our local guide told us that he considers trout a winter food, but you’ll be able to get it in any season.

Besides that, you won’t see much fish or seafood in Pakistan. Fish consumption in this country is amongst the lowest in the world, so don’t expect to get a vast variety of fish on your plate.

#19 Daal Mash

Plate with Pakistani Daal Mash

Daal is a lentil curry popular in most of South Asia and the Himalayas.

Daal Mash is made with white urid lentils. Urid lentils are traditionally black, but for this recipe, the dry lentils are peeled and split.

Daal Mash is a rather dry curry with not too much liquid, so you can easily eat it with roti. It’s based on a sauce made of tomato and onion in which the lentils then cook. Since there’s not much water involved, the lentils stay firm.

Daal Mash can be a bit tricky to make, but if you want to try it yourself, you can find a recipe here.

#20 Achar

Achar, a traditional Pakistani food

Achar, sometimes also spelt achaar, is a traditional food of Pakistan and South Asia, with many variations across the subcontinent.

In Pakistan, you can find multiple popular types of pickles. Try eating a mixed version, which usually contains different vegetables or fruit. If you can get your hands on Hyderabadi mixed pickle, for example, you’ll usually eat mango, carrot, lime and lots of spices.

Other variations are exclusively made of vegetables.

Be careful when ordering achar, as the mixture often contains chilis and can be very spicy.

#21 Ghilmindi

Ghilmindi, traditional food from Hunza in Pakistan

Ghilmindi is a dish from Hunza that you won’t easily find in other parts of Pakistan. The best place to try it is at the Karimabad Bazaar, where several restaurants might have it. You might have to search a bit, but we promise it’s worth it.

Ghilmindi is similar to Chapshurro. It’s bread with a filling. The outside is usually a chapati, then folded in half and stuffed with a creamy cheese mixture. For additional flavour, locals add onions and various herbs.

The mixture is vegetarian, so it’s a great alternative to Chapshurro if you don’t eat meat.

#22 Gral

Gral, a Pakistani pancake from the Hunza region

This food goes by different names. We got to know it as Gral when we ate it during a homestay, but we’ve also seen it as Gyaling or Gyal on menus.

Gyal is basically a thin pancake or thick crepe. It’s not sweet, and the locals we asked about it were surprised at the idea of adding sugar to the dough.

When you get the Gral, you tear off a piece, roll it up and dip it in apricot oil. Apricot oil is usually very expensive, but Hunza, where the dish of Gral traditionally comes from, has a strong tradition of growing apricots. Therefore, you’re likely to find lots of affordable apricot oil in this region.

Traditional Pakistani breakfast

#23 Nihari

Throughout the country, the breakfast we’ve seen the most often was an omelette with roti.

However, there’s also a traditional Pakistani breakfast that you shouldn’t miss. In fact, this food is so popular that many call it the national dish of Pakistan.

We’re talking about Nihari. Nihari is a meat stew that dates back to the Mughal empire, and one of the best places to try it is in Lahore.

The Mughals strongly influenced Pakistani food. If you want to learn more about them, we highly recommend visiting Lahore. Click here to learn more and see the best places to visit in Lahore.

Traditional meat used in Nihari is lamb, mutton or beef, and the best chefs will use the shank, including the bone, to give the soup a special flavour.

If you want to try making Nihari at home, check out this Pakistani recipe.

Pakistani bread

#24 Paratha

Paratha with omelet, a common Pakistani breakfast
Paratha with omelette, a common Pakistani breakfast

Pakistani bread is so diverse that it deserves its own blog post. However, we’ll try to give you a good overview here so you know what to order.

If you’re unsure about what to get in a restaurant, you can ask for roti. This is the Urdu word for bread, and the staff will then serve you whatever flatbread is available.

The most common bread is Paratha, a type of layered flatbread. To achieve the layers in the bread, you need to fold the dough in a specific manner. If you’re lucky, you might be able to watch the chef in a restaurant or at a food stall prepare it.

They’ll usually add ghee or oil between the layers, similar to puff pastry. Another common method is to wrap the dough like a coil, which then leads to a very distinct, spiralling look.

#25 Chapati

Chapati bread from Pakistan

Chapati is a very simple roti that you can easily confuse with Paratha. The difference is simple. If it has layers, it’s Paratha.

Chapati, on the other hand, doesn’t have any layers. It’s a flatbread grilled in a hot pan. The dough consists of flour and water, so Chapati is very easy to prepare.

In Pakistan, we found both regular wheat Chapatis as well as those made with whole wheat flour. You order the Chapati as a side dish and then use it instead of cutlery to scoop up your food.

If you want to try making Chapati yourself, here’s a very simple recipe.

#26 Tandoori Naan

A plate with Tandoori Naan, from Pakistan

Naan is a different type of roti that you can find in both Pakistan and Northern India. You’ll see a few variations on the menu, but regular Tandoori Naan is the most common.

This type of Naan gets its name from the Tandoor oven in which it’s prepared. This type of oven is round and made of clay. To bake the bread, you need to stick it to the side of the oven. If you ever see Naan vendors in Pakistan, it’s interesting to watch them for a while to see how they prepare the roti.

Naan dough usually consists of flour, water, salt and yeast, so it’s a bit thicker than Chapati or Paratha. You might get it flavoured with butter or ghee, which adds additional flavour.

#27 Roghni Naan

Roghni Naan, bread from Pakistan

Roghni Naan was one of our favourite types of Pakistani bread. We didn’t see it much in the North (or maybe we didn’t look hard enough), but we easily found it in Islamabad and Lahore.

Roghni Naan is much softer and fluffier than the other types of bread we have talked about so far. The dough contains yoghurt and egg, which adds to the soft texture. The top of the Naan is sprinkled with sesame seeds and then indented with a stick, giving it a very distinct look.

#28 Kalonji Naan

Kalonji Naan, one of the traditional Pakistani breads

Kalonji Naan looks similar to Roghni Naan, but there are some subtle differences, mainly in the topping.

While it looks as if this type of Naan had black sesame seeds on top, those are actually Kalonji seeds. You might know them as Nigella seeds or black cumin. Their flavour can be slightly bitter, and they can taste a bit like onion, which is why some people also call them black onion seeds.

Pakistani sweets

#29 Kulfi

Kulfi, a popular Pakistani ice cream

If you’re visiting Pakistan in summer, you’ll love Kulfi.

Kulfi is Pakistani ice cream. It has a long tradition and goes back to the Mughal period. A great place to try it is Islamabad, where you’ll see many vendors selling this snack.

Locals make Kulfi from sweetened condensed milk, which is basically milk and a lot of sugar cooked until it reduces. You can find this ice cream in different flavours, and while we tried coconut-flavoured Kulfi, you might also find other variations.

Traditionally, Kulfi is flavoured with rose water, cardamom and dried fruit, but you might also come across mango Kulfi.

#30 Dried apricots

If you’re travelling to Hunza in Northern Pakistan in summer, you’ll notice that the valleys there are full of apricot trees. Locals grow multiple types of apricots, and since they have much more fruit than they can eat, they dry them.

This tradition goes back a long time, and in a traditional house, you could always find a dedicated storage place for dried fruit.

The apricots you get in Hunza are hard since they’ve been dried without any conservatives. They’re an excellent snack for long road trips.

Did you know that almonds and apricots are related? If you crack the apricot pit, you’ll find a seed that looks like an almond. You’ll see apricot seeds in shops, so give them a try if you’ve never had them.

Drinks

#31 Chai

Man making chai in Pakistan
Man making chai in Pakistan

Chai is an integral part of Pakistani culture, and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s usually one of the cheapest items on the menu, and it’s an essential part of a meal.

Pakistanis drink an average of four to six cups of chai every day, and Pakistan is amongst the top tea importers in the world, so expect to drink a lot of tea.

Pakistani chai is prepared with water, milk and (black) tea leaves. Some people add sugar or cardamom, or other spices to it. Some even like to drink it with salt, which is mostly a tradition of the North and similar to the tea drinks with salty butter that you can find in some places in the Himalayas.

Cup of Chai, traditional Pakistani tea

#32 Green tea

Besides chai, you can often find green tea on the menu. What you then get is not necessarily pure green tea, but it might also be herbal tea or jasmine tea.

In most places, you’ll see “green tea” on an Urdu menu, as this is the word many locals like to use. It’s a great alternative to regular chai if you want a tea that’s a bit lighter and not as creamy.


We hope you now have an overview of the best Pakistani food that you should try on your next trip to this beautiful country. Maybe you’ll even try making some at home?

Of course, in a country as diverse as Pakistan, you have many more traditional dishes to explore. We’ve given you a list of those we saw many times or particularly enjoyed, but we’re sure you’ll find even more.

Leave us a comment below and let us know what your favourite Pakistani dish is!

Also, if you’re travelling to Pakistan, you should check out our resources that will help you plan your trip:

Until your next adventure!

Author

Ilona is a world traveller passionate about sharing her experiences and giving advice to fellow travellers. Having visited over 70 countries, she is always excited about her next trip.

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