A Taste of Pakistan: Exploring Traditional Dishes and Where to Find Them

The culinary landscape of Pakistan is deeply enriched by the historical influences of the Mughal Empire, which introduced a variety of foods from regions such as Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Iran. Even in contemporary times, the imprint of these historical connections can be seen in numerous recipes, though many have evolved.

Religion plays a pivotal role in shaping dietary habits in Pakistan. According to Every Culture, Islam is practiced by approximately 95% of the population, which eliminates the presence of pork and alcohol in the local diet. Unlike their Indian neighbors, Pakistanis have a predilection for meat, frequently incorporating lamb, goat, beef, and chicken into their meals, though pulses are also a common component. Food holds a significant place in celebrations, especially during Ramadan, when fasting during daylight hours leads to grand nightly feasts. This post will explore some of the finest Pakistani dishes that have also found their way to the United States.

Namkeen Gosht

Namkeen gosht, a dish characterized by its minimalistic spice palette and slow-cooking method, utilizes goat meat seasoned mainly with salt, black pepper, sweet ginger, and the meat’s own fat. The simplicity of these ingredients and the choice of goat meat have made namkeen gosht a celebratory dish during Eid Ul Adha, also known as Bakra Eid, symbolizing its cultural and religious significance.


In Pakistan, rice holds a place of honor across a broad spectrum of dishes, ranging from being a staple accompaniment to curries, serving as the main course, to starring in desserts. Among these, zarda is a beloved sweet preparation that showcases rice’s versatility. This vibrant dessert combines rice with milk, sugar, cardamom, and saffron, yielding a rich and aromatic treat.

It’s traditionally adorned with an array of garnishes such as chopped nuts, raisins, rose petals, and the nostalgic touch of tutti-frutti. Zarda’s eye-catching presentation and sweet flavors make it a popular selection for celebratory occasions like festivals and weddings. However, its appeal is not limited to special events; zarda is equally enjoyed as a breakfast treat, a post-meal dessert, or a sweet counterpoint to spicy dishes like biryani.


Paya is a dish that challenges the timid and rewards the culinary adventurer. It is a traditional stew made from the trotters of goats or cows. Cow trotters are often preferred for their lower cost despite their tougher texture. Culinary experts agree that the inclusion of the bones, complete with marrow, is crucial for adding depth of flavor and nutritional value to the dish’s rich broth.

Consumed widely during the colder months, paya is celebrated for its health benefits, including enhancing skin health, aiding digestion, and reducing inflammation. It enjoys widespread popularity across Pakistan, bringing together people from various backgrounds to enjoy its tender meat imbued with rich and spicy notes. The dish is traditionally savored with freshly baked roti or naan, serving as a hearty breakfast or a satisfying late-night meal.

Maash ki Daal

While Pakistani cuisine is renowned for its robust, meat-centric offerings, lentils occupy an essential place in the dietary habits of its people, prized for their affordability and health benefits. Maash ki daal stands out as the quintessential lentil dish, offering a rich tapestry of flavors. This hearty dish is prepared by simmering split urad dal (black gram lentils) with a base of onions, tomatoes, garlic, and ginger, spiced with a blend of freshly ground spices.

The addition of vibrant garnishes such as cilantro, lemon juice, fiery green chilis, and slivers of ginger enhances the dish’s flavors. Maash ki daal, with its comforting and nourishing qualities, pairs perfectly with tangy homemade pickles, a fresh salad, and warm, buttered roti, making it a versatile dish that can serve as a hearty main or a complement to succulent meat curries.

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In 2017, the per capita rice consumption in Pakistan soared to 16.4 kg, highlighting the nation’s love for this staple. Among the various rice dishes, chana pulao holds a special place, known for its fragrant, fluffy texture, making it a versatile dish either as a main course or a complement to curries.

Pulao, also known by other names such as pilaf, pilau, and pilav in different regions like Turkey and Iran, shares some similarities but also differs significantly from dishes like risotto. Unlike the creamy, thick texture of risotto, pulao is celebrated for its lightness and fluffiness, achieved through a careful cooking method that minimizes water usage. Chana pulao, in particular, is cherished for its nutty flavor, aromatic spices, and earthy tones, making it a vegan-friendly option.


The karahi dish, named after the distinct pot it’s cooked in, is a staple in Pakistani cuisine. This rich, tomato-based curry, which can feature chicken, lamb, or beef, has roots potentially stretching back to the Indus Valley Civilization, around 2500 B.C. Modern karahi maintains traditional spice bases but incorporates yogurt to tenderize the meat, along with garam masala, cilantro, and green chilies for added flavor.


Chapshoro offers a mouthwatering combination of gently spiced meat wrapped in a crisp, butter-laden dough. Originating from Gilgit Baltistan’s mountainous terrains, this dish is reminiscent of Cornish pasties or a hearty steak pie made with minced meat, onions, spices, and chilies encased in simple pastry. Traditionally, it’s cooked in communal ovens, often using yak meat, though mutton or beef are excellent alternatives for those outside the region.

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Lamb Kofta Salan

In Pakistan, the word “curry” is a broad term not native to Southeast Asia, with dishes described by more specific regional names based on sauce consistency. Salan, for example, is a thicker, richer sauce often used in lamb kofta salan. This dish involves shallow-frying lamb meatballs and simmering them in a rich, spiced sauce with caramelized onions and tomatoes, perfectly paired with rice, bread, fresh salad, and raita.

Roghni Naan

Roghni Naan, unlike its well-known counterpart, garlic naan, remains a hidden gem outside of Pakistan. This version boasts a higher fat content, creating a softer, fluffier bread with a unique dimpled surface ideal for holding melted butter. Sprinkled with sesame and nigella seeds before being baked in a tandoor, roghni naan is a delicacy often enjoyed with nihari or haleem. While street vendors commonly offer this bread fresh from the oven, those preparing it at home can achieve excellent results using a regular kitchen stove.

If you would like to enjoy all the dishes mentioned above and are looking for the “best Pakistani buffet near me,” we suggest Salt & Pepper in High Point. The restaurant invites you to explore Pakistani flavors through our buffet. Offering a wide selection of Pakistani dishes, our buffet is an opportunity to indulge in the country’s rich culinary traditions. From aromatic biryanis to succulent kebabs, there’s something for every taste. Experience the best of Pakistani cuisine at Salt & Pepper’s buffet.

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