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All About Food in Pakistan

Pakistani food is, in our opinion, is some the tastiest we’ve ever had on our travels. Rich, flavorful, filling, and, at times, spicey, it has all of the things that we expect and love.

Seriously, the food is a highlight of every trip we make in Pakistan and will be one of the things you miss the most when you’re gone.

There is A LOT of food to try though, and a lot of it isn’t even found outside the country itself. Of course, the classics like karahai, chapati, and nihari are all to be found (on a daily basis) but have you heard of less common items like proppu, saijje, and baale?

This article is an exposition of all of our favorite dishes in Pakistan – the ones that we always seek out. But these are only a fraction of what’s actually on offer in this country. Visit yourself and discover every culinary that it has to offer.

Commonly Asked Questions About Pakistani Food

What is it like, generally? 

Pakistani food is a reflection of the country’s great diversity. Mixing Afghan, Persian, Indian, and Central Asian traditions, it really runs the gamut of flavor.

Generally, the Pakistani diet is pretty carnivorous, quite unlike its more vegetarian-friendly Eastern neighbor India. Meat, in particular lamb (mutton) and chicken, is heavily used and is consumed almost on a daily basis. Being a Muslim country, pork is strictly banned of course. 

Be prepared for big portions and feasts.

Depending on where you are traveling in Pakistan, the cuisine will be different. In Lahore and Punjab, the food will be rich and spicy due to the strong Indian influence. In Peshawar, the kebab and barbecue reign supreme. Meanwhile, in the rugged Northern Provinces, the food tends to be more muted – spices are less prevalent and ingredients are usually simpler. 

Anywhere you go in Pakistan, be ready for a gastronomic assault.

What does the average day look like?

Here is how we usually structure our meals on our own trips in Pakistan:

  • Breakfast: Typically includes omelet/fried eggs, fried Pakistani bread (paratha), jam, butter, and chai/coffee. Sometimes we have a delicious hot porridge as well.
  • Lunch: We typically provide a hearty lunch. Usually a mix of daal, mixed vegetables, a meat dish, salad, chapati, rice, etc. 
  • Dinner: This is always the main event of the day and will be a mix of vegetables, rice, noodle dishes, daal, meat (mutton or chicken), chapati, and local specialties depending on where we are. 

Note that the food situation whilst camping or on an expedition is different. Whilst we and other organizers will do their best to ensure it will be the best possible quality, participants need to have realistic expectations of what camp cooks can deliver. There won’t be any lasagne and red wine (unless you bring the wine), but the food will be healthy and tasty. 

Is vegetarianism possible in Pakistan?

Very much so.

Despite Pakistan’s insistence on consuming meat, vegetarianism is not totally unreasonable. Some of the best Pakistani dishes that we and our guests have had were totally vegi-based in fact!

Not pictured: meat.

Vegetarians will have to settle for less selection, of course, as there are only a limited amount of options that are strictly vegetarian after all. Be prepared to eat a lot of rice, egg, daal, channa, bread, curried vegetables, each and every day. 

I will say too that setting aside a few days for eating strictly vegetarian is actually a good idea when traveling in Pakistan. It will give you and your digestive system a nice break from all of those heavy meats and give it a chance to clear up a bit.

How spicy is the food in Pakistan?

Pakistani food can be spicy. We mean real spicy. This isn’t your local mom-and-pop Pakistani restaurant that caters to Western pallets. This is the real deal.

That being said, the chef can dial down the spiciness though when asked. If you don’t like your food super spicy (or atomic for that matter) simply communicate to the cook or your trip leader that you would prefer mild. We will do our best to accommodate that request and cut the heat. 

We just ask that you’re flexible with the food as there will always be a little kick present. Such is Pakistan.

Top Dishes to Try in Pakistan

Below are our favorite Pakistani dishes that we regularly eat on our adventure tours:

Karahi 

Probably the single most popular dish in Pakistan, at least on the tourist trail. And though it may be featured A LOT on local menus, it’s rarely unwelcome.

Essentially, karahi is a type of curry made in a special cooking vessel similar to a wok (also called a ‘karahi’), usually with tomatoes, chilis, and lots of fresh herbs. Though it is almost always prepared with some sort of meat as a base – chicken or lamb usually – vegetarian karahis are also possible. 

Each restaurant makes its own version of a karahi. Traveling around Pakistan and trying each one is a mission unto itself, and a tasty one at that. In our experience, the best karahi in Pakistan is usually found in the middle of nowhere – in the roadside stops and family-run joints.

Handi

Like karahi, handi is a type of curry that is named after the vessel in which it is made. A handi (the object) is a small pot, usually made of clay. Metal is also common. 

Handi (the dish) can vary a bit although in Pakistan it tends to be creamier, slightly less spicey, and easier to eat than karahi. Chicken or lamb are also common bases for a handi. The former is frequently boneless too.

All-in-all, a chicken handi is a great option for those who are a little intimidated by Pakistani food at first and want to ease their way into it.

Biryani

Photo 141660340 / Pakistan © Najamedupak | Dreamstime.com

The legendary biryani: feeding hungry travelers and locals alike all across the Indian Subcontinent since we can all remember. Rich in flavor, easy to eat, and packed full of ingredients, biryani rarely fails.

Historically, biryani is a Muslim dish that dates back to the Mughal Empire. It is now found across the entire Indian Subcontinent and even as far as Iraq.

The Pakistani iteration of biryani is no slouch. Aromatic and predictably chaulked full of spices, it is an awesome dish to order if you can’t decide on what to eat. Most Pakistani biryani is made with chicken but vegetarian is also possible.

Sabzi

Curried vegetables, usually of the root variety e.g. potatoes, carrots with some extras thrown in. 

Sabzi is a simple dish, often served as a side. There have been meals though where the sabzi was clearly the best plate though and, tragically, not abundant enough. For vegetarians visiting Pakistan, this dish is a God-send. Even amongst carnivores, it will be appreciated. 

Fun fact: there is a very popular dish served in Iran that is also called sabzi (ghormeh sabzi). The Persian variety is a bit different than the Pakistani one though – it uses a lot more herbs, dried lime, and other zesty ingredients. Lamb is also common. If you join us in Iran, there is a very good chance you will have the opportunity to try some.

Chapati 

Pakistan’s main source of carbs: baked flatbread. Ubiquitous across both Pakistan and India, chapati is a staple and served with practically every meal.

Chapati – frequently referred to as ‘roti’ as well in Pakistan – is very simple to make and requires only two ingredients: flour and water. Yeast is completely omitted. 

It is mixed, kneaded, rolled into a ball, flattened with a stick, and then worked with the hands, before being baked directly on a hot metal surface. A tandoor oven is the most traditional means of cooking chapati. On treks where an oven is not available, camp cooks will resort to other means though: the bottom of a skillet or even a hot rock. Watching porters deftly make and cook chapati can be a good way to pass the time on longer expeditions to places like K2 Base Camp.

Paratha

Another type of flatbread not too dissimilar from chapati. The key difference between the two is that rather than being baked, paratha is fried. As such, it’s a bit heavier than regular chapati. 

Paratha is best consumed in the morning, preferably with a sweet spread like marmalade or Nutella. It’s filling and will give you a little extra energy later on in the day once digested. When the paratha kicks in on the morning hike, it really helps you make it the extra mile to lunch.

Kebab

Everyone’s favorite skewered meat dish and made particularly delicious in Pakistan. Not just chunks of grilled meat either, kebabs in Pakistan are done in a myriad of ways. 

Tikka kebab is your standard grilled, skewered meats. Seekh kebabs are made of minced meat with spices are cooked in tandoor rather on the grill. Chapli kebabs are similar but are not baked but rather fried in animal fat. Both are incredible.

The best kebabs in Pakistan are usually found in Afghan establishments. Pashtuns are very good at preparing any kind of meat and most of their restaurants will offer at least a half dozen different options. Kabul Restaurant in Islamabad is a great place to introduce yourself to the tradition.

Sajji 

The Balochi version of kebab that is legendarily delicious. Sajji involves skewering and roasting an entire chicken near an open flame. Spicing is limited but won’t be missed as the chicken is cooked to perfection. The skin is left on the chicken for maximum flavor.

Traditional sajji is often stuffed before being cooked as well, usually with rice. Said rice – being marinated in all that wonderful chicken juice – will then be served on the side. Doesn’t get much better than this.

Daal

Photo 167673443 / Pakistan © Aleksandar Pavlovic | Dreamstime.com

Slow-cooked lentils with a generous amount of spices. This will be a vital source of protein for vegetarians visiting Pakistan or anyone looking for a break from meat. 

Pakistani daal is usually pretty thick and more of a mash than a soup. Careful of peppers! Pakistanis like to add these whole to daal mixes sometimes, and they can be real gutbusters when eaten whole.

A very similar dish to daal, but distinctly its own thing, is channa. Rather than using lentils, channa uses chickpeas instead.

Nimko

Nimko is a typical snack food in Paksitan and is kind of like their version of chips (or crisps for all of our English readers out there). Ingredients vary but you can generally expect a mix of dried legumes, small vegetables like peas, and some fried morsels.

Nimko blends can be very diverse. Some are sweet while others are spicy. Most mixes attempt to strike a nice balance and feature all of the flavor profiles, including tangy and salty. It’s a highly edible snack food that is meant to be enjoyed by all. 

One of our favorite drivers in Pakistan, Mr. Khan, is particularly fond of nimko. He’ll usually bring a giant bag with him for those long drives and pass it around the bus for everyone to sample. 

Nihari

A rich stew made by slow-cooking beef or lamb shank. The gravy can be pretty thick and hearty, which makes it a popular dish on a cold winter’s day (despite it never really getting “cold” in the south). Think bone broth but a ton of extra flavoring.

Propoo

A Balti delicacy that is practically unheard of outside of the region. Most Southern Pakistanis haven’t even heard of this dish. 

Propoo is a type of boiled dumpling made with barley, flour, and ground apricot seeds. It is usually topped with a refreshing sauce made from cilantro, herbs, and apricot oil. Think Balti-style gnocchi. 

Propoo is very satisfying and arguably one of the most unique dishes you’ll ever have the chance of trying in Pakistan. We make sure to have it at least once on our Trekking Amongst Giants itinerary in the village in Barah. We know a local mother who makes simply the best propoo in town.

Baale 

A hearty soup made from barley and herbs. A staple of the Balti diet, particularly in the winter when it’s cold and times are tough. Very filling, especially after a long hiking day.

Insider tip: mix this soup with a healthy amount of apricot oil. This is the way the locals enjoy Baale.

Apricots

These deserve special mention since they are so ubiquitous in Northern Pakistan. 

Seriously you can’t throw a rock in Hunza or Baltistan without hitting an apricot tree. These are one of the prosperous crops in the region and are a vital part of the culture. 

There is a seemingly endless variety of apricots to be had. For example, the village of Barah claims to grow no less than 30 different kinds of apricots although I’ve heard estimates as high as 60. Each one has a different flavor to it. 

The fruit isn’t the only consumable part of the apricot either – the seeds are often used as well! Inside the pit is a tiny little nut that tastes a bit like an almond. It’s eaten together with dried apricots usually to counteract their sometimes “loosening” effects. Some communities also press the seeds in order to make precious apricot oil.  

Join Epic Backpacker Tours

Interested in joining us in Pakistan this year?

You can put down a deposit to secure your place on one of our many trips if you are keen to get signed up. Here’s what we offer:

Feel free to contact us for any trip-related questions.

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Welcome to our Journal!

Here at Epic Backpacker Tours, adventure is constantly on our minds. 

Our blog – or Journal as we like to call it – contains epic trip stories, photo diaries, and news about new tours. 

Thanks for checking it out! 

What's new in the journal?

The trip we're most stoked about

PAKISTAN
K2 BASE CAMP TREK

Next trip: July 4th – 24th, 2023

Adventure Guide

João has born in the mountains of Madeira Islands in Portugal. Nature lover, writer, musician, guide, for him, a day without contact with outdoor vibes is a nightmare.

With a degree in Cultural Studies in Portugal and a Master of Arts in Global Cultures and Creativity in the U.K.

João found out what really matters in life can be found on the trails, and in the contact with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Guiding, crazy trekking missions, sharing observations about the natural world, – these are some of João’s passions.

After his trek to K2 Base Camp and other adventures in the north of Pakistan, the love of the country and the local people resulted in his desire to share these feelings with world.

When not in Pakistan, João is  guiding and exploring in the Madeira Islands trails –  discovering some of the hidden treasures on his Portuguese Island.

João I can not thank you enough for the off the beaten paths and views you keep giving. Definitely one of the most challenging and amazing hikes we did 1200m meters all the way up to Fanal forest and circling back to the hidden village. Wow!

– Jeffery 

travel hunza valley

Adventure Guide

Sohail is the newest addition to the Epic Backpacker Tours team and we are beyond stoked to have him on board. As a veteran of the Karakoram and a native of Karimabad in Hunza, there is not much Sohail can’t do in the mountains. 

Besides having the ability to speak more languages than we can count, Sohail has explored every corner of Gilgit Baltistan and logs more trekking miles 

in a year than most people will do in a lifetime. As of the summer of 2022, Sohail has summited Gasherbrum 1, Gasherbrum 2, and K2 – three of Pakistan’s five 8000-meter peaks. Sohail guides several trips including our annual bespoke expeditions but specializes in Hunza Valley tours.

Chris and Sohail, and the team at Epic are FANTASTIC! Highly recommend anyone to do a tour with ‘Epic’. They have the perfect balance of fun, excitement and wild adventures, tied in with being super professional and ensuring your safety/health in a foreign environment. Don’t waste a moment and book a tour with these guys as the value for money is UNREAL!

– Borgan

iran travel tour

Adventure Guide

Pedro’s been traveling all around the globe since 2009. His keen interests in documentary photography, rural life, and local people from different ethnic groups have been the focus of many of his professional projects.

Since 2012, he has developed his passion for travel and awesome shared experiences into a full-time adventure photography tour leader position.

Pedro has found himself continuously going back to the Middle East, with his likely favorite destination being Iran. Pedro will be leading his 11th tour in Iran with EBT this coming spring 2020

When Pedro’s not traveling the world with Epic Backpacker Tours, you’ll find him based in the western south of Portugal planning he’s next adventure missions, logistics and working out his photos in local exhibitions.

 I loved the combination of hiking, camping around breathtaking scenery mixed with the cultural aspects. The guide (Pedro) is knowledgeable and work very hard to make the trip as memorable as possible. All in all an epic adventure with some extremely epic individuals! Go for it, you won’t regret it!

– Saisun

Touring Iran with EBT in May 2022 was way above our expectation: itineraries well planned and carefully executed, perfect mix of sights and trekking, delicious food, nice accommodation, great guides and wonderful fellow travellers. Trekking can be handled by anyone physically fit. Highly recommended for those who want to experience the real Iran.

– Sumera

Diane Bouvet

Adventure Admin / Marketing

After fleeing from the corporate fashion world in Paris towards the start of 2020, Diane has been working as a web developer and graphic designer remotely from various bases across the globe

She brings all of her incredible design and organizational power to Epic Backpacker Tours and is responsible for many of the beautiful behind-the-scenes design elements. 

Diane has been to Iran and to Pakistan twice including all over Gilgit Baltistan and KPK.

k2 base camp trek guide

Head of Operations | Guide

A veteran of Pakistan travel, Ralph is an experienced guide, photographer and writer who specializes in documenting remote locations. 

Not one to simply go where everyone else does, he insists on exploring new and lesser-known areas.

Together with Epic Backpacker Tours, he shows people parts of Pakistan that most other operators don’t even know about. He is particularly fond of the village of Barah, which he believes will become just as famous as Hunza one day.

Just got back from EBT’s Trekking Amongst Giants 15 day tour. The experience was first class. Ralph, our head guide, ensured that the entire trip ran smoothly and relatively on time (a bonus for anyone travelling in Pakistan). We had so many unforgettable days on the tour and the trekking was well-planned, safe but also a rewarding challenge. 

– Calvin


Traveling to a non-tourist destination can be a little intimidating but EBT takes all of the worry and trepidation away. From the pre-trip call to meeting the wonderful staff in person you can tell that you are dealing with a company that has a passion for what they do each and every day. Ralph, Zahid, and Khan were supportive, kind, and always willing to go the extra mile to make sure that everyone on the trip was getting what they wanted out of the experience.

– Katrina 

adventure tours pakistan

Founder | Adventure Guide | Director

For the last eleven years, Chris has been seeking out every shade of adventure in various parts of the globe and had visited more than 65 countries along the way. 

Since 2011, Chris has logged more than 6300 trail miles across five continents and climbed multiple 6000 + 7000 meter peaks in Pakistan and Nepal.

In 2017, a distant dream and a deep passion for the mountains and people of Pakistan led Chris to found Epic Backpacker Tours at a time when foreign adventure tourism in Pakistan was almost nonexistent. Since then, Chris has guided more than 15 expeditions to various parts of Northern Pakistan.

Chris believes in using photography and powerful adventure experiences to dismantle negative stereotypes regarding what mainstream media considers “dangerous” countries while facilitating unique and meaningful memories in the mountains for countless people from around the globe. 

Long-distance hiking, learning languages, meaningful conversations, all things Turkish food, mountaineering, and making tasty coffee above 6,000 meters rank among his favorite things in life. 

For him, an ideal start to the day begins with a steaming cup of good coffee, the beam of a headlamp, alpine boots, and a camera in hand.

When he is not leading or planning tours, Chris works as a writer and photographer on his blog Off the Atlas – an adventure travel blog all about Pakistan. 

 

Chris believes in Pakistan and its people, and he believes in the value of journeys shared with others and family cultivated on the road. Honesty and integrity are at the heart of what he does, and this really shines through in his work as a guide. He also makes great coffee – whether at 5am in an empty guesthouse or half way up a Himalayan peak.”

– Will De Villers

Chris believes in Pakistan and its people, and he believes in the value of journeys shared with others and family cultivated on the road. Honesty and integrity are at the heart of what he does, and this really shines through in his work as a guide. He also makes great coffee – whether at 5am in an empty guesthouse or half way up a Himalayan peak.”

– Alicia Anne Bjerkseth