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Historical Origins of Pakistan’s Cuisine

By | on October 23, 2016 | 0 Comment

balti-curry

There is no such thing as a purely Pakistani cuisine, rather all our dishes, passed down from generations, have regional tastes and flavors. Given the range of diversity in the soil type, climate and occupations, these cuisines vary significantly from one other either because of use of different ingredients or their cooking techniques

We have inherited out staple diets of lentil and bread from our ancestors, the Indus Valley people who were forced to use heavy intake of fat and carbohydrates due to harshness of the climate and heavy load of work. Wheat imported by them from the Fertile Crescent and grown in the fields of Punjab and Sindh, soon replaced barley as the main ingredient of our breads. Frequent famines taught them how to use grass (Saag) along with vegetables as a second dish.

Meat of goat and sheep became the main dish of those living in the mountainous areas because of less availability of grains and harshness of the life. Farmers living in the rural areas are not heavy meat eaters as cattle were their main assets. Religious sanctity saved cows from their wholesale annihilation; buffalo, a sea animal which came on earth due to geological changes and domesticated in the South Asia, also got a lease of life due to its economic value.

However, growing prosperity of the middle classes have resulted in meat becoming our daily intake as a part of their staple diet. Here again, scarcity of food which taught our forefathers not to waste even the skin, head and the feet of the animals, has made these parts as a delicacy for the urbanites.

Though abundantly available in the rivers, fish never became our staple diet because of its certain medicinal attributes. Similarly, rice which came from present day Thailand could not displace bread although the best variety of long grain rice Baas Mati- (meaning flavor of the soil) is still grown in Pakistan. Although used as a special dish on special occasions, most of the rice grown in Pakistan is exported. Only people living in the mountain areas eat rice as their staple diet.

Heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices, the development of these cuisines has been shaped by Islamic beliefs and practices. Islam created the division of halal and haram in food, in particular eating meat of only those animals which have been declared as halal and have been slaughtered in accordance with the Islamic injunctions. Similarly, its injunctions against pork and wine resulted in their banishment from our cuisine.

On the other hand, some items have become part of our daily food intake because they have been mentioned in the Holy Book or because of their use by the Prophet i.e. figs, honey, olives etc. Halva, made with flour, clarified butter and sugar, a favorite dish of the religious people, got its name from Haloo, the sugary substance made from dates

Besides Islamic influence, Pakistani cuisine has marked imprints of Iranian, Turkish and Central Asian cuisine. Biryani is a typical example which came from Iran while various ways of cooking meat are either Turkish or Central Asian Origin However Baalti Ghostt is from Baltistantan though popularized by a Birmingham restaurant in the 1970s.

Foreign invasions, trade relations and colonialism have also played an important role in introducing certain foods, fruits and vegetables as well as dishes and manners of their cooking and eating. While the Portuguese were responsible for introducing tomato, potato, chilies and tobacco, Central Asian conquerors and Mughals brought the meat delicacies and eating manners.

British introduced the third timing of food eating—breakfast. Before their arrival, we used to have only ‘do waqat ki roti’(two meals a day) –11 o clock after finishing the work at the fields, and 6 pm dinner before going to bed. Having lunch or dinner around table and use of fork is also a colonial legacy. While tea and refined sugar (still called Cheeni) was introduced by the Arabs from China, it was popularized by the British. Evening tea with snacks is a British legacy.

Globalization has made great inroads in all sphere of our social life, including food. Coffee is the gift of Globalization along with fast food, and different fizzy drinks.

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