Growing up, we never ate much Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine (and certainly never any Pakistani Food) in my household. For the most part, our kitchen features North American and European recipes. As I got older, I started exploring the cuisine of other countries, and learned that there were so many tastes out there I had never tried!
Pakistani cuisine is definitely one that I still need to explore (I haven’t cooked the country yet), but after this interview, I know that I need to find a way to try this food!
I spoke to Wajeeha from the blog I Knead to Eat, and she was able to tell me all about what life and food is like in Pakistan. Her passion for the country and the food is evident, and I have truly enjoyed learning about the country through her eyes.
Tell me about your background with Pakistan. Can you tell me what life is like in Pakistan?
Hi! I’m Wajeeha and I run the food blog I Knead to Eat, which focuses on easy recipes from all over the world, but in particular South Asian cuisine. I’m excited to be part of this interview to tell you all about my Pakistani background. I’ve been based in the Middle East for the past 8 years, so my cooking is also influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine too.
Growing up in Pakistan was an amazing experience. Pakistanis have very close knit families so most of our lives revolve around spending quality time with each other.
School was great, with a lot of focus on studies (of course) and just having regular fun with class fellows. As a child I played lots of board games such as Ludo with my siblings and cousins, ate lots of ice cream and played in the backyard.
I would spend afternoons talking to my best friend after school. I also remember making a Backstreet Boys scrapbook with my best friends, because BSB was everything in the 90s!
I’ve travelled a lot as a child, so I didn’t find anything really surprising about moving to the UK or Canada. But I found it interesting in the UK, how people would have their supper / snacks while standing up in the train on commutes etc. That’s something which was very new to me, because back home in Pakistan, we always had meals at home, sitting down at the dining table.
What is family life like in Pakistan? How do family dynamics work?
Pakistanis are very family oriented, and most of our time is spent together with families. However, my father was an airline Flight Engineer, so he was mostly away on flights. So my mother was the one who was in charge of handing everything, and she managed it wonderfully. In that respect, I think my family life differed from those of others in Pakistan.
What differences do you see between Pakistani food and food from the Middle East? What are similarities?
I would have to say the biggest difference in Pakistani & Middle Eastern cuisine is that of spices. Middle Eastern food is quite mild in comparison to Pakistani food.
Middle Eastern cuisine uses cardamom, dried lemon and za’atar heavily. Pakistani cuisine on the other hand uses spices such as a garam masala and green chillies. Most dishes start with a base of masala made with onions and tomatoes.
Middle Eastern desserts are heavily spiced with cardamom and tend to be finished off with a scented simple syrup, for example Baklava and Kunafa. Pakistani desserts are also spiced with cardamom and lots of desserts such as jalebi and gulab jamun are finished off with a simple syrup.
Tell me about Rooh Afza. What is it and where can you find it?
Rooh Afza is a concentrated syrup that’s extremely popular in Pakistan and India, and is known for its vibrant red color. We mix it with water or milk, and serve it as a chilled drink. People sometimes use it as a topping on ice cream as well. We drink Rooh Afza in the month of Ramadan, when it’s served as a refreshing drink at Iftar, to break the fast.
In Pakistan, you can find Rooh Afza in every single shop, and in most countries it should be available in Pakistani & Indian stores.
Tell me about Pakistani Food
Pakistanis love meat, red meat and chicken preferred most of the time. Every meal comes with a side of roti (flatbread) or rice. Raita (yogurt based dips) and salads come as common sides.
We often make vegetable curries as well with okra, spinach and eggplant as some of the commonly used vegetables. Lentils are also a huge part of the Pakistani cuisines, with daal chawal (lentils and rice) being one of the favourite comfort foods in Pakistan.
What are your everyday Pakistani foods? What types of things are common for breakfasts, dinners, snacks?
When I think of the most common breakfast in Pakistan, it has to be paratha (fried flatbread) and omelette made with finely diced tomatoes, onions and green chillies. It’s what I grew up eating, and most people in Pakistan have it for breakfast. Strongly brewed Chai is a must too! We’re not very big on coffee.
For dinner it’s usually some type of meat curry or daal, served with roti or rice.
For snacks, the first thing that comes to mind is delicious crispy pakoras or kababs. As for desserts I would have to say crispy, syrupy, sweet jalebi are probably on top of the list.
Is there anything eaten in Pakistan that’s not eaten anywhere else in the world? Anything surprising?
Nihari is a meat based gravy which is probably unique to only Pakistan. It’s a delicious curry made with beef and bone marrow. Nihari often cooks long and slow for hours, so that it develops complex flavors.
Haleem is also very Pakistani, but I think different versions of it are made all over South Asia.
What’s your very favorite recipe from Pakistan? What is your least favorite food that is traditionally Pakistani?
My favorite recipe has to be biryani for sure! It’s so delicious, and just a great comfort food. It’s a meat and rice layered dish, full of aromatics and heady spices.
If we’re talking about breakfast, then I would have to say halwa poori. This is a breakfast platter of pooris, chana masala and sweet halwa, and it’s just the best! So indulgent, yet so delicious. It’s part of Sunday brunch every week.
My least favorite Pakistani food would be (and this is going to be an unpopular opinion) is Paaye. Paaye is a gravy based curry made with goat trotters. It’s extremely popular in Pakistan, but perhaps the only Pakistani food I haven’t eaten in years. But then, I wouldn’t eat trotters no matter how they’re made. 🙂
Are there any ingredients that you love that just aren’t the same unless you’re in Pakistan?
Pakistan produces some of the best, sweetest mangoes! Wherever I’ve lived in the world, I’ve never been able to find a mango variety that’s as good as Pakistani mangoes. You can smell the sweet scent miles away from Pakistani mangos. Yum!!
P.S. Pakistan produces over 500 varieties of mangoes, and some of the most popular varieties are Chanusa Mango and Sindhri Mango.
Tell me about your food blog! Why you started it, what it features, etc.
I started my food blog I Knead to Eat in 2015, out of my love for cooking, food photography and writing. Being a stay at home mom to a 1 year old (she’s now 6 years old and has a 2 year old brother too!) I would often spend my free time looking up new recipes to try.
I felt there was a need for busy stay at home moms like me, who wanted to cook delicious food but it had to be easy and approachable and possible to make with a toddler standing at your feet, tugging at your pants!
And that’s how I Knead to Eat was born, out of my love for easy and delicious recipes for the foodie who wants to cook but also not spend too much time in the kitchen.
My blog heavily focuses on South Asian cooking, but I love to explore cuisines from around the world as well. It’s hard to pick one favourite recipe from my blog, but I think I would have to say Beef Biryani or Pakoras!
If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to also check out the other food interviews I’ve posted recently!: