Pakistan lies northwest of India and west of China. The country’s name comes from the Urdu language
(Pakistan’s official language), meaning Land of the Pure. It is approximately the size of Texas and its
southern coast borders the Arabian Sea. The Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges of northern
Pakistan have some of the most rugged land found anywhere in the world. Nearly all of the land in these
mountains lies above 7,800 feet. The Indus plains are in the central region of the country. The climate
there is hot and dry. The region usually receives only about eight inches of rain a year and temperatures
may hover around 104°F for months at a time. Despite these conditions, the Indus plains support the
largest part of Pakistan’s population.
Urdu is Pakistan’s official language, although only 10 percent of Pakistanis speak it. Sixty percent of the
population speak Punjabi. Other languages include Sindhi (13 percent); Pushto or Pashtu, spoken by
the Pathans (8 percent); and Kashmiri, 2 percent. With this diversity, and because of the role of language
in cultural identity, Urdu has been adopted as Pakistan’s national language.
The spreading of the Islam religion, starting in the A.D. 700s, forms the basis of Pakistani cuisine.
Because Muslims (those who practice the Islam religion) are forbidden to eat pork or consume alcohol,
they concentrated on other areas of food such as beef, chicken, fish, and vegetables. The Moghul Empire
(from India) began its ruling in present-day Pakistan around 1526. Its style of cooking, called Mughal ,
typically includes such ingredients as herbs and spices, almonds, and raisins. Mughal cooking remains an
important part of Pakistani cuisine. Foods such as shahi tukra , a dessert made with sliced bread, milk,
cream, sugar, and saffron (a type of spice), and chicken tandoori are still enjoyed in the twenty-first century. Chicken tandoori is chicken that is
cooked at a low temperature in special large clay ovens called tandoors.
Pakistan was part of India until 1947. Although Pakistani cuisine has obvious Indian roots (found in its
heavy use of spices, for example), its foods reflect Irani, Afghani, Persian, and Western influences to give
it its own distinct character. These cultures brought different uses of herbs, flavorings, and sauces to
Pakistan, transferring ordinary staple foods into unique dishes.