Sharing the Same Plate: Finding the Beautiful Secret between India and Pakistan


I was indeed intrigued and delighted when I came across this brilliant piece of information. The two countries, torn apart by too many reasons-prejudices-excuses can still find one very strong common ground. I have spent considerable time researching on this subject and nothing makes me happier than finding out what I have.

But, this post must not be misinterpreted as weak or sympathizing. Let us be objective enough in saying that both the countries have been wronged. Also, let us be objective enough to say that both the countries have not always played fair. Who is to be blamed is a fool’s debate we have been debating on for the last seven odd decades.

My love for Musalmans and Islam is no secret in my social circles (This is not the appropriate article to discuss why I have such immense love, warmth, kinship, and respect for Islam). What makes the culture of the faith more endearing and heartwarming to me is the diligence and dedication shown towards food – something akin to Bengalis (here, one should just try to guess how much I must love a Bengali Muslim!). The sheer lavishness of a spread, the scientific use of spices, the tedious but almost grandmotherly long hours spent for certain preparations, make the cuisine (various regions of the world) an interesting culinary experience altogether. For those like me, who literally survive on kebabs-gosht-biryani-shawarma, there is no turning back.

I belong to no faith in particular, but my stomach is definitely Muslim!

So, let me introduce Muhajir cuisine to you. And the funny thing is that, most of the dishes will require no introduction at all. ‘Muhajir’ is a word used for migrants or immigrants, in this case, into Pakistan from India post partition. The seat of Muhajir cuisine is Karachi, the city most refugees settled in or had families in – bringing their Indian ladles and palates along with them. These families chose to cling on to their old established habits and tastes, adding a wide variety of snacks, side dishes, and main courses to the Pakistani spread. The Muhajir way of cooking spread far and wide today, is an as distinct and individual personality as the Ghoti (West Bengal) and Bangal (East Bengal) traditions of cooking in West Bengal. I am a proud hybrid by the way – my Mum is a Bangal and Dad a Ghoti. I enjoy the best of both. Another extremely surprising feature of Muhajir cuisine is that, many preparations from the Middle East were brought into Pakistan by the migrants, and certain delicacies that had died out (gone out of fashion) were revived by the prodigal sons.

The Mughal and Indo-Iranian influences have played the pivotal role in shaping Muhajir cuisine, not to forget the Nizami cuisine of Hyderabad, having tastes varying from mild to spicy and often stressing on the importance of aroma. In comparison to native Pakistani dishes which also have Baluchistani influences, Muhajir cuisine tends to use stronger spices and flavors along with more tender treatments of meat. The North-west frontier stresses on meat being slightly tough and chewy, stuffed with filling (often cheese, butter, cream, and nuts), and generally grilled to a slight-less-than-well-done. Muhajir cuisine introduced the concept of ‘galawati’ or melt-in-your-mouth with reference to meat/chicken cooking. ‘Galawati’ of course, has Lucknawi and Awadhi roots. The food of Muhajirs is renowned for its cultural fusion, due to Muhajirs hailing from a number of ethnic backgrounds (Muslims resided in every part of India, not to forget that India had Muslim rulers almost everywhere before the British arrived). As a result, Bengali, Bihari, Lucknawi/Awadhi, and Nizami cuisines collaboratively imposed an influence on the kitchen.

With a little help from various sources online, I could put together a rough idea of the dishes that form an integral part of Pakistan today, and belong to Muhajir cuisine.

Eid specialties like the haleem, nihari, and siri paya travelled over to Pakistan with the migrants, mostly from Hyderabad. I have spoken at length about Hyderabadi haleem in a previous post. The nihari, a popular dish in Pakistan, is prepared the Muhajir way. While the tradition of cooking nihari had existed earlier, the spice combination used today has travelled from Delhi.

The migrants brought in a wide variety of tikkas and kebabs, which went ahead to completely displace the more typical preparations of the region. Boti kebabs and chicken tikkas began finding more takers than the Baluchistani sajji (whole chicken grilled underground). Lamb and chicken tikkas, sheekh and reshmi kebabs were being prepared using Muhajir recipes – the ‘galawati’ style obviously being a new found guiding light for the chefs of the region. Interesting kebab varieties like the Bihari kebab (which has vanished from Indian menus) are extremely popular in Pakistan even today. The bun kebab is nothing more than the humble sheekh-pao of Mumbai – another piece of Md. Ali road-Vakola-Byculla staying alive in the heart of Pakistan.

Read this from Hassan Sharique Altamash’s blog:

Growing up in a small town in Bihar and then travelling to different corners of India, I realized that the special kebab was limited to my home state of Bihar. The tasty kebab is not popular elsewhere. I got a chance to come to United States. And to my surprise, many of the desi restaurants were offering a special cuisine called Bihari Kebab. The Bihari Kebabs are famous in USA, but not in India.

Doing some more research, I found out that these kebabs are famous in Pakistan. As these kebabs were brought to Pakistan by the immigrant Biharis, it became known as the Bihari Kebab. And most of the Pakistani restaurants in the United States offer these kebabs. In the US, there is even a restaurant called Bihari Kebab in Ontario!


Kadhai chicken, dal gosht (called dalcha in Pakistan), murgh musallam, kofta and qorma preparations, stuffed parathas, kulchas, and roomali rotis form the basis of Muhajir cuisine in Pakistan. Rice preparations are akin to Hyderabadi and Awadhi biryani and pulao. The rezala and pasinda preparations travelled all the way from Awadh and Amritsar.  Here are three kinds of breads that are rarely found in India these days but are still extremely popular in Pakistan:

Bakarkhani Roti – Bakarkhani is made by kneading together flour, ghee, cardamom, sugar, and salt with water. The dough is then flattened. The bread is made by stretching a sheet of dough repeatedly and interleaving with ghee, molasses, saffron water, and poppy seeds before baking on a tandoor. It finds its origins in today’s Bangladesh.

Taftan – Similar to Bakarkhani but avoids the sugar content. Origins lie in Uttar Pradesh.

Sheermal – A variation of the Taftan in which the dough is kneaded with milk instead of water. Sheermal finds its roots in Lucknow and Hyderabad.

Quirky fish recipes also travelled to Pakistan. The most surprising import was the shawarma, an Arab snack, which first came to India and then trickled into Pakistan. The homely Gujarati kadhi is another surprise. Pakistani variations supposedly have fish and egg in them and are served with naan!

Most of the dessert and snack items have travelled to Pakistan with the Muhajirs. The humble samosa and chaats and kachoris owe their allegiance to the narrow Delhi alleys. The dosa…well, where on earth will you not find a dosa?

I will not get into whether the partition was necessary or not. Neither will I break into a rant about loving Musalmans and the disgusting Hindu fundamentalism and minority politics reigning in this country today. I will only say this – For the common Indian, the way to our hearts is through a hearty meal. So remember, the next time you think of saying anything anti-Pakistan at your dinner table, one man in Karachi is eating the same meal that you do. His wife cooks the same dinner with the same amount of love and attention as yours. His children protest on seeing their veggies just like yours do.

Dal-roti-chawal is beyond religion, borders, and bank balances. This Eid, celebrate food.

Eid Mubarak to you and your family!


The Lazy Critic




Photo courtesy: Google images


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