During our 16 day trip to Pakistan, I had an incredible opportunity to visit a small village just outside Gujranwala, Punjab.
When we arrived, I really didn’t now what to expect, but it tuned out to be an unforgettable time of community, hospitality, and incredibly delicious local Punjabi food.
In this post, I’m going to share with you my experience eating a desi (local) breakfast in Punjab, Pakistan.
Note: This article was written by Joel Bruner.
Passion is More Than Just the Food
I have a serious passion for food. Really though, its more than just the amazing flavors that excite me.
Being able to spend time eating together with the people who call a meal ‘their food,’ increases the joy I get from eating all the more. Experiences like these are what gives me the drive to travel, and are a main source of motivation for me.
In the small town of Kot Yousef (in Wazirabad, Pakistan), I was experiencing exactly this. Traditional Punjabi food, enjoying it together with the people responsible (for the meal, and the incredible day as well).
This made me think about the larger picture of having travel not just as a hobby, but as a lifestyle.
I am thinking here of some of the things in my earlier years in life that help to start the mental preparations for travel. I see that I did all of these (or readied myself to do them through imagination and visualisation) even before I made travel a practice in my physical daily life.
I would like to share four practices that I find are very helpful in living the life of a traveler.
First, Build Excitement to Travel by Reading
I have always loved reading, ever since I can remember.
One of the oldest and most pure forms of both entertainment and education, all you need is time and an imagination.
Luckily, most of us are blessed with both, and we can begin a journey of new learning right now.
My favorite authors always wrote about life in Asia, and usually it was Central Asia and the Far East. Even though I spent most of my childhood years in the continent of Africa, Asia has always been intriguing and magical.
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Now, I am so lucky to be living in Asia, and even more than that, I’m traveling to places that literally came from my childhood dreams.
Second, Visit Intriguing and Magical Places
The world is full of magical places, and they by no means need to be physically far away to be special.
I could easily imagine writing a book about a small town like this town of Kot Yousef, or seeing it as a picture in a show-case scene of a local movie. As fascinating as this may be for someone reading or watching, for the people in the movie, it is their normal and every day life.
It was so picturesque, so full of ultra-relaxing make-yourself-at-home type feelings, the kind of setting where its easy to be appreciative – everything is so interesting and new!
But I also found myself thinking about how anyone anywhere can just visit a place they have never been before, and can also give themselves a chance for a unique experience like this.
Let me say that again – with a positive and open mind-set, I can guarantee you the chance of a truly great and unique experience, anytime you go anywhere new.
And even better yet, just a few minutes after arrival, you just may find that the air is already full of the most wonderful smoky smells…
If Possible, Choose a Home-Stay over a Hotel
This family is so kind, we were staying with them at their home, the family providing for us since the night before.
We woke up in their village, enjoying some tea and fresh fruit together before taking a stroll. Walking to the buildings where the family cares for their cows and horses, we got to see and get a feel for the town in a way that driving through just doesn’t allow.
Arriving at around 9AM, preparations were well under way for what was quite obviously going to be a feast of home-cooking.
The smells were deliciously hot and smoky, and I couldn’t wait to see what they would do with some of the ingredients they were using.
Note: I am not saying that a hotel room is a bad thing, but it does limit the amount of possible unique experiences that you may be able to fit into each 24 hours you spend traveling.
Finally, Never be afraid to lend a hand
First of all, making this meal requires several of our hosts working together taking turns.
Repeating pounding, churning, and kneading actions, bringing together all of the different ingredients, from the beginning there was real love going into every dish we would eat.
When making food truly from scratch, there is a lot of work that needs doing, most of which we might not even think about while just cooking in a kitchen.
I saw them breaking branches to be set on fire under various cooking pans. Sifting out several types of flour, and then kneading huge portions of it together, making Roti, Chapati, Paratha and Puri (different breads). Finally, churning fresh milk from buffalo in the pen directly next to make the Curries, the Dal (lentils), and even Raita (yoghurt).
Even the almonds and pistachios for dessert need shelling, husking, and crushing. All of it takes work, sometimes even real physical strength – I am very grateful to the strong mothers and grandmothers who took such good care of all of this for us!
Traditional Punjabi Food
I hope you can gain some insight from this experience, and I very much hope that this gives you inspiration to go out and live some adventures of your own – even if they will happen in your own homeland.
On that note, lets get back to some food, because its time for the Dish of the Day.
My favorite dish was the Aloo Paratha, which is an iron-skillet bread full of potato and spices. The raw ingredients form a thick layer on top of a few generous spoonfuls of Desi Ghee (homemade clarified butter).
Making this food requires two pieces of Paratha, and after the filling goes in, the second piece lies on top, and the edges fold together.
Each potato-packed Paratha cooks for a few minutes per side, and then receives a final rub from yet another spoon of desi ghee – the importance of desi ghee in Pakistani food cannot be underestimated.
Hospitality AND Incredible Cooking Skills.
A smoky feeling from the charcoal accompanies the buttery richness of the Desi Ghee so perfectly, and the heavy ingredients, like potatoes, make all of the dishes such warm and filling food.
This Aloo Paratha is a dish that I believe was actually designed to have you licking off your fingers after each bite. This is a real comfort food of Pakistan, and I love ripping off chunks of this Paratha to dip into a spicy Saag or mutton curry.
Bonus – Tent-Pegging, a local tradition
I may never even have heard of this sport before, but that doesn’t mean its not a favorite pastime in several parts of the world.
Raising and training of horses, grooming and caring for them, and then showing off their strength and skill, all are integral parts of this Central Asian sport that has been played since the 4th century BC.
“Tent-pegging” is just what it sounds like, the riders aim simply to put a spear tip through a tiny wooden ‘peg.’
Incredibly fast and fun to watch, it is very intense during each rider/horse sprint. They push the horse to a full gallop (amazingly, at this speed, the back of the horse is actually at its most stable and rigid), and they must also be careful to not spear themselves or the horse as well.
The ‘peg’ itself can be anything, a chunk of wood here today, but the spearing is what impresses me the most. It was heavy even with two hands, you would really need some great arm strength to level it in front of the horse, keeping it perfectly in line with a target.
Very fun to watch, and a great way to finish our visit to Kot Yousef village in Pakistan.
Incredibly Gracious Hosts
The entire day was wonderful, and I have nothing more to say than a huge “Thank You” to the entire Bagdi family, and everyone who made our day possible.
I absolutely love being able to witness the creation of food first-hand. The way that people who create these foods live, and getting to see how that food sustains these people’s lives on a day-to-day basis, that is something truly special.
I hope reading excites your imagination like it does for me, and I hope you enjoy reading more about the details from this memorable and incredible day.
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Don’t forget to check out the full series of Pakistan videos!