How I Learned to Break the Rules of Hosting a Dawat

Though the word dawat is meant to be celebratory, it also inspires a fear that many Pakistanis aren’t willing to admit. In Urdu and Hindi, dawat directly translates to “feast.” In my mind, it’s hosting in the fussiest way possible.

There are Pakistani…

Though the word dawat is meant to be celebratory, it also inspires a fear that many Pakistanis aren’t willing to admit. In Urdu and Hindi, dawat directly translates to “feast.” In my mind, it’s hosting in the fussiest way possible.

There are Pakistani hosts, mostly women, who have dawat down to a science. They prepare elaborate dinners for groups of 12 or more. Given the number of dishes on the table, which can range from six to 10, you might think they would be simple. They are not. Each recipe requires care and precision. The timing of pulao or biryani needs to be exact so that each grain of rice remains whole and perfect; cutlets, whether they be silky meat patties like shami kebabs, or fried potatoes like aloo tikki, need to be uniform in shape, texture, and taste. A four-ingredient chutney needs to have just the right balance of flavors—not too spicy, not too sour.

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For Some of the Best Street Food in Pakistan, Go Here

When travelers talk of visiting Pakistan, they often mention Lahore due to its reputation as the country’s food capital and Mughal architectural history. This singular focus comes, however, at the expense of many other historical cities, such as Peshaw…

When travelers talk of visiting Pakistan, they often mention Lahore due to its reputation as the country's food capital and Mughal architectural history. This singular focus comes, however, at the expense of many other historical cities, such as Peshawar, Multan, and—just adjacent to Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on the Potohar plateau in northern Punjab—Rawalpindi, my mother’s hometown and a culinary hub in its own right.

The region’s history spans thousands of years: Rawalpindi fell within the ancient state of Gandhara, a major center of Buddhism, and is a short driving distance to many Buddhist ruins. Much later during the Mughal era, Rawalpindi split time under the indigenous Ghakhar clan allied with the Mughals, as well as Sikh rule, before coming under British occupation in 1849. Since then, Rawalpindi has acquired the reputation of being a "garrison city." It was first home to the British Indian Army and, following the partition of India in 1947, the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army.

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