Advertisement Close

Pakistan's Influence on Refreshments, Desserts, and Cuisine in the Gulf

posted on: Aug 3, 2021

By: Safa M. Qureshi/Arab America Contributing Writer     

Because of my background, I grew up eating all sorts of delicious carbs, from paratha and tandoori naan to chicken and goat biryani. I can’t help but realize some strikingly similar parallels between Pakistani and Khaleeji (Gulf Arabian) cuisine. Given the location of the Gulf Arab states, historically being along the path of both the silk and spice roads, it is no surprise that Pakistan influenced their culinary palate. So get your stomach ready, you’ll be wanting some good food after this read. Let’s get started!


Let’s first start with Oman. Oman is about a two-hour flight from Pakistan. With that being said, in Oman, there are many influences today from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. 

One example is the parotta (or paratha).

Paratha | پراٹھا

This is a pan-fried flatbread that can be easily found in local coffee shops. These coffee shops are often owned by Indians, Bangladeshis, or Pakistanis and serve quick bites, as well as delicious fresh fruit juices.

Karak means ‘strong’ in Hindi and Urdu. So Karak Chai means strong tea. 

Karak | شاي كرك

Typical mornings in Oman start with a steaming cup of sweet Karak chai and a serving of khubz (bread) Omani. The bread is normally filled with cream cheese and honey. Did you know Karak tea (black tea brewed in milk with spices) also comes from Pakistan? It is hugely popular in India and Pakistan but is also popular all over the Gulf Arab states, such as in Oman and Qatar.

The United Arab Emirates 

Just a 2.5-hour flight from Pakistan, the Emirati cuisine is also heavily influenced by Pakistan. At first glance, Emirati cuisine looks a lot like other Arabic cuisines, with heavy influences from Pakistani and Indian cuisine, due to its proximity. In the UAE, most of the dishes have delicate flavoring of spices like turmeric, saffron, cardamom, and cinnamon. These are spices that hail from Pakistan, indicating the influence that trade with Pakistani merchants had on their cuisine. Listed below are some influences Pakistan has made on Emirati cuisine: 

Reqaq | رقاق

Reqaq is a crispy, paper-thin bread made of whole wheat flour. The dough is flattened and cooked in a pan. This is similar to the Pakistani flatbread called chapati. The name Reqaq itself is from the Arabic word reqa, which means thin.


Pictured above is a colorful, plate of Pakistani biryani. 

Rice was not originally a part of the traditional food of the UAE. The Emiratis inherited it from the Pakistani, Indian, and Persian traders a few centuries ago. Before that, the main source of cereal was wheat. Machboos is the most popular rice dish in Emirati cuisine. Machboos can be prepared with chicken, lamb, or fish. Machboos is in fact an Emirati adaption of Pakistani biryani. 

Saloona | صالونه

Saloona is a vegetable and meat gravy dish/broth made usually from courgettes, cauliflower, carrots, and potatoes. Its Pakistani influence is apparent from the many spices used such as turmeric, coriander, garlic, and ghee. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

Just 1,500 miles west of Pakistan is the KSA. Much like the UAE and Oman, KSA also has many influences on their cuisine from Pakistan.

Mandi Biryani | مندي 

Mandi biryani has gained great popularity in the Sindh province of Pakistan, the city most famous for its signature dish dum ki biryani. Mandi is cooked using the “dum” technique as well but differs from the local biryani by including vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts.

Muttabaq | مطبق‎

Muttabaq (مطبق‎) is a stuffed pancake or pan-fried bread that resembles a stuffed paratha. Muttabaq is a popular snack or starter dish in Saudi Arabia.

Refreshing Beverages in Pakistan and the Arab World:

Rooh Afza (روح افزا) and Vimto (ڤيمتو): 

Rooh Afza was created in 1907 by Hakim Abdul Majid. Rooh Afza, which is mainly rose-scented, also includes syrups of orange, pineapple, carrot, and watermelon, flowers, some medicinal herbs, and vegetable extracts. The drink is very popular in Pakistan and India, where it is manufactured. It is also made in Bangladesh, and available all across the world. Vimto came into existence a year later, in 1908, when Noel Nichols invented the fruity, purple, drink in the UK. Vimto came to the Arab world slightly later, when Saudi-based Aujan industries began locally importing it in 1927. Both Vimto and Rooh Afza are drinks made of a combination of fruits, herbs, and spices. Vimto is mainly fruit- concentrate. Both are in syrup form, are pinkish in color, and extremely sweet. They are energy-producing drinks, and that’s why they are popular during Ramadan. While Rooh Afza is mainly mixed with milk (called rose milk at times), it can also be mixed with several other drinks. Some add it with Sprite and milk, and others with plain water. Vimto, on the other hand, is generally only served as a drink and is also mixed with either soda or water.

To add some flavor, Rooh Afza is poured over desserts such as Falooda and also over ice cream.

m Vimto or team Rooh Afza?


Aside from Chai Karak, there are many beverages that seem to share a common ancestry from Pakistan. The Saudi Labam is a yogurt-based drink like lassi which is a Pakistani yogurt-based drink.

The Crossover Between Pakistani and Middle Eastern Desserts:

Zlabias (زلابية) vs. Jalebis (جلیبی):

These twisted, bright orange, syrupy sweets are a delicacy in Pakistan, India, and parts of the Middle East. Jalebis have been traced back to modern-day Pakistan and India, but have made their way to the Middle East and North Africa during Muslim rule. According to one source, “Jalebi became Zalebi as Z is more common in middle-eastern languages.” In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, this sweet is known as Zlebia or Zlabia.

Luqaimat (لقيمات) vs. Gulab Jamun (گلاب جامن):

And if you’re looking to ruin your diet, look no further than these delicious balls of sugar. Luqaimat are sweet dumplings that have been deep-fried and then covered in honey and syrup. They are usually eaten for dessert with Arabic coffee. They look very similar to the Indian dessert Gulab Jamun.

In Urdu and Hindi, gulab means ‘rose’ and jamun refers to a berry of a similar size and colour. Gulab jamun is a Pakistani and Indian dessert. Much like luqaimat, gulab jamun are fried dough balls that are soaked in a sweet syrup. Traditionally, the syrup has a slight rose flavor.

Present Day

According to one source, the GCC region is one of the major buyers of Pakistani food products. Frozen foods, rice, flatbread, and spices are just some of the key products exported to the GCC. Perhaps, the reason behind this is because these products offered similar taste profiles to Middle Eastern cuisine. “Our naan and chapati have similar taste and texture to Khobz,” Rafiq Rangoonwala, President of Pakistan Food Association explained. Some Pakistani brands, such as Mehran Foods and K&N, are already big names in the GCC.


Many Khaleeji families have worked alongside Pakistanis for years. One of my friends who’s family resides in Riyadh has had a Pakistani driver for over 20 years now, and they are practically family. As she puts it, “we learn from them and they learn from us.” I think it is safe to say that food is the universal bond that brings cultures together. From Mandi to Biryani, to Vimto and Rooh Afza, it is evident that Pakistan has heavily influenced the cuisine of the Gulf Arab States. 

Check out Arab America’s blog here!