Putting Pakistan On The World’s Food Map At Nilofer’s Corner
Nilofer conceptualized Pakistan On A Plate in 2017, but the journey to its fruition started much earlier when she was a prodigy of Pakistan’s Foreign Service traveling parts of the world with her parents. Since childhood anything food related piqued Nilofer’s curiosity. Secondly, living away from ‘home’ Pakistan turned her into a patriot – much like a representative abroad of that which Pakistan has to offer but is usually overlooked by the media. So, it’s not surprising that Nilofer chose the path of discovering Pakistan’s local food heritage and presenting it as an anthropological journey into the country’s rich and exciting valleys, deserts and mountains.
Pakistan On A Plate is presented by Nilofer in documentary form via a Youtube channel titled Niloferscorner. Once you do that, a whole array of video episodes mapping all the food, its history, recipe, taste and health benefits from all over Pakistan are there for all to enjoy and learn from. These are all undocumented oral recipes, so you will not find them in local restaurants and dhabas or online!
This in itself is a unique service in documenting Pakistan’s cultural food heritage, a pain staking endeavor that comes across as fun and educational.
As the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nilofer began filming on her phone, starting with her paternal hometown in Pishin in Baluchistan where she first filmed ‘Landhi’ (episode 1 ) – the ancient method of curing mutton or lamb artistically, but with a scientific sensibility. For example the curing spices Hing and rock salt have now changed to include red chili and cumin powder. Hing was used as a preservative, though no longer popular due to its strong aroma. As the original spice, it insures the meat is preserved during the drying out period.
Nilofer weaves stories and family connections in her travels as she moves from one location to another. In Chakwal Punjab (episode 28), a seemingly ordinary run along the historical Grand Trunk Road reveals a diverse topography and agricultural patterns. We are introduced to recipes made from rose petals, while exploring Mughal Emperor Babar’s garden & cooking a delightful but tedious foxtail millet dessert.
Each recipe, as Nilofer discovered, tells its own story about the landscape and health benefits of these foods – all obtained via oral history. Episodes 5 and 12 from Kohat and Babri Banda not only bring you recipes of Pamankay and Nishashta completely absent in any of our cookbooks or public eateries but also the health benefits and local medicinal lore along with these most unusual dishes.
Pakistan on a Plate also explores the religious and ethnic communities which make up Pakistan and its rich culinary cultures. And so the Katas Raj Temples, one of the holiest Hindu religious sites and along with it a temple offering recipe Kachuri are shared – but also placed in cultural context, bringing deeper flavours to our food.
Recently honouring Guru Nanak on his 550th birthday, Pakistan on a Plate traveled in his footsteps across 10 districts of Punjab, tracing him and the culinary culture of his philosophy.
Uncovering Pakistan through recipes is novel, where each recipe is presented via a historic context, giving more depth and flavor to each morsel. In 2020, Nilofer has added Balochistan and Sindh to her series. The provinces are home to Mohenjodaro in Larkana as well as the lesser known but older Mehrgargh in Bolan in Baluchistan. Nilofer will be exploring both and bringing some new knowledge from ancient sites.
Nilofer’s work and contribution is doing much to promote food, culture and religious tourism in Pakistan. The journey of a passionate Pakistani woman whose goal is to put Pakistan on the world food map, with little support, this far apart from her family is a laudable endeavor. As Robert Frost famously wrote, “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep.”