To mark the commencement of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Diamond Jubilee on 11 July 2017, TheIsmaili Nutrition Centre is pleased to launch "Taste of Culture" - a celebration of our cultural diversity through the joy of food. Travel around the world with us, as we dish out food secrets from the locals themselves. From Dar-es-Salaam to Dallas, discover some of the most notable and mouth-watering local dishes that promise to make you a cultural connoisseur! Our next stop: Hunza, Pakistan!

Whether or not Hunza is the inspiration for the mythical valley of Shangri-La in James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon - we'll never know. But what we do know is, if you taste some of these delectable dishes, your taste buds are guaranteed to transport you to Hunza, Pakistan - a place we like to think might be even better than the imaginary Shangri-La! So, join us for a culinary journey to Northern Pakistan in our next edition of Taste of Culture - Hunza, Pakistan!

1. Phitti

Phitti is a round thick bread, traditionally made in a cast iron skillet buried under hot coals and ashes in a hearth. These days, however, these can be easily baked in an oven. The primary ingredients are wholewheat flour, sourdough and water. Eggs, milk and oil are often added to enhance taste, and boost the nutritional value. With a thin hard crust and soft middle, Phitti is a common breakfast staple. But to be honest, us Hunzukutz don't need much convincing to indulge in Phitti and Chai throughout the day and well into the night!

You can enjoy it like you would a croissant with tea, or, for a true Hunza experience, season your tea with some salt (yes, salt, NOT sugar). Add a knob of fresh butter, break the Phitti into bite-sized pieces and put them in your cup of tea to enjoy a wonderful and unforgettable tea-soup! 

2. Chamuriki  

Chamuriki is a comfort food unlike any you've ever tried before! It is made with either fresh out of the oven Phitti or hot roti rubbed with butter or walnut oil, until it reaches a coarse breadcrumb consistency. It's then seasoned with salt or sugar. The end result is a soft crumbled dish that requires minimum chewing. It's an ideal first food for babies.

3. Giyaalin

In case you haven't noticed a trend, Hunzukutz love their grains! Giyaalin is a wholewheat or buckwheat mixed pancakes drenched in walnut or apricot kernel oil, with a hot cup of salty brew. This is a perfect combination to warm you up on a cold Hunza morning, and guaranteed to give you a taste of the crisp Hunza air - no matter where you are! 

4. Booros tzapick

These days, Booros is made by straining natural yogurt in a muslin for a few hours, discarding the whey and adding seasoning, fresh coriander and mint paste. This results in a flavoured Greek-style yougurt. Tzapick requires skill – you need large flat breads that are thin, almost like filo pastry. Each tzapick or thin roti is then layered with melted butter and booros until you have a mound of yoghurt and butter soaked thin flat bread. Booros Tzapick is not an everyday staple. It is reserved for special occasions when family and friends gather together. 

5. Hoi lo Gurma

An all time favourite of Hunzukutz, Hoi lo Gurma could be considered a variation of spinach lasagna. Like most local dishes, it has many variations and can be made as a stand-alone vegetarian dish. Cooking the spinach in chicken broth gives it an extra depth of flavour. While the spinach and broth mixture is bubbling away, thin rotis are added to the pot. This thickens the broth and after a few minutes, Hoi lo Garma is ready to be served, garnished with butter and finally chopped spring onions.

6. Qurut zay Dawdo

Dawdoo is the Hunza word for soup. In this instance, homemade tagliatelle are added to meat broth and boiled until cooked. Qurut is made with butter milk, fermented over a few days, then strained through a cloth. It's moulded into desired shapes and dried in the sun. The result is a hard and tangy cheese, called Qurut. It has a very long shelf life and is hard as a rock. Before consumption, it is soaked and boiled in water and if required, pounded in a pestal and mortar to dissolve it. It is used in soups as you would use vinegar or soy sauce with your Chinese soup.

7. Apricots

No food story in Hunza is complete without the Apricot - probably the most visible for tourists as trees are adorned with the amber and the carnelian shades of the fruit! Apricots are a staple food for the people of Hunza, and used in all forms - fresh or dried - as breakfast, drinks and snacks, and even more. Aside from one of the its juicy exterior, apricots are also famous for the nuts within their core. These nuts can also be ground into a paste of thick consistency to add to gravy, and extract oil for cooking. The life of the apricot is not yet over. What remains after extracting oil is further used to feed cattle, while the nut shells are used in hearths for cooking and heating fuel! Nothing is wasted!  If you haven't tried a Hunza apricot in your life, you are missing out!

8. Hali lo Maltatz

Hunza was an agrarian society, and each household had fields to cultivate, which needed water. Most household had water channels running alongside, with ice-cold water, freshly melted from glaciers. This gave rise to a unique Hunza food concept- the Hali lo Maltatz - collected butter that is buried in the stream. People would create a small dam to stop the flow of water, dig a hole under the stream, and bury butter in, with cold water flowing over it. This preserved the butter from theft and allowed it to mature over months, and sometimes even years! The aged butter is bitter tasting, and definitely an acquired taste!

Although, born in Rawalpindi and raised in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad; Asimah's parents made sure she stayed contacted to her roots in Hunza, by speaking to her in her mother-tongue, cooking traditional foods and visiting grandparents in Hunza as often as they could. Asimah currently lives in London, UK with her husband and three kids and tries to keep the circle going.


Edits: Afshan Khoja, Noor Pirani & Shahzadi Devje RD CDE MSc