Mark Wiens Image Credit: Social media

Karachi: Famous Thai food and travel blogger Mark Wiens has fallen in love with Pakistan’s rich, flavourful and culturally diverse cuisine — from the chapli kebab of Peshawar, to Lahore’s karahi and the nihari from Karachi. And Pakistanis are loving him back for his delightful video series and blog, where Mark is seen enjoying lassi or karahi like a local while expressing his fondness for Pakistani food.

Wiens, who has travelled to more 50 countries for the love of food, visited Pakistan recently along with his wife and 2-year-old son. The trip came after he received many emails and social media requests from food lovers.

“Pakistan has been a country I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, not only for the food, but the culture and history,” Wiens, 32, told Gulf News in an interview.

Pakistan Travel Mart’s director Ali Naqi Hamdani hosted the trip, he said.

Roaming around the country, experiencing the aromas and tastes of traditional and popular street food during his 16-day Pakistan tour, the YouTube star found Pakistan both enticing and exciting. “Pakistan is one of the most naturally beautiful, hospitable, and delicious countries I’ve ever travelled to” Mark stated. It is the combination of amazing people and food that make Pakistan an incredible tourist destination.

Best street food

Mark’s culinary adventure began in the food capital of Punjab, Lahore. From there, he moved on to Gujranwala, making his way to Islamabad and Peshawar, then continuing to the mountain region in Skardu, Gilgit and Hunza, finally concluding the journey in the seaport city of Karachi, known as the pioneer of food street culture in Pakistan.

Beginning his food journey in Lahore, riding around in rickshaws, Mark was amazed by city’s food, culture and history. He savoured butt karahi, chana chaat, haleem and fried fish in Lahore and found the best street food in Gawalmandi, Lakshmi Chowk and Shah Alami. Mark and his team then made a sto at Gujranwala, just over 100km from Lahore, to enjoy Gola kabab and a local wrestling match.

“If you love meat, Gujranwala is a worthy stop in Pakistan” Mark says. He then visited Kot Yousuf, a small village of about 700 people, where a family hosted him to local Punjab breakfast which). “Everything was cooked using pure desi ghee (clarified butter) from the buffaloes nearby, and churned by hand, moments before we ate it” Mark gushed.

The foodies then headed to the capital city of Islamabad, which Mark describes as “modern, planned and lovely city with greenery, and mountains” where they had an ultimate experience of dhaba (roadside restaurant) food at Majeed Huts in Quaid-i-Azam University campus.

Mark highly recommended Kebab fry, Daal fry, Chicken laziza and café’s signature dish called “Crisis”, a special omelette prepared hastily for students running late to class.

From Islamabad, Mark headed to Mardan and Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to enjoy Pakistan’s tastiest kebabs. “Of all the food during my entire 16 day trip, probably the single food that made my jaw drop, and made me cry tears of meat-overjoy, was the Chapli kebab” Mark declared. Chapli kebab is typically made of minced beef mixed with spices, onions, tomatoes and citrus juice kneaded into patties and deep-fried on a simmering iron pan. Visiting Peshawar was the highlight of the tour, Mark said, as he appreciated city’s unique culture and history along with kebabs and Qahwa (green tea).

When he reached Gilgit-Baltistan, he found the food to be completely different and natural scenery spectacular. There is no better way to connect with people than a shared meal. Food brought the Thai food blogger and a local Balti family together in Skardu. The hospitality of the family that had prepared some 14 different dishes for the Thai guest left him amazed. “The friendliness and genuine hospitality of the people was just heart-warming.”

Recalling one of his best food memories in Pakistan, Mark told Gulf News, “In Hunza, we were invited to a 400 year old heritage family home where some 20 family members, all huddled around a fire, welcomed us and prepared traditional dishes seasoned with walnut and apricot oil, dumplings, and pancakes. Their hospitality was something I’ll never forget.”

The food voyage concluded in Karachi, where Mark savoured gooey Nihari and a new style of biryani called “Nalli Biryani” which is basically sizzling fragrant rice with melt-in-your-mouth roasted shin (Nalli) meat. Mark also tried Karachi’s essential street food, bun kebab (with patty of minced meat and lentils with fried egg placed in a bun) as well as Karahi and seafood. If he could recommend one local food to foreigners, Mark said it would be Karahi. “A curry cooked over a huge flame, with your choice of meat from chicken to mutton to prawns, always hits the spot.”

All along this delightful journey, Mark found that one thing that binds people together is tea. “There’s no better way to end a meal than with a round of cardamom infused, hot milk-only and no water, doodh patti” he shared.

About Mark Wiens

Mark Wiens is an American who has spent time in Africa and now calls Thailand his home. Talking about his love for food, Mark shared, “Food has always played a huge role in all of my family gatherings as my grandfather was a Chinese chef.” He first started blogging in 2008 and video making around 2011.

“When I first began my website, Migrationology, it was about migrating to a place to learn about the culture, live and eat as a local.” But now Mark is a full time food blogger, vlogger and author. He is one of the top food bloggers from Thailand with over 3 million subscribers on YouTube and thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram. Sharing some of the challenges of being a food blogger, he said, ““From outside eyes it looks like food bloggers just eat and take photos. While it is fun and enjoyable, but it is a business which requires a huge time investment and persistence.”

The best part, however, is “the freedom being able to work from my computer anywhere.”

Describing his most favourite food in the world, he said, “There’s a Thai dish called “goong pad sataw,” (shrimp fried with stink beans). The shrimp and stink beans are fried with curry paste and it’s an overdose of spicy flavor. You can taste chillies, turmeric, cumin, garlic, shallots, and shrimp paste in the mix, and it’s spectacular.”

Although Pakistani and Thai food are essentially different but Mark found some similarity in ingredients and spices that made him cherish Pakistani food all the more.

Mark’s 5 favourite Pakistani Foods

1. Chapli Kebab - Chapli kebabs are one of the best meat foods in which the meat and spices are formed into patty shapes and shallow fried in a giant iron skillet.

2. Karahi - There are many variations of Pakistani karahis, but I especially enjoyed mutton karahi and prawns karahi.

3. Saag – This speciality of Punjab is vegetable dish, often cooked using lots of desi ghee has a silky texture and very tasty.

4. Haleem - A simple combination of lentils and meat, seasoned with butter, coriander, ginger, chillies and lime juice, makes one of the most surprising dishes.

5. Nihari - One of the ultimate meat-lovers dishes. It is a meat stew with mild spices, and flavourful infused butter with tempting seasoning of chillies, ginger, and lime juice.