Launched in September 2023, Pakistan’s Museum of Food is a collaboration between SOC Films, Google Arts and Culture and the British Council. It seeks to document and archive the culinary landscape of Pakistan. The project is a digital repository (https://artsandculture.google.com/project/flavors-of-pakistan) made up of over 100 individual stills and text-based stories and over 90 videos; the picture-based section is the largest, and comprises over 9,000 images.
This initiative is relevant not only because food is incredibly important to the Pakistani identity and experience, but also because “there are no proper means currently of recording Pakistan’s food landscape, which means there is no pre-existing archive of our food history,” explains Sameer Khan, Co-Producer, Pakistan’s Museum of Food. Pakistan’s Museum of Food is therefore a first-of-its-kind project which aims to preserve and showcase Pakistan’s diverse food landscape.
The project’s main objective is to celebrate Pakistani food and those who create it. It aims to recover, preserve and revive old recipes and ways of cooking passed down through generations, so that they are not irrevocably lost. Additionally, it explores the impact of climate change and urbanisation on local cuisines. It also comprises traditional Pakistani recipes, as well as those from the South Asian diaspora curated by their UK-based partner, W.M. Legacy.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s Museum of Food highlights the food practices of smaller and often marginalised communities like the Chitrali, Kalash, Bohri, and Parsi communities. Sara Sharif, Associate Producer and Research Associate, Pakistan’s Museum of Food, clarifies that “by preserving these communities’ traditional ways of cooking and eating, the project aims to appreciate the many different ways in which food supplements communities’ identity in Pakistan.”
The project also covers ventures which champion female entrepreneurship and empowerment, such as PJ’s Jars and Amchem Goa. Huma Shah, Co-Producer, Pakistan’s Museum of Food, elaborates that “the team chose these ventures for their innovative ways of not just preserving certain food legacies, but also for how they have made them into profitable business ventures.”
Implemented over four years, the project involved extensive research, travel across Pakistan, and the curation of various narratives centred around food. Divided into segments based on storytellers, locations, ingredients, and recipes, the project showcases a diverse array of culinary tales, ranging from virtual exhibits on Kunri’s chillies to those on Shikarpur’s achaar industry to those on authentic Balochistan sajji, inherited recipes and tutorials for iconic dishes such as chicken biryani and lassi; stories such as those of Northern Punjab’s female dairy farmers, caterers, and fishermen and women of the Indus River; profiles of people such as Hakim Zadi, who runs the only food stall in Mohenjodaro, selling fried fish and saag; notable eateries such as Karachi Haleem and Alamgir, and the food practices of various communities like the Hazaras, Bohris, and Gujaratis.
Pakistan’s Museum of Food was publicised through a launch event held in London and marketed through press releases and collaborations with influencers and restaurateurs. The social media campaign for the project is ongoing and includes regular posting of graphics, YouTube shorts, and reels. Some of the project’s most-watched videos on YouTube include: Preserving Parsi Palates: Parsi Style Steamed Fish, Vehari’s Lone Female Farmer, The Bohra Dastarkhwan Experience, Mrs Azra Syed: A Grandmother’s Legacy, and From Tandoor to Table: Pakistan’s Bread Heritage.
When asked about the revenue model for Pakistan’s Museum of Food website, Khan answers that there is none, “because it is a passion project.” Moreover, there are also no advertisers on the website; “only notable eateries like Alamgir and Karachi Haleem have been mentioned and duly credited,” explains Shah.
Khan mentions that the project has been favourably received so far, but states that “It is still very early days to gauge any concrete response trends.” The team has plans to expand Pakistan’s Museum of Food beyond a digital platform, including films that reach wider audiences through SOC’s outreach programmes.
The team is keen on increasing the breadth of the project to cover narratives and communities they have so far missed; they have put out a call for more recipes and stories from people who would like to be featured.
Ultimately, the Pakistan Museum of Food’s team wants their project to inspire other food historians. They envision creating a comprehensive network and ecosystem of archivers and archives, spanning as much of Pakistan’s rich culinary landscape as possible.