Located in the historical Majha region in northern Punjab in Pakistan is the city of Gujranwala. The capital of the eponymous Gujranwala District, Gujranwala is Pakistan’s fifth largest city by population, with well over 2 million inhabitants in the city proper. It’s known as the City of Wrestlers by sports fans. It’s equally well known for its remarkable food scene, which is one of the main things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan.
Gujranwala is a relatively modern city, especially when compared to its nearby neighbors Lahore, Eminabad, and Sailkot. It’s thought that the modern city, which was founded in the 18th century, grew from a 16th-century village named Gerai Gujran or Khanpur Sansi.
My time in Gujranwala can only be described as a food lover’s biggest dream. I explored for two days with my guide Rashid from Manaky, an online marketplace dedicated to travel experiences in Pakistan. He showed me an amazing time and took me to all of his favorite haunts. Each one was more incredible than the last!
As was the case everywhere I went in Pakistan, the people of Gujranwala were wonderful. They were so kind and welcoming, and embraced me at every turn. The Pakistani people are some of the most hospitable I’ve ever met and made my time in the city one I will never forget. These are the top things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan.
You can’t go on a proper tour of Gujranwala without experiencing its Old Town. This historical and culture-rich area of the city lies through the 18th-century Brandreth Gate. Once you’ve passed under the gate, you’ll find street vendors selling a number of items. Some sell Pakistani foods and drinks like kulfi, paan, naan, juices, paya, and lassi, while others sell electronics and accessories.
One thing you can try is a salty and bitter lassi, which is a creamy, yogurt-based drink that is typically drunk at the end of a spicy meal. Lassi is usually at least somewhat sweet, but this one was bitter, sour, and salty. It left an unpleasant taste that lingered on my tongue for far longer than I would have liked, but I was told that many people enjoy it!
At Bismillah Juice Centre, you can try some freshly squeezed orange juice with a bit of added sugar. If, like me, you didn’t enjoy the salty lassi, this is the place to go to wash the flavor out of your mouth. Further along the street is a man who will polish the shoes of passersby for just 50 rupees, or $0.30 USD. He’ll make your shoes shiny and new, even if they’re over ten years old like mine are!
Near the entrance of Gujranwala’s Old Town is an incredible spot for anyone who wants to experience top-notch Pakistani street food. I’m talking about Javaid Iqbal Restaurant, which is known for its mouthwatering mutton chana. Eating some is one of the top things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan!
In South Asia, chana is another word for chickpeas. I’ve eaten chana dozens of times in my travels throughout the region, but I’d never had it with mutton before stopping at this unassuming restaurant. You eat the dish with freshly baked naan that’s chewy, fluffy, and still hot from the tandoor oven.
The chana is remarkable on its own and has a nice, savory earthiness that I love. But the mutton really makes this dish. It’s tender, fatty, and juicy, and practically falls off the bone. I prefer eating it with the naan, but you can also eat it on top of rice with a bit of raita.
The cool, creamy, yogurt sauce fuses ties all of the flavors together and adds a smooth, velvety element that will make your taste buds go nuts!
Javaid Iqbal Restaurant
Gujranwala, Punjab 52250
Within Gujranwala’s Old Town are a number of incredible food spots. My friend and guide Rashid took me to one of his favorites, Ayoon Chaska Point, for some kebabs. These kebabs are made from ground camel meat formed into small, slider-like patties. They come with a side of raita with crumbly cheese mixed in!
When I tell you these are some of the best kebabs I’ve ever had in my life, I’m not exaggerating. The meat was juicy and oily, and incredibly flavorful. Dipping them into the cheesy, creamy raita adds a whole new layer of flavors and textures. They also contain some spice, so a bit of heat sneaks up on you as you devour them!
You can also try these kebabs in another form: diced up with an egg, chilies, and potatoes. It’s a great way to add even more flavors and textures to an already phenomenal kebab. These kebabs were one of the best meat dishes I ate in the country. Hands down, it’s one of the best things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan!
If you’re up early and in the mood for an unforgettable breakfast, head over to Nanakpura Food Street. There, you’ll find vendor after vendor offering Pakistant breakfast favorites like paya, hareesa, and naan.
I was dying to try the paya, which is a meaty stew containing veal legs and brains, but I learned that it’s a specialty in the city of Lahore, and is best tried there. So instead, I went with some hareesa, a pasty lentil stew that contains rice and meat.
The hareesa is quite oily and comes with a stack of naan. I was surprised at how flavorful it was, as it didn’t contain many spices. Adding to the amazing texture were the big chunks of mutton, which were cooked to perfection. Getting a bit of pasty hareesa, a piece of meat, and naan together blew my mind!
And even though the naan were baked in a conveyor belt oven instead of a traditional tandoor, it still had a great, smoky flavor. Finish up with a cold and frothy lassi, which is refreshing and serves as the perfect palate cleanser!
Back outside, Nanakpura Food Street will likely be bustling with activity. As you explore, you’ll find vendors selling snacks like malai, chana, puris and dahi. If you want more bread, you can buy naan and bakarkhani at the nearby tandoor shops, as well as a milky type of chai called doodh patti.
If you’re into history, the street is home to Estcourt Clock Tower, an 18th-century brick landmark that dates back to the British Raj. And down on the street are tandoor sellers, carpenters, and much more! It’s such a fascinating place to explore!
Another amazing kebab spot in Gujranwala’s Old Town is Shahbaz Tikka. If you’re exploring and want to try a mix of common and exotic meats, this is the place to go. They have your usual suspects like mutton, chicken tikka, and mutton seekh kebabs, as well as favorites like karahi. But they also offer a meat I’d never tried before: sparrow.
The smoky mutton kebabs are outstanding. They have a nice char on the outside and are nice and tender on the inside. But let’s face it: the unique sparrow is the star here.
The sparrow is exactly that: a whole, skinned, roasted bird, head and all. As sparrows are small, it was kind of bony, but the meat that’s there is really good. The texture was more dense than I expected it to be, more along the lines of liver or kidney meat. Like the other kebabs, it was full of grilled, smoky flavor that made me want more!
Elsewhere in Gujranwala, away from the Old Town, is another great kebab shop called Khizer Tikka Shop. Outside, you’ll find vendors managing a long row of skewered meat, from mutton to lamb to quail. And inside the kitchen, you’ll see platters piled high with everything from kebabs to goat chops to chicken!
Khizer Tikka Shop only has five things on its menu: chicken tikka, mutton chops, grilled lamb fat, quail, and lamb seekh kebabs. But they’re all so good that they must be on your list of things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan. Get a bit of everything with some garlic naan, raita, and a flatbread called chapati.
The muttoon kebabs are slightly tough but downright decadent, while the mutton chops are also really tasty. I love the flavor and texture of animal fat, and the grilled lamb fat was the perfect combination of gelatinous texture and slightly tough. The chicken tikka was also fantastic, as were the raita and garlic naan.
They even gave me a couple of smoky pieces of mutton chest and mutton calf, which were the best parts of the meal for me! The spices, coupled with the natural flavor of the meat, plus the charred grilled flavor, was a heavenly combination! Trying them is one of my favorite things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan!
Khizer Tikka Shop
14 Bolan Block Comracial Zafar Center
Gujranwala, Punjab 52280
Travelers with a sweet tooth should look no further than Salman Sweets and Bakers to satisfy their sugar craving. This famous spot on the edge of town sells several of my personal favorites, including ras malai and gulab jamun, as well as cookies, crumpets, and samosas.
Their incredibly friendly owner let me sample eight sweets, including a sweet and nutty coconut patisa. It had a dense texture and a distinct nuttiness from the almonds in it.
I also tried a delicious coconut cake, a rich and syrupy gulab jamun, and something called tutti frutti! I admit, I’m not a big sweets guy, so my visit was very much a sugar overload. But if you love sweet, sugary treats, this is where you need to go! It’s one of the top things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan for a reason!
Salman Sweets and Bakers
Main Road Near General Bus Stand Rd
Gujranwala, Punjab 52250
Long before I arrived in Pakistan, I had heard amazing things about the street food culture in Gujranwala. I built it up in my head in the days before I got there, and it wound up surpassing my expectations. Traveling to far-off countries and diving deep into their food scene and enjoying dishes with the locals is a major passion of mine. Mix in a bit of history and culture and you’ve got the perfect travel destination in my eyes, and Gujranwala checked all of my boxes. Book a trip to Pakistan today to experience the top things to do in Gujranwala, Pakistan for yourself!
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