Los Angeles is home to a large population of Pakistani-Americans, second in size only to the New York-New Jersey area, but the population is fairly diffuse and there is no Little Pakistan, official or unofficial. For this episode of No Enclave, I explore Pakistani-Los Angeles and Southern California.
Pakistan is a nation in South Asia. It is a diverse society, home to Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Seraikis, Muhajirs, Balochis, Kho, and various smaller ethnicities. Most Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims although there are also substantial populations of Shi’ite or Ahmadiyya Muslims, as well as Agnostics, Atheists, Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Although Urdu is Pakistan’s official language and is understood by a majority of Pakistanis, it’s the first language of only 8% of Pakistanis and other locally spoken languages include Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, and Balochi. Far more overseas Pakistanis live in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom than the US.
BRIEF HISTORY OF PAKISTAN
Although Pakistan was created by the partition of India in 1947, the land which now constitutes that state was historically home to several cultures including the Neolithic Mehrgarh and the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation. It has been ruled by Afghans, Arabs, Indo-Greeks, Persians, Indians, Sikhs, Mongols, and the British. Pakistani, as an identity, was coined in 1933, an acronym of Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and BaluchiSTAN. (The middle “i” was added soon after to make it easier to pronounce).
Pakistan is the only country created in the name of Islam — its official name is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It’s the sixth most populous country in the world. The military has always been in a position of power and nominally democratic elections weren’t even held until 1970. When the outcome proved not to the military’s liking, they tightened their grip on power rather than transition to democracy. A war of liberation ensued with the outcome of East Pakistan becoming the independent nation of Bangladesh.
The Luce-Celler Act of 1946 allowed 100 Filipinos and 100 Indians to become Americans through naturalization. Pakistan came into existence a year after the law’s passing and from then until 1965, roughly 2,500 Pakistanis became American citizens. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (enacted in 1968) ended national quotas, which led in particular to increased numbers of Asian immigrants. By 1970 there were roughly 20,000 Pakistani-Americans. After a serious drought and ensuing famine in Punjab, many more Pakistanis went abroad and by 1990 there were about 100,000 Pakistani-Americans counted in the census. In 2000 the recorded number was 204,309.
According to the 2010 US census, there were then 363,699 Americans of Pakistani descent — although many organizations and individuals consider that to be an undercount. California is home to 13% of of all Pakistani-Americans and most live in the Los Angeles area. Smaller communities exist in Chicago, Washington, DC, Houston, and Dallas. About 50% of Pakistani-Americans are Punjabi, 30% are Muhajir, and the rest are mostly of Pashtun, Balochi, Sindhi, or Kashimiri ancestry.
PAKISTANI RESTAURANTS IN THE SOUTHLAND
With no enclave, no nominally Pakistani mosques, and few businesses which advertise their Pakistani identity, Pakistanis maintain a comparatively low profile. My suspicion is that most Angelenos can’t tell them from other South Asians or even, in some cases, Latinos or Middle Easterners. There are, however, quite a few restaurants which serve Pakistani cuisine.
Pakistani cuisine is really a collection of cuisines, most of which are closely related to North Indian but with influences from Central Asia and the Middle East. Pashtun cuisine, for example, features lots of lamb, kebabs, and dishes like chapli kabab, mutton karahi, rice haleem, and tika. Punjab cuisine is known for its regional take on tandoori, buttery flavors, and dishes like makki di roti and sarson da saag. Saraiki cuisine is centered around the city of Multan, where sohan halwa is a specialty. Sindhi cuisine typically features phulka and rice dishes. Karachi cuisine is based heavily on Muhajir traditions, which themselves are heavily influenced by Bengali, Gujarati, Uttar Pradeshi, and Hyderabadi cuisines. Typical meals feature curries, rice, dal, and chapatti. Some cuisines, such as Punjabi and Sindhi, are often quite spicy; others, like Pashtun, are not. Most are quite meat-heavy although Punjabi and especially Sindhi are accommodating those those who abstain from eating animals.
Most local restaurants which serve Pakistani dishes are often Indian restaurants with menus that include some Pakistani dishes. There are a few dedicated Pakistani restaurants too, although none that I know of advertise their regional specialty in their names. The largest concentration of restaurants is located in Little India, where restaurants serving Pakistani food include Food King, House Of Spice, Mezban Biryani Palace, Shan Mahal, and Shahnawaz Halal Tandoori.
Elsewhere in Southeast Los Angeles there’s Zaiqa Grill (in Downey). In the South Bay there’s Al Watan Halal Restaurant, Royal Kabob, The Village, and Zam Zam Market (all in Hawthorne), Famous Tandoori (in Lomita), Bilal Halal (in Inglewood), Al Noor (in Lawndale), and Makkah Market and Karachi Tandoori (in Torrance). In the Westside there’s Chutneys (in Sawtelle), Bombay Palace (in Beverly Hills), and India’s Grill (in Beverly Grove). In the San Fernando Valley there’s Royal Delhi Palace (in Canoga Park), Tawakal Halal Restaurant (in Chatsworth), and Red Chili Halal Restaurant and Asian Spot (both in Northridge). In Central Los Angeles there’s Biriyani Kabob House and Deshi Food & Groceries (both in Little Bangladesh), India’s Restaurant (in Sunset Junctions), and East India Grill (in Fairfax). Elsewhere in Los Angeles County there’s All India Palace (in Pasadena), Peacock Gardens Cuisine of India & Banquet Hall (in Diamond Bar), Kurry & Kabab Indian Restaurant (in Glendale), Akbar Cuisine of India (with locations in Pasadena and Venice), and India’s Tandoori (with locations in Brentwood, Burbank, Hawthorne, Manhattan Beach, and Miracle Mile).
In Orange County there’s Noorani Halal Restaurant (Garden Grove), Ambala Sweets & Spices (Anaheim), Guru Palace, Laxmi Sweets & Spices, and SilverSpoon Wrap ‘N’ Roll (all in Tustin), Taste of India (Fountain Valley), and Bismillah Restaurant (Buena Park). In the Inland Empire, there’s Tamarind Restaurant (Chino). For Pakistani groceries, there’s India Sweets & Snacks Mart (in Little India), which reportedly has some Pakistani projects.
Pakistani music developed into a distinct musical tradition sprouted from indigenous South Asian roots with influences from Central Asia, the Middle East, and in recent decades, Western pop. The Balochi, Kashmiri, Pashto, Punjabi, and Sindhi all have their own folk music traditions and some of the genres of Pakistani music include Hindustani classical, Ghazal, Sufi music, pop, rock, hip-hop, and qawwali — the latter a type of devotional music brought to international attention by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
I assume I wasn’t the only person surprised to learn that self-described Sureño rapper Mr. Capone-E, (born Fahd Azam in West Covina) is Pakistani-American, rather than Latino. Mr. Capone-E began rapping around 2000 and is the founder of Hi Power Entertainment, one time home to former Bone Thugs-N-Harmony members Bizzy Bone and Layzie Bone, as well as Chicano rappers including Mr. Criminal, Lil Tweety, and many others.
Nadia Ali has only recently become an Angeleno, having moved here in 2012. The Pakistani pop singer was born in Tripoli, Libya and moved, when she was five, to Queens, where she was raised. As one half of the dance duo, iiO, she had a UK hit with the song, “Rapture.” She released her debut solo album in 2009.
Musician Natasha Khan, who records as Bats For Lashes, was born in London in 1976 to English mother, Josie, and Pakistani squash player, Rehmat Khan. Her debut album, Fur and Gold, was released in 2006. She went on to release Two Suns (2009), The Haunted Man (2012), and The Bride (2016). After The Bride, her ten-year contract with Parlophone ended and she moved to Los Angeles’s Highland Park neighborhood. Khan is also the vocalist for Sexwitch — a collaboration between the singer and the Brighton UK band, Toy. Bat For Lashes’ latest, Lost Girls, was released in 2019.
PAKISTANI-ANGELENO FILM & TELEVISION
Founded in 2009, Diya TV is the US’s first South Asian broadcast television network. It’s locally located at Channel 18.12 and 20.3 (and is available in several other cities). Programming includes news, chat, sports, Bollywood musicals, and more. Programming is in English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu.
Faran Tahir is one of the most recognized Pakistani-American actors. Born in Los Angeles, Tahir spent most of his childhood in Pakistan before returning in 1980 and studying film at UCLA. He made his film acting debut as Nathoo in The Jungle Book (1994). He went on to appear in Manticore (2005), Iron Man (2008), Star Trek (2009), Elysium (2013), and other films. He currently lives in San Diego.
Stand-up comedian, actor, and podcast host Kumail Nanjiani was born in Karachi and moved to Iowa to attend Grinnell College. At some point after, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lives today. His regular appearances on Portlandia since 2011 and co-starring role on Silicon Valley (2014-present) have made him a fixture on my television, Megaro.
The television series, Unfair and Ugly, portrays the Muslim Shaikh family of Orange County. The actors who play the Shaiks are all south Asian. Samiya Khan and Saagar Shaikh are both Pakistani-American; Kausar Mohammed is an American of mixed Bengali-Pakistani background.
The Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara) is native to the western Himalayas of Afghanistan, several states of India, southwestern Tibet, western Nepal, and northern Pakistan, specifically Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is also the national tree of Pakistan.
In Los Angeles, there is a street in Sylmar’s Oakridge Manufactured Home Community, called Deodar Avenue. There, several streets are named after trees but I don’t know whether or not any are actually growing there. There are actual deodar cedars in Altadena (“the community of deodars”), designated California Historical Landmark No. 990. Planted in 1885, since 1920 they’ve been hung with lights near Christmas time and have thus come to be known as “Christmas Tree Lane.” In Granada Hills there’s 114 Deodar Trees, planted in 1930 along White Oak Avenue and designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #41, and is also known as Christmas Tree Lane. A row of Deodar Cedars, planted in the 1940s along Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Feliz are Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #67. As far as I know, no one has ever referred to them as Christmas Tree Lane.
PAKISTANI TRUCK ART
Pakistan is perhaps recognized around the world for one art more than their film, their poetry, their cuisine, and their music — that is, their truck art. In 2014 Karachi-based artist Haider Ali was busy customizing trucks in much the same way Nudie Cohn did suits. He’s done work locally too, including for Lakewood’s Shahnawaz Restaurant. I’ve never seen one on the road but if you have to drive a four-wheeled smog box you, it’s my feeling that you could at least make the sea of gridlock a more cheerful place by customizing your neutrally-colored hatchblob.
Field hockey is the national sport of Pakistan but cricket is the most popular game. Southern California’s Field Hockey Federation includes three chartered clubs: the Bulldogs, the Moorpark Coyotes, and the Roadrunners. There’s also the West Coast Eagles Field Hockey Club and the Hollywood – Los Angeles field hockey club. As far as local cricket goes, there are 41 teams in the Southern California Cricket Association and I’d be shocked if a large number of the the cricketers involved weren’t of Pakistani ancestry.
PAKISTANI ORGANIZATIONS IN LOS ANGELES
I’d also be shocked if there isn’t more than one organization serving Pakistani-Angelenos although all that I know of is the USC Pakistani Student Association, which every April organizes the SoCal PSA Culture Show. The Consulate General of Pakistan in Los Angeles is located in the Westside neighborhood of West Los Angeles.
“L.A.’s Deepest Pakistani Menu Is Found in the Valley” by Jim Thurman
As always, if you have any corrections or additions, don’t hesitate to let me know!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, and Twitter.