Friday, 17 October 2014

Kasmiri food

THE world began with a fruit! Ever since then, food has become a must for all living beings. People all around the world have different types of food but the ultimate goal is to survive.

Nowadays, for some food is a want, and for some it is a desire, but for all, food is necessity for sure. In a country like India where food is considered sacred and often believed to be spiritual, such that even the Gods get tempted. For an Indian, from birth to death, food is a part of every occasion.

The country known as India is also known as Bharat and Hindustan, however, all three names depict three different countries which can be bifurcated on so many aspects, but let’s just stick to food.

Bharat: Ancient India, today referred to as "poor" India

Hindustan: Refers to fusion India from 10th century onwards throughout the British reign(Ganga-Jamuni_tehzeeb)

India: Refers to modern India, one of the most promising economies of the world

The way I would like to consider things is:

Bharat: The rural and poor India.

Hindustan: The educated Middle Class who knows the importance of harmony.

India: The rich of India

And the best part is the you can segment them any way you want to i.e Geographically, Economically or Socially. Let’s say you bifurcated it geographically between rural India and Metro India. In rural India, no doubt that most of the population would be poor, but there would be some wealthy and in some cases very very wealthy landlords. If you are considering metro India, don't forget the blue-collar people, who serve to the wealthy households. But, don’t forget, no matter who you are, everyone eats!


For Bharatis food is a Need

For Hindustanis food is Want

And last, but surely not the least, for India food is a Desire

From now onwards, I will try to share some beautiful insights and facts about Indian food in front of you, such as why does food change its name? In what ways do we cook that are sometimes absolutely different altogether? Why do people in Punjab have a different use of mustard which they eat seasonally and why at the other end of the country, southern India, mustard is not only used throughout the year but also in almost every dish but all very differently? Why some Indian mithais (desserts) are considered so sacred such that a place called Orrisa makes the eyes of the most worshiped god of that region, Lord Jagan Nath, with rasgullas? Why almost every God has a favourite mithai to be offered? Some dishes are so ancient that even the experts can't trace their origin!

But I have always been a traveler and not a tourist, and I think I have travelled a lot! As a traveler I have had many interactions with local people and on that basis I will try to trace the importance and untold stories about the great Indian cuisine. When I see the map of India, there so many stories coming out of my head that I cannot deliver it all in just one blog. So please stay with me and do not let that foodie die in you.

Lets start with Jammu and Kashmir.

But let me clear out one thing out before we begin. If you are looking for any kashmiri recipes, restaurants then I must tell you rite here, that you are wasting your time. So, no wazwan, no rogan josh, no cliques’ for that there are 1000s of search items you can get in fraction of seconds, when search it on Google, go but from them.

The whole point of this blog is to connect you to an algorithm with the food. So, that when even you see a traditional food bowl, you can connect it their farms, climate and life style. So that when ever you see food you can connect it to land rather that a factory.

I just want to sow that holy seed in you fertile mind! .... If you stay with me.

So, The food of Jammu and Kashmir differs from region to region. The Hindus Dogras of Jammu are predominantly vegetarian, eating a stable diet of rice, wheat, and beans. The Ladakhis, often Muslim, eat rice, wheat, millet, locally produced vegetables and fruits, goat meat and dairy products made from yak milk. Kashmiri food is characterized by its vast array of dishes cooked over a long period of time in exotic spices. The seasons and availability of fresh produce dictates the ingredients, some of which are dried and used in the winter months. The Kashmiri cuisine is essentially meat-based, however the eating habits of the Hindu and Muslim Kashmiris differ with regards to their use of certain spices and there is a prohibition of beef for the Hindus.

So there is no point of discussing Jammu and Kashmir together.

Lets start with Kashmir first:

Demography: The total population is around 4 million out of which 96% are Muslims and just 4% are Hindus.

Climate: Home of Himalayas, it does have four seasons but it is a predominantly cold region, Climate can range between 29.5 C to 10.6 C (May to August) in the summer and 7.3 C to -1.9 C in the winter.

Agriculture: As a matter of fact, only 20% of the whole Kashmir is cultivable, but 80% of the total population depends on this cultivation. Kashmir has its subpart known as Ladakh, which is a high altitude desert with very low vegetation and water access. Another area, the Kashmir valley, has very fertile land (thanks to the Jhelum river and its distributaries). The main agriculture crops are:

Rice, Maize, Saffron, Millet, Pulses, wheat, barley, flax and beans

Poor Man’s Food:

The poor man of Kashmir eats rice, usually plain. But overall I have to admit that still the poor man manages to have a good meal in Kashmir. The best part I personally noticed in the Doda area is that many mosques offer goat heads or other parts, which may not be preferred by others, but for a poor man it’s fat and he needs it badly like any other living in such a region of the world where the temperature takes a dip sharply and for the most part of the year.

So the point is that even though poor man’s food is rice, somehow he manages to have a little meat at times and pulses (rajmah), although the preparation may be very basic. There is one more thing which is very common poor man’s food, Which “I’ll Tell You Later”

Hindustani Food:

A normal Kashmiri family prefers lots of green vegetables and moderate dishes in terms of preparation. After having an impromptu lunch with a local farmer I have to admit that some people eat very opulent food even though they lead a very simple life. I mean the things, which are considered a basic thing for them, are sold all round the world from Mr. Obama’s plate to the Sheikhs of Middle East as expensive delicacies. I’m talking about the most exquisite dry fruits, herbs, rare fruits and things like saffron, and fresh water fishes, which is a normal meal at a local’s place is more opulent than an expensive Mughal restaurant in New York.

Food for Indians (rich Kashmiris):

The number of tourists that have touched the land of Kashmir has increased vastly in current times. As a result, you can see numerous food joints and restaurants offering various international cuisines, especially in and around Srinagar. In contrast, rural Kashmir has nothing great to offer in terms of restaurants. So locals, rich locals (rather) take serious interest in their food, especially on special occasions or social gatherings, or whenever a dear guest is arriving.

But I have to tell you that the repercussions of this modern world are visible here in the valley too…. Stress, less physical work, lifestyle disorders, etc etc are often present in these Indians. Frankly, I have seen many rich people of Srinagar who likes it be easy on food and some extend even in rural area also, but people who afford use the world’s “most expensive spice” and “the third most expensive spice” a lot and when I say a lot I mean A LOT! And in almost every thing from tea to other hot beverages, Rice, Main course, even for smoking. And these spices are Saffron and cardamom, respectively. Interestingly if you see the medical properties of Saffron and cardamom, you will defiantly find a connection between these spices and cold weather human body requirements. I would have wrote those properties here by myself but believe me you are just a click away from it its so approachable what I want to make a point is that you connect the food with the land not with a factory. You must be wondering why I haven’t mention Wazwan yet, the point is same again u r just a click away. But, I must tell you, wazwan is a very “rare affair” happens once in a while generally on special occasions (they are generally confined to marriages only). 36 course meal…. N all but let me tell you again it involves lot etiquettes even though Kashmiri are very friendly but as good guest you don’t want to embarrass your host or get embarrassed. I mean from hand washing to quantity of rice in your bowl (tirami) and you have to share that tirami with three other, well this is beautiful I think that’s the whole point behind Wazwan, Share happiness. A must try thing… “Thing??” Nah… “Experience”…. May be “Pleasure”(yeah, that sounds rit) A must try pleasure. I can’t help myself, telling you that don’t get carried out with the banners on restaurants saying “authentic wazwan” “real wazwan” don’t trust them, I mean no harm in trying those but that’s not even near to real wazwan.

Some interesting picture about wazwan


I hope most of the people reading this knows that Indian Brahmin (a section of society) are forbidden from eating garlic, onions and Meat (the most forbidden) of any kind.

Here is a joke:
A Brahmin boy went to a restaurant and ordered a “Butter Chicken” and mentioned, “ don’t put any onions and Garlic because I am a Brahmin.

If u got the humor, then I want you know that is not at all humorous in southern part of Kashmir and major region of Jammu because this area is covered with “Kashmiri Pundits” basically, Hindu Kashmiris. They eat meat very often but Beef is still forbidden and yes, they don’t use onions or garlic. But their dishes are equally exotic as Kashmiri Muslims. Curd and asafetida are extensively used in Hindu kitchens. Jammu region also have bit of Rajputana and more of Punjabi influence on their local food.

More or less Jammu food is:
Kashmir valley food (-minus) beef (–minus) onion (–minus) Garlic (plus+) Punjabi food (plus+) More Curd (plus +) asafetida
Broadly rest every thing same, rice is the staple food as the wheat growing area are on the “other side”. Though some family on the southern part even eat Wheat bread (roti) which they get it from neighboring state, Punjab and hence a little expensive.

N then comes Ladakh where majority of people are Buddist and the land is actually a high altitude desert. I don’t know why but I don’t think I m ready to write sum thing about Ladakh, its too sacred to me. But I would love to write something about Ladakh but lets be frank here, I m not ready. Sorry for this!

Some hidden gems:

Alexender came from upnorth returned after the battle with King Purshottam (porus) at the river Jehlum. Gangez Khan came from Ladkah region (eastern side) and disappeared, Mughal came from west and Sikhs came from south (Jammu). And today also you can clearly feel their influence.


Kashmiris are probably the best bakers of India. We don’t see baking in traditional Indian kitchen except for the few points in southern India and that too because of foreign invasion. Nonetheless next time if you get a chance to visit Kashmir try out something new infact they have dedicated breads fro breakfast lunch and dinner like

The morning starts with girdas and lavasa served with butter.

For lunch is either a katlamas , telvor , sheermal or ghyav chot –

Dinnertime means chochvor or lavasa, able substitutes for chapattis

The valley also claims to have mouth watering kulchas, katlamas, in addition to Kashmiri breads like sheermal and baqerkhani,. Modur kulcha, telvaru , khamira roti.and khatai are some of the bakery items that are most sought after.

Some of the other bakery related products include bakerkhani, puff (a sugar coated bakerkhani), patties and cream rolls, pastries, stuffed kulcha (oven baked), mittha baand (sweet bun), baand (salted bun)

Then there are the Tsot and tsochvoru , small round breads, topped with poppy and sesame seeds and traditionally washed down with salt tea. Bagels would be an American counterpart of telvoru Lavas is cream coloured unleavened bread; baqerkhani is the Kashmiri equivalent of rough puff pastry and kulcha is a melt-in-the mouth variety of shortbread, sweet or salted topped with poppy seeds.

My friends you have been to the best of the bakeries, I trust you. But what amazing is, even a local “mohalla” bakery or a small village bakery…up, up in the hills can do wonders.

The weather is suitable for bakery and more of less bakery products have good shelf life can be stored easily and In Kashmir if weather allows they do it instantly, whenever needed. They have Tandoor like ovens you might get to hear the gentle “ting” sound of iron road and a beautiful bread is sitting rite on your plate. Its even affordable, breads and other bakery stuff are the “Poor Mans” breakfast! (remember I told you “I’ll Tell You Later”) here the poor mans food, of course not all the products but, Yeah quit lot of them.

So, they have bread for every reason and for every season.

Poor man's breakfast


There is one more thing about Kashimiri cuisine which, you all know but I have not mentioned it yet… Kahwa! Kashmiri Tea but next time you should move your focus to wards “Nun Chaa” the pink tea which is actually a green tea but when milk is added it turns pink. It also has Baking soda as it ingredients and it goes well with breads and “Nun” stands for salt.

Kashmiri chutneies:

Kashmiri chutneies, oh man they are good real good. Next time your are surfing the internet to try something Kashmiri, do search about Kashmiri chutney also there at least 100 types of chutneys in Kashmiri Cuisine my personal favourites are doon chetin (walnut dip) and muj chetin (raddish dip). Try it out some day! And never miss their Achar if you are there in the valley specially Shalgam ka Achar…. Wallah!

Smokers Heaven

If you smoke….Try Zizir, the kashmiri hookah all the elderly people can be seen any where and anytime smoking Zizir ask them with most polite and humble way, and let me tell you they share with whole heartedness. People in Kashmir are very found of Zizir. Infact there are documents which supports that the Kakear, a mobile hookah shops were alround Srinagar since 1854. And if you are lucky to meet a real shepherd, you might get a chance to Apricot based tobbaco and high quality tobbaco is grown in Kashmir! So don’t miss it next time.

Cooking style

And when whole world is finding the ways to fast food, Kashmiri cuisine is a little laid back affair. If you see their recepies closely you will find many preparation whose preparation time would be 20 minutes or may be 30 minutes but cooking time can go upto 3 hours or even 5 hours or in some cases even 12 hours. Why? Because they love their Dum Pukht style, oh what a bliss I cant explain it words but someday watch a Kashmiri with his Tea and “zizir”, watching his dish, cooking…. You will get to know what I want to say…. Such a bliss and calmness on their faces, they cook with patience, very delicately.

Golden Tip

And if you are good in kitchen and wondering about the different aroma of Kashmiri food unlike other cuisines then the answer is Kashmiris never fries their spices in fact they boil it. You can try this techniques to you home kitchen and it works every time.

Connecting the dots:

Kashmir is a place which named after a Hindu Sage (Maharishi Kashyap), with majority Muslim population. Which has been the witness of every battle from 300 BC till yesterday.

Right from Alexander to Gangez Khan to Temur to great Mughal to the Sikhs rulers to Partition of a India and two wars and constant disturbance as un have marked it as conflict zone.

Kashmir is a place with very cold climate, agriculture is low, food is meat based, they boil spices and not fry them.


So, it leads to many conclusions like:

Cold weather leads to low vegetation…how?

The land use under agriculture in Kashmir in uder 20% of the whole area, thanks to mountainous terrain and cold weather make it even low. The peculiar physical character and climate has from past times been a serious handicap to intensive farming and diversification of the crops in the valley. The land has remained under snow for as much as 4-5 months a year, resulting in rice being the main kharif crop of the valley7. Moreover, the harvesting of the crops in September-October often left very little time for the sowing of other crops in the same land and, therefore, Rabi crops only were sown in such lands as crops could not be cultivated during the kharif season. The peasants of Kashmir had, therefore, to subsist on one-crop economy, either kharif or Rabi. Of all the Rabi crops, the only successful crops were those that were sown and germinated before snowfall and started growing after the melting of the snow in the months of March and April. Hence, it goes without saying that the Rabi crops, which took 4-5 months to mature in other parts of India, took 5-6 months for the same in the valley of Kashmir. Kahrif crop means the crops grown in autum and summers and Rabi is basically an Autum or Winter crop.

So, now we know the why vegetation is low.

Kashmiri’s food is meat based, why?

The vegetation is low and the climate is cold so one should have a fat rich diet like any other cold place on this planet that’s the human need.

They don’t fry spices… they boil it… why?

The weather is cold, that the cooking utensil can never be hot, all over. I mean even though it will get hot at the point of contact with fire but, it can ruin the dish because of such a temperature variation and traditionally kitchen were in open and so, no point frying. Today also if you see a Dhaba in Kashmir or a tea stall in open you will se the mud coating around them which provides them insulation and other wise also they have closed rooms for DumPukht.

Final peep:

Many outstanding warriors came, some returned, some vanished, some moved on, and some had it on paper as a gift. But, no body conquered it…. Yet! Fight is still on. Kashmir was and is always there to give. People took so much but have also given something in return, “The Cuisine”. Today, a “Kashmiri” belongs to three different countries. Some times, even for them it becomes difficult to connect. But still, Mr. Aga Ashraf Ali, a well known intellectual, have some thing to say about, who all are the genuine Kashmiri?

He said, and I quote

“A Kashmiri is the one who can shuffle a kangri (a fire pot filled with charcoal ambers) under a 10-kg quilt with his feet even in semi-sleep. Another criterion requires the person to cut into four pieces with bare hands a scalding hot goshtaba, a half-a-pound ball of mutton that marks the end of multi-course wazwaan.

I agree 100% but that also tell the whole ecology… The place has a very cold climate; less area under cultivation because of mountainous terrain… turns to less veg. So, eat more meat yoy gotta have fats in your body for winter.

And man if you have still craving for food even after 35 dishes you have already tried, then you gotta be a Kashmiri, people love their food.

The vegetation is so low that there is proverb “Ak' sund kAsiya:n beyi sund gIza”

Next time you plan to go to Kashmir. Don’t just see Kashmir talk to Kashmir.

No comments:

Post a Comment