You know you’re in Kashmir when bed-tea is replaced by Kahwa in bed! Kashmir is a photographer’s paradise and a gastronomer’s dream! I had a great time sampling drinks and food from this region. Read all to know what interested my taste buds!
Traditional Kashmiri Kahwa & noon chai
Since the day we checked into our BnB (Bloomingdale, Dal gate, Srinagar) till the day I left Kashmir, I made it a point to listen to our host, Mr Firdous’s advice and enjoy several cups of traditional Kashmiri Kahwa. This drink is enjoyed by the locals in the afternoon or evening, although Kahwa worked just fine as bed-tea!
Kahwa is a royal drink with ingredients such as saffron, honey, cinnamon, wlanuts and almonds lending it a rich aroma, lovely colour and texture. With every sip of Kahwa, one can taste the ingredients perfectly blended and the powered/ cut walnuts/ almonds add a nice crunch.
Although we had Kahwa everyday at Bloomingdale, my favourite still is the Kahwa we had at a tea stall next to Zamindar store in Pampore (while one returns from Pahalgam to Sringar). Unftunately I do not have a photo of the rich-royal Kahwa we had there :(
Kahwa is made in traditional yet lavish metal vessel called Samovar. The vendor was kind enough to help me jot down the recipe for Kahwa and also share the secret ingredients (herbs grown in Kashmir) which are not readily available elsewhere!
Tourists who come to Kashmir fall in love with this drink. If one wishes to carry an inexpensive memory back from Kashmir, I’d highly recommended buying a bottle of Kahwa pre-mix. Although fresh Kahwa is heavenly, the pre-mix is convenient and does its job of bringing you back a piece of Paradise right in your house!
Kahwa clearly overshadows and outshines another drink named ‘noon chai’. Locals usually have for noon-chai for breakfast with a piece of baked thick roti. I have been told that this is the most popular and preferred breakfast!
Noon-chai is made with milk and also has a dash of baking soda and salt. It has a peculiar taste and apparently one needs to acquire a liking for it – clearly not my chosen cup of tea. 1 cup Kahwa please….
Meat is an integral part of Kashmiri cuisine. Most households get their weekly doze of protein from mutton, chicken or fish prepared with a flavourful curry to go with rice. Kashmiris also celebrate their food and take pride in a multi-course meal called “wazwan”. It is made up of a combination of meats in curry, kebab, grilled form served with rice/ biryani and desserts such as phirni.
Popular dishes in the wazwan which are also available as stand-alone orders in most hotels are rogan josh, rista (mutton meat balls in red curry), yakhni (mutton with curd based gravy), gustaba (meatballs in curd based curry), mutton seekh kebab, tabak maaz (lamb ribs),etc.
We were told that Kashmiris especially enjoy wazwan during wedding ceremonies where wazwan comprising of 10-15 dishes are prepared with the best ingredients and guests sit in groups of four to enjoy wazwan out of a huge copper plate. We tried a slightly modest version of wazwan at Mughal Darbar in Srinagar and were impressed with how well the meat was cooked (although I did not enjoy the dense meatballs too much, the whole mutton pieces were succulent), the flavourful curries and the variety of kebabs. Because the meat was heavy, we decided to flush down the food with lots of thumbs up! Burrp!
While a plate of wazwan is grand and to be relished on special occasions, Kashmiris love to have hot kebabs as evening snacks/ during dinner with rumali roti/ green chatni by the side. We sampled mutton, fish and chicken kebabs at a cemented square at Dal lake, between tulip garden and Dal gate.
There were several kebab wala’s in the square but we tried kebabs at Naj’s on our drivers recommendation. For INR 40-60 a plate, these kebabs were a steal and perfect filler between tea and dinner.
Introduced by the British, trout fishing is huge in Kashmir. In fact angling enthusiast come here in summer and spring to catch some trout and eat it too. Kokernag, in south Kashmir is known for its trout farms.
We came across Café Inn, Pahalgam by chance and it happens to serve some of the bets trout preparations. I settled into the cozy and tastefully done café and ordered a butter lemon garlic trout for lunch. While the chef was preparing the trout, we enjoyed sampling the thin crust pizza and carrot cake (delicious!).
Soon enough a full, medium size fried trout with lemon garlic butter dressing and exuded heavenly aroma was served to us. A salad and lots of fries were served by the side. The fish was succulent, yet the skin was perfectly crunchy and the dressing perfectly tied together the flavours. Although the trout dish was not cheap (approx. INR 730), but it was worth every rupees!
If you’re a vegetarian, fret not, the desserts/ pizzas at Café Inn will leave you wanting more. And the ambiance is perfect for a lazy lunch/ a date with a good book, just like I did!
We came across several apple trees/ orchards with pretty pinkish white flowers blooming in glory while driving across Kashmir in April. Come October and all the trees will be laden with red plump apples weighing the branches down. Traders from across the country will flock Kashmir to strike a good bargain and the best quality fruit will be exported. Factories also produce jams, jellies, preserves and juices from the tender apples.
Kashmiris love their apple and believe in using every part of it. Until the apple season comes, they munch on thin slices of sun-dried apples (the top/ bottom of the apple) which are sprinkled with little sugar for extra zing! Dried-apples come in two variants - the sweet and the sweet-sour. We bought half a kg of the tangy sweet-sour variant while returning from Sonmarg and happily munched on it throughout the road trip. Nom Nom!
Goodies from bakeries at Dal gate
Bakeries are to Kashmir, what sweet shops (halwai ki dukaan) are to the rest of India. These words by our host, Mr Firdaus (from Blooming Dale), when he welcomed us at his Bnb with top-notch biscuits, still ring in my ears. He also was kind enough to buy half-a-dozen mutton pattice from Jan bakery (Dal gate) for us to relish!
Everywhere we went in Kashmir we found several bakeries. In fact, even the smallest towns/village had its own bakery!
Bakeries serve everything from tea cakes, plum cakes, cake rusk, biscuits and mutton pattice (Jan’s bakery) to the fancy desserts inspired by French cooking (Le Delice bakery). My favourite baked goodie still remains the plain cake from Jan’s bakery – fluffy, moist and buttery!
Phirni and shahi tukda
I am not very sure if Kashmiris are into desserts, but I did see Phirni and shahi tukda on several hotel menus. While phirni was fantastic at Raja Dhabha (on the way from Srinagar to Gulmarg), shahi tukda (at Mughal darbar) took me by surprise thanks to the topping of piped whipped cream, pineapple, cherries and chocolate flakes.
Well, rather end on a sweet note with an outrageously topped dessert than something boring!
And let's not forget....Maggi!
We ate maggi almost everywhere in Kashmir, the most memorable being at Sonmarg after hiking up the snow in our gum boots and losing our way!