Monday, February 3, 2014

CULINARY OUTPOSTS IN KASHMIR

On a recent family holiday in Kashmir, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Gulmarg and Srinagar. Like any foodie, trying out different dishes and picking up interesting ingredients to bring back home were on the top of my list. There was not much information available online for me to plan ahead before the trip. So hopefully, this post of mine helps some of the readers get an idea of what to expect and where to go for good food in Kashmir.

Before I say anything about the food in Kashmir, Kahwa (the Kashmiri tea) deserves a special mention. We drank innumerable cups of this tea throughout our trip. It is made from a brew of full-leaf tea, saffron, cardamom and sugar, topped with flaked almonds. The warm and delightful tea in the cold Kashmiri winter was soothing to the body and soul, especially in the evenings after a long day of sight-seeing and shopping.



A SIMPLE LUNCH AT A SKI SHACK IN GULMARG
First up, Gulmarg does not have many dining options. I ate most of my meals at the Khyber Resort during my stay in Gulmarg. I must say that I was very impressed with the quality of South Indian dishes, especially at breakfast. The dosas and sambhar were as good as what we get in some of the popular places in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. If you are the outdoor kind and out skiing during the winter months in Kashmir, your only dining option will be the shacks on the slopes for lunch. Piping hot tomato soup, aloo parathas with pickle, Maggi noogles and vegetable pulao are just about what you will find in these shacks. After a long morning on the slopes, anything hot (in temperature) will be well-appreciated.

When it comes to Srinagar, again the dining options are just a handful if you are looking for small local restaurants, not including the big hotels like the Lalit or the Taj. Our first stop for lunch in Srinagar was the 'Adhoos'. We were told that its the 'Annapoorna of Srinagar'. Annapoorna is a local chain of restaurants in Coimbatore (where I live) which is very popular among the locals for South Indian fare. The service at Adhoos was good and the quality of food was also good. The ground meatballs are popular in Kashmir and they generally come in a red (Rista) or white (Gustava - a yogurt base) gravy. The gustava with naan was very good at the Adhoos.


WAZWAN MEAL AT MUGHAL DURBAR
We tried the 'Mughal Durbar' for lunch the next day. This place was more crowded than Adhoos and seemed more popular with the locals. Although the waiter who was helping us was very friendly, we had a hard time figuring out what the 'Wazwan platter' was. We finally decided to take a chance and ordered the Wazwan platter for 2 which was for the adults and the usual butter naan and butter chicken for the kids. When the Wazwan platter finally arrived, it looked rather glorious with all the meat on top of the rice and the accompanying three gravies of Rogan Josh, Rista and Gustava. We quite enjoyed our Wazwan platter inspite of it being greasy. The children also enjoyed their naan and butter chicken gravy although I thought the butter chicken gravy tasted more like a desi-chinese dish. But I must confess that our friends in the table next to us thought the food was very greasy and some of them fell sick after eating at the Mughal Durbar.


MEMORABLE LUNCH AT DAR-ES-SALAM
Our lunch on the third day in Srinagar was the best meal of the entire trip. It was at the small boutique hotel, 'Dar-Es-Salam'. The hotel is set on the shore of Lake Nagin and the restaurant had a very beautiful view thorough the window. It was a buffet meal and almost every dish was flawless. The Shammi kebabs (minced lamb kebabs), Murgh Masalam (chicken gravy), Kashmiri Saag (greens) and the Kashmiri bread - Sheermal were outstanding. We were the only diners there that afternoon and we had a very memorable experience at Dar-Es-Salam.




I wanted to take back some of the flavours of Kashmir to experiment in own kitchen back home. During sight-seeing in Srinagar, I did not miss opportunities to try out some local flavours. For instance, just outside Hazrat bal, we found a small shop that sold some local sweets and savouries. I had a taste of a sweet that very much resembled the South Indian sweet - Kesari. My family and I were keen on taking back some food soveniours for our friends and family back home. The Taj Bakery came highly recommended. We knew we hit the jackpot when we tasted the macaroons at the Taj Bakery. Unlike the dainty French macaroons, these were huge and quite rugged in appearance. There was a hint of coconut in these macaroons and it only complimented the taste and texture of the macaroon. The Moonlight Bakery which was just behind the Taj Bakery was also another great find. The Walnut fudge squares were delicious and we picked up a few to bring back home.




Another must-visit store is the Amin-bin-Khalik (the dry fruit people; www.abk.co.in). This store was recommended to us by the hotel when we asked for a dry fruits store. This store is located in the busy polo view street and it is a treasure trove of all things dried in Kashmir. Some of the special finds were dried Morrel mushrooms that cost Rs. 40,000 for a kilo, green garlic, Kashmiri saffron, almonds, dried cherries and apricot kernel oil. They also have an online store and are meant to be very reliable with the quality of produce and delivery.

The over all Kashmiri food experience was enjoyable. But I must say that in my personal opinion, Kashmiri cuisine does not rank very high among the top cuisines of India. Any day, I would prefer Kerala, Mangalorean, Bengali, Rajasthani or Goan cuisine over Kashmiri Wazwan. But nevertheless, its a good one.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for showing a part of the country,we very seldom hear,in detail about !

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  2. wow....thats a lot of food :) awesome foodie divs. well done!

    ReplyDelete