By Ragina Nair, Human Resources, Holachef
I had always wanted to witness snow and my long due wish came true this season when I finally decided to visit Kashmir around New Year’s. I had heard so much about the beauty that the valley is, but the trip was beyond expectations with every destination enthralling us with its grandeur and food. The sightseeing paired with Kashmiri meals was a combination that elevated the purpose of this travel. And, thanks to our guide cum driver who helped us relish the local dishes, here is my list of favourites and delicacies you shouldn’t miss when in Kashmir.
This was the first drink I tasted after reaching Pahalgam and quite a popular one in the valley. Kahwah is a type of green tea mixed with saffron, cardamom and cinnamon, and needless to say, is highly refreshing. One can add more saffron or a splash of lime juice for an extra zing. Kahwah can be easily bought from local stores in Kashmir and is available in the form of a premix tea with added powdered sugar. A nice souvenir to take back, I’d say.
2) Mutton Kanti Kababs, Fish Kabab and Malai Chicken
I relished on mutton kanti kababs from a local dhaba in Gulmarg. These are shallow fried minced mutton kababs which consist of lots of onions and capsicum. When in Srinagar, don’t miss out on the melt-in-the-mouth fish kabab and malai chicken as well.
Rista is a dish of minced and fried mutton balls served in a spicy red gravy, which I tried in Pahalgam. The dish is a part of Kashmiri wazwan – a spread comprising of various meat-based preparations, with the extensive use of lamb and chicken. Interestingly, there are 36 different kinds of meat delicacies served as a part of a traditional wazwan platter!
4) Kashmiri Dal
For the craving of a simple meal, I also tried rice and dal in Kashmir. I am absolutely in love with the local dal that was served. There were apparently a lot of masalas used in this preparation and it was a flavoursome change from what I’ve had elsewhere in the country. Do try this dish at any of the local restaurants in the valley that offer authentic Kashmiri meals.
While in Gulmarg, I noticed different types of rotis stacked up in road side stalls, restaurants and bakeries. Some were similar to the common rotis and kulchas while others can be best described as a crisp version of pav. I later found out that the one similar to roti is called tsot. It’s consumed by breaking it into pieces and dipping in noon chai, which is salty and a speciality of Kashmir. The variety of bread with poppy seeds is called czochworu. Kashmiris have tsot or roti for breakfast and czochworu or kulcha along with their evening tea.
6) Rajma Rice
I’ve heard people say that rajma chawal is their comfort food or go-to food. When I tasted it in Gulmarg, I understood why. The red kidney beans used here are dark red in colour and smaller in size than what we get back home in Mumbai, and the masala has alluring flavours. All in all, this simple meal that I tried at Hotel Affarwat was an absolute delight.
7) Noon Chai
Enroute Sonmarg, I found noon chai being served near Kheer Bhawani temple and without blinking an eye, I immediately decided to try it. It’s a traditional tea beverage from Kashmir, pink in color and is salty to taste. Usually cooked in a copper pot, this chai has special tea leaves, milk, salt, pistachios, almonds, cardamom and cinnamon. Noon chai is served with tsot or kulcha – the Kashmiri breads.
8) Yakhni Chicken
I insisted that my last meal in Kashmir be a dish from wazwan and so came in chicken yakhani with jeera rice. The yogurt based gravy has no turmeric or even chilli powder yet tastes distinctly flavourful with the meat being perfectly succulent. I thoroughly enjoyed this meal.
Kashmiri cuisine has an extensive range of dishes full of zesty flavours and classic recipes, and I have realized that the real fun lies in tasting it at local eateries. I am looking forward to visiting the valley soon and relishing once again on some of the best meals I have ever had!