Smoked fish, herbs, vegetables: Kashmir’s winter delicacies

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SHAFAQNA- For centuries, locals in the landlocked Kashmir Valley have relished dried vegetables, smoked fish and wild herbs to survive during the extreme winter. The tradition lives on even today.

As land links with the outside world would get snapped because of heavy snowfall on the mountain passes leading out of Kashmir, locals would painstakingly store carefully washed and dried vegetables to stand them in good stead during the winter, which lasts for almost for five months.

Dried brinjal, tomatoes, pumpkins and turnips were stored in homes for use during the winter months in the Valley in the past.

Fresh vegetables are now available round the year in the local markets due to better road connectivity and scientific methods of vegetable growing in greenhouses – but for nostalgia, the locals still throng markets to buy dried delicacies.

Special to winter cuisine in the Valley is smoked fish known locally as ‘farrigad’ and dried fish called ‘hokhegad’.

Many Kashmiri Pandits who migrated out of the Valley because of the ongoing separatist violence still request their Muslim neighbours and friends to bring them these dried delicacies.

“My first request to friends in the Valley is to bring me some hokhegad. My family almost celebrates cooking of the farrigad and hokhegad as this has become part of our tradition and now nostalgia,” banker Ashok Koul, 42, who lives in winter capital Jammu, told IANS on the phone.

Bashir Ahmad, 50, has been selling dried vegetables in the Fatah Kadal area of old Srinagar for almost 18 years. His father was also engaged in this trade. He visits villages during the summer months to buy vegetables to be dried and stored for his customers during the winter.

“People don’t buy these things now with the same enthusiasm as they used to in the past. Still, by the grace of Allah, I earn enough to live honestly. The sale of these dried vegetables starts from the month of November,” Ahmad, who sells dried pumpkin scalings for Rs.400 a kilogram, told IANS.

Muhammad Ashraf, 45, another seller in old city, says the process of drying vegetables starts in June-July.

Abdul Aziz, 58, a resident of the Soura area, has been selling smoked fish for the last 30 years. He said the Pandits used to buy these with great fervour, but

sales have gone down alarmingly after their exodus.

“Still, some people place orders with me in advance for their Pandit friends living outside (the Valley),” Aziz told IANS.

It is not only for their roughage value that Kashmiris eat dried vegetables. Some of the vegetables and herbs grown in the wild are also consumed for their medicinal value.

“Iberian knapweed, grown in the wild and locally known as ‘kraich’, is dried and eaten as it is believed to be good for the eyesight. Similarly, dandelion, known as ‘hand’, is given to anaemic patients as it is rich in iron. ‘Buem’ or star lotus is believed to be good for arthritis patients as it relieves the swelling of joints,” G.A.Bhat, a botany professor at the University of Kashmir, told IANS.

Dried water chestnuts are believed to provide relief to those with backaches and urinary tract infections, as also diabetics.

The aroma of dried brinjal scalings, dried tomato and lean mutton cooked on firewood-lit hearths is something the younger generation of Kashmiris have heard of but not been witness to.

“How do you explain to your grandchildren the thrill and excitement we had when father waded through deep snow to get mutton from the village butcher, who would slaughter a lamb once in a month?” Abdul Rehman Sheikh, 86, a resident of north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, asked while speaking to IANS.

“How do you explain the impatience of waiting around the hearth as mother worked dexterously to ensure that the dish comes out with the right flavour and thickness?

These are treasures which can be narrated, but not shared in the times of the internet, satellite television and mobile phones,” Sheikh lamented.

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