Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Memories of Kashmir

Kashmir is not only a paradise on earth for the eyes and mind but also for the appetite! Kashmiri Wazwan is truly exotic and the simple but aromatic delicacies made with soft tender lamb just melt in your mouths! Vegetarian food contains mainly rice, rotis, salads, daal and a mixed vegetable curry or two. The oil they use in Kashmir for frying is Mustard Oil which has a metallic smell but tastes good. They say it is good for health and keeps the body warm in extremely cold climate.
Floating Market on Dal Lake

Typical Dabha outside Nishat Bagh
Typical Dinner on Houseboat
Last year, I visited Kashmir with Meena after 25 years. For Meena, it was the first experience. We stayed in Super Deluxe House Boat 'Kashmir Treat' on Dal Lake Srinagar, Royal Park Hotel in Gulmarg and at Forest Hill Resort in Pahalgam. At all the places, breakfast and dinner were part of the package and we got to taste excellent food on houseboat, thanks to its owner Ghulam Qadir Goosani who treated us like his own house members. When I mentioned about Rogan Josh and other lamb delicacies, he went one step ahead and arranged for fresh Rogan Josh(Lamb cooked in aromatic spices, red chilly powder and yogurt), Rista(Lamb meatballs cooked in spicy gravy) and Yakhni(Lamb  cooked in spicy yoghurt gravy garnished with lots of dried mint herbs) for us for dinner!
Typical Breakfast on Houseboat
Fresh Green Salad
Dry Kashmiri Rotis
Kashmiri Sabzi
Kashmiri Daal
Rogan Josh
Mutton Yakhni
On houseboat, normally the breakfast menu includes any of the snacks like aloo parathas, poori sabji, pickles, curds, bread butter jam, sandwiches and egg omlette with pot tea with milk or Kashmiri Kahua, the green tea. Dinner consists of rice, rotis, daal, sabji and one nonveg dish like chicken curry, Mutton Rogan josh, Rista, Yakhni or Ghushtaba as decided by the houseboat owners. A bottle of water is complimentary along with breakfast and dinner.
Dinner with Rista
Dinner with Rogan Josh
The floating market on way to the house boat has shops selling the daily needs of the house boat owners and the tourists. Their prices are on par with the overland shops. They remain open from early morning till late night. There are tea stalls and restaurants selling Kashmiri Wazwan and Punjabi dishes. There are fruit vendors who sell fresh apples and other locally grown fruits and also bananas that are indented from other states, since banana is not grown in Kashmir.
Kashmiri Kahua
Kahua or Kashmiri Green Tea leaves are available at Rs.400/- per 500Gms along with calculated quantity of Cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods packed within. These dried leaves are mostly indented from Darjeeling or Himachal Pradesh. The process of making Kahua is very meticulous. Water is boiled, cinnamon and cardamom are crushed and added to boiling water and heat is turned off. Then tea leaves are added and the vessel is covered for 5min. Light decoction is decanted and very less sugar is added to it. In Kashmir, they have a special utensil to prepare Tea called Samovar. Kahua invigorates the mood and keeps the body warm on cold winter days.
Road Side Dhabas opp Nishat Bagh
If this is what you call Uthapam in the making!
Outside Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh Mughal Gardens, there are a number of dhabas selling vegetarian snacks and rice dishes. We tried the so called Uthapam in one of those shacks and it was not a great deal for Rs.65/-. The slightly greenish yellow Chutney tasted OK, while the Sambar tasted very sour. Mostly these shacks sell fried snacks like Daal Vada and Onion Pakoda.
Daal Vada Stacked by the Vendor
There is a shack by the Sind River at Gund on way to Sonamarg, with a great view where we halted for half an hour, filling ourselves with cold samosas and hot tea, while some pakoda was sizzling in the open air kitchen! The view overlooking Sind River and the hills by the side gave us a well deserved break.
Onion Pakoda sizzling in Hot Oil
It was Amarnath Yatra season and in most of the hilly areas of Kashmir, only veg food was available. We had Poori with potato red bhaji, bread butter jam and Rava upma for breakfast at Royal Park Hotel, Gulmarg. Many roadside shacks named as Punjabi Dhabas are run by Kashmiris and the food is not up to the mark. Even the food at Royal Park was slightly disappointing!
Breakfast at Royal Park, Gulmarg
Typical Menu at Roadside Shack, Gulmarg
Roadside Shack, Gulmarg
Nathu’s Rasoi at Pahalgam is a clean and cozy Punjabi Restaurant serving South Indian and Chinese food as well. A plate of Chole Batura costs around Rs. 70/-, Noodles cost Rs. 90/-, Idli and Vada Rs. 65/- per plate and Masala Dosa ranging from Rs. 95/- to Rs. 125/-. Bottled water is sold at MRP Rs. 15/-. The only drawback is the machine vended tea and coffee that are not at all standard. Snacks are tasty and worth the price.
Graphic Display, Nathu's Rasoi, Pahalgam
Clean Ambiance, Nathu's Rasoi
Service Counter, Nathu's Rasoi
Chole Batura, Nathu's Rasoi
Vegetable Chow mien, Nathu's Rasoi
Idli Vada, Nathu's Rasoi
At Forest Hill Resort, we had We had typical veg dinner with hot Rotis with Paneer and Green Peas curry, cauliflower and potato dry curry, Daal, rice and yoghurt for dinner. The next morning, we were served Aloo Parathas with yoghurt and spicy pickle along with bread butter and hot tea in the garden.
Breakfast at Forest Hill Resort, Pahalgam
Aloo Parathas
Kashmiri Tea
Cauliflower Sabzi
Paneer Peas
Dinner, Forest Hill Resort, Pahalgam
The House Boat owner’s entire family is involved in cooking and attending to tourists’ needs. It was Apple season in Kashmir when we visited. All along the way within the valley, orchards were overwhelmed with Apple and pears on trees. Kashmiri Apple is not as red and succulent as Himachal Apple but it tastes juicy and sweet when you consume it fresh.
Fruit Vendor on Dal Lake

Fresh n Juicy Kashmiri Apple
Kashmiri food is best relished in the romantic ambiance of Kashmir and the memories linger on for years to come!

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