In winter, Shaher-e-Khaas turns hub of delicious Harissa

Freezing temperature increases demand of traditional mutton delicacy

ARIF SHAFI WANI

A soothing aroma of steaming spices fills cold air in a congested lane leading to Aali Kadal area of Shaher-e-Khaas. Braving bone chilling cold, people in small groups jostle through dense fog in wee hours and swarm around a unique shop.
 Forgetting their worldly problems for some moments, they sit around a steaming earthen pot warmed by firewood in the shop and keenly watch every movement of a man laced with a big wooden spoon called Dhagun in local parlance.
 Diligently skimming contents in the pot and intermediately mixing different varieties of spices, the man finally smiles. Harissa the traditional mutton delicacy is ready to be relished. This brings cheers on faces of everybody in the shop.
 With sharp dip in temperature, Harissa is the most preferred delicacy in winter in Srinagar. Surviving the onslaught of junk food, Shaher-e-Khaas is dotted with many Harissa shops but famous among them are mostly located in Aali Kadal and adjoining areas. 
 30-year old Ajaz Ahmad Bhat is carrying on with his over 150 year old family business of Harissa making in his neatly decorated shop near Jamalatta near Zia Masjid along the Aali Kadal road. 
 “My forefathers were masters of Harissa making. I am proud to carry forward our family business more importantly a tradition of Srinagar,” Ajaz said as customers irrespective of age throng his shop.
 The customers sit in a line and order Harissa in different quantities. A kilogram of Harissa costs Rs 500. However customers mostly prefer to eat plateful in the shop which costs from Rs 50 to Rs 100.
 “This rate is economical if our hard work and cost behind Harissa making into taken into consideration. We mostly have to use firewood to prepare Harissa which costs around thousand per quintal. Besides spices are also costly. Harissa making is an arduous task rather an art which one learns with constant practice,” Ajaz says as he serves Harissa to customers with a wooden mug.
 His father Bashir Ahmad Bhat,62, explains the process as customers patiently listen to him. For Harrisa he says mostly limb meat of sheep is used. First skim rice till it turns into custard. Then this rice concentration is mixed with meat and cooked rigorously. After addition of different spices including elaichi, garlic, souf and the mixture is kept in the earthen pot for 5-8 hours.
 “The bones will get separated and rest of the concentration has to be skimmed vigorously till it turns soft. Before serving Harissa, it is dressed with saffron flakes and oil,” Bhat explained.
 Ajaz said besides locals, Harissa is in huge demand outside the state and abroad. “I receive orders from other states and countries. Infact few days ago I dispatched 20 kilograms of Harissa to a Kashmiri family in Muscat,” Ajaz proudly said.
 Umar a youth who regularly relishes Harissa at this shop said it is better than junk food. “Harissa is without any preservatives and other harmful ingredients unlike junk food. It is served fresh and I relish it on every Friday during winter,” he said. 
 As Ajaz finishes selling Harissa at 10 am, his shop is still thronged by people. “There is so much demand for Harissa these days that customers have to make advance bookings,” Ajaz said.
 Noted historian Fida Hasnain said concept of Harissa making was brought to Kashmir by Mirza Hyder Duglat of Yarkand during Chak period in 1540.
 Zareef Ahmad Zareef a prominent Kashmiri poet and an authority on Kashmir’s cultural history traces roots of Harissa to the Mughal period.
 “Mughals used to boil sheep feet known as Pacha to make a kind of Harissa. It was during Afghan rule of Kashmir that Harissa was formally introduced in its present form in the Valley. At that time economic condition of Kashmiris was so weak that they could not afford to relish Harissa. They boiled turnips as they were cheap as alternative to Harissa,” Zareef said.
 Zarief said gradually two Harissa shops were opened at Aali Kadal and Saraf Kadal in Shahar-e-Khaas which used to be thronged by customers. 
 “But one at Aali Kadal was famous as it added milk to the delicacy. First bowl of Harissa was sent to the Mirwaiz family after the first snowfall. People gifted it to each other after they used to win bet of the snowfall. Harissa has now become a part and parcel of our culture. It is also gifted to in-laws after engagements and marriages as a token of love,” Zarief said.
 Known for his satirical poetry, Zarief minces no words to say that “Harissa was misused extensively as a means of corruption in Kashmir.”
 “Some people used to send Harissa to government officials and ministers for favors,” he said.
 Medicos say that Harissa is good source of protein for humans. “Harissa has muscle and tissue building protein. It should be consumed in the proportion of one gram of per kg of body weight,” said a prominent physician Dr Nazir Mushtaq.
 “Over-eating of Harissa or any other food can lead to health complications and it overloads the body system,” he added.

Lastupdate on : Sat, 22 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 22 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 23 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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