BY MINZAH MEHRAJ
Srinagar: Over the last five decades, Muhammad Ashraf, a Harrisa seller at Rajouri Kadal here in Downtown here never fails to trickle taste buds of customers with sumptuous and flavourful Harissa, the popular winter delicacy of Kashmir.
His ‘Khaak Saar’ Harrisa joint is known to be one of the ace harisa outlets in this Downtown locality for over 50 years and never fails to attract Harrisa lovers from every corner of Kashmir in the wee hours of the morning.
During the winter, Ashraf prepares this soothing combination of rice, meat, and spices known as Harisa, which is the most popular dish in chilling winters, primarily in Srinagar.
There are dozens of outlets that sell this winter delicacy, but his mammoth experience has made him the popular one is known by Srinagarites of all ages.
Currently, in his 60s, Ashraf began his career as a chef at the hotel of his family, "Khaak Saar," in Lal Chowk, when he was in his heydays.
"Even though I used to work at our hotel, I always wanted to launch my own venture. So eventually, I launched my own Harissa business naming it Khaak Saar after our hotel name decades back". said Ashraf.
He says that with his passion to serve quality products, he got immense love of people and that is what made him survive for a long.
"People from different places come here in morning to enjoy the Harrisa, and some pack it for their families and loved ones. I have done my best to keep the quality intact for decades, and honesty is what counts when doing business, and that is what has kept me going despite all odds,” he adds.
Ashraf says that Harrisa has made its way from traditional Harrisa shops to kitchen and fancy restaurants but the taste that one gets by making it in an authentic way is unmatchable.
"Nowadays, Harissa is made even in homes, but the real taste lies with the traditional procedure, which is done in the earthen pot, not in the modern utensils used in the homes. Nowadays, people use to make Harrisa in their own quick procedures, but it needs a lot of patience, and the non-traditional way cannot give that vibe and taste which the actual procedure gives," he said.
Harissa necessitates handwork, which Ashraf does with zeal and utmost dedication. “After 11 am when the customers leave and the big pot of harrisa is empty, I start making the delicacy for the following day, where rice gruel is made in a large earthen pot. Along with bones, sheep or goat meat, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, green and black cardamom, fried Kashmiri shallots, and salt are added to this. The clay pot is covered with a lid after cooking has been going on”, says Ashraf.
Around 4 am, Ashraf wakes up, offers fajr prayers, and leaves for his shop to start his day. “The bones from which the flesh has fallen off are removed using a metallic hand which is attached to a long handle. Mustard oil is added to this meaty slush and the mixture is mashed with a large wooden until it has the consistency for Harissa. I feel happy when people enjoy the dish here, and I can see the satisfaction on their faces. That is the best reward for me”, He said.
Having earned huge fame and fondness among locals for his art of making the delicious Harisa in the town, Ashraf has carved out a sort of brand for himself, and every customer is in praises for this Harrisa man.
“For the past ten years, every time I crave for Harissa, I go to this specific shop right before I went office. It sells the best Harissa, and it is must visit for every harisa lover,” says Adil, a local of Rajouri Kadal.
According to Ashraf, there are very few young people nowadays who are interested in foodpreneurship. "Everyone is busy with education and looking for jobs, which is ok, but young people should be interested in establishing of something of their own" he said.