On a journey to revive the traditional Kashmiri cultural cuisine, Ruhaab Mir has reintroduced 100 years old Shahi Sheera which has many health benefits.
Belonging to the Nowshehra area of Srinagar, Ruhaab is an environmental advocate by profession and the owner of the food unit “Khyen Khoardan by Ruhaab.”
“This name is a combination of Kashmiri and Persian words ‘Khyen’ and ‘Khoardan.’ I believe it aptly describes what my venture is all about,” says Ruhaab.
She started her unit along with her family members: Shamshada Jan, Lateef Ahmad Mir, Murtaz, Naveed, Azra and Aquib in 2018. Along with her family members, she also has five female employees.
Since her childhood, Ruhaab had an interest in cooking Kashmiri cuisines.
“I was attracted towards Kashmiri cultural cuisine since childhood, but with the passage of time, I felt that there was a need to revive old Kashmiri tradition,” she says.
“In 2018, while I was pursuing my studies at the University of Kashmir, they organized a food festival. Many restaurants were participating in the mega event, and I also registered my name. I wanted to serve something extraordinary in the festival which would capture the attention of all,” adds Ruhaab.
“I thought of preparing Shahi Sheera, a traditional Kashmiri drink, which almost no one makes these days. I took the initiative to learn this legacy from my mother who had imbibed the recipe from her forefathers. I have taken this small step to preserve the legacy and present it not only to our younger generations but to the world as well.”
Ruhaab says that she came to know that Sheera was used in Kashmiri weddings in old times.
In Arnimaal, a film by Siraj Qureshi, guests were shown drinking Sheera at a wedding. An indication of it being a part of Kashmiri tradition.
Ruhaab was appreciated by guests, students and staff members. This appreciation gave her the confidence to revive the old Kashmiri tradition.
“When I used to study at the University of Kashmir, I saw people did not like their own Kashmiri cuisine, instead they preferred Italian and other food items. Kashmiri cuisine was diminishing. That time I realised I had to work to protect our food legacy,” she says.
This food festival was followed by another event at SKICC (Sheri Kashmir International Convention Centre) in 2019.
“I invited my judiciary members to this event and introduced Shahi Sheera. Sheera was compared with Russian drinks and people acknowledged it,” says Ruhaab.
This prompted her to promote Shahi Sheera on a larger scale. After completing her course at the University of Kashmir, she focused on cooking Kashmiri dishes.
“In 2020, my cousin got married and there I served this drink to guests. I bottled this Sheera with a proper logo and name,” says Ruhaab.
As she wanted her drink to reach to international consumers, she completed its paperwork and registration soon after.
At the recent Dubai 2020 Expo, Ruhaab had sent her two of her products to be displayed at the event.
In 2021, she served Shahi Sheera in more than 100 weddings in just four months in the entire Jammu and Kashmir.
Shahi Sheera is served in four different varieties: Apricot, red berry, blackberry and mixed berry.
Ruhaab said that apricots for her Shahi Sheera are transported from Kargil which is known for high-quality apricot production. Apricots are rich in vitamins but low in calories.
“Initially, my family didn’t understand what I was doing. It was out of the context for them, but my mother supported me a lot,” says Ruhaab.
“On my sister’s engagement, I offered the Sheera over the basal drink. It is a proper balance of taste and health. All the guests loved the drink and praised my work,” she says.
In 2021, she got married and her husband and in- laws extended their support to this venture.
“This Sheera is refreshing and tested in all age groups. It is a natural drink with no preservatives and sugar,” she says.
Ruhaab has admitted herself to a food processing course in order to have full knowledge of the canning process. In addition to Shahi Sheera, she also introduced Murabba Behi (Quince jam) and many other products are in queue. This Murabba Behi is made with ancient traditional recipes without adding any preservatives, colours, or flavours to it.
Recently, a three-day food- cum- cultural festival ‘Eid Saal-2022’ was held at the University of Kashmir with massive participation of entrepreneurs. It was organized by the Department of Management Studies to promote entrepreneurial skills among the students. Entrepreneurs from different parts of Kashmir set up their stalls to promote their talent and products.
Ruhaab also participated in the event and once again introduced her Shahi Sheera and Murabba Behi.
“Since the drink has all the health benefits and there is no compromise in the taste which makes it unique and fit to compete with other products in the international market, I thought of promoting it,” she says.
“I work independently for small orders, but for big orders, I have appointed a small group of female entrepreneurs. My focus is to introduce ancient and authentic Kashmiri cultural cuisine and export them throughout the world, for which, I am preparing for a larger manufacturing unit in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir,” she concludes.