Spicing up your taste buds
At a time when traditional Kashmiri specialties particularly pickles are facing threat by fast food boom, an aged pickle maker in Shahr-e-Khas is leaving no stone unturned to preserve the trade as he attracts clients even from abroad for healthy reasons
MOUTH-watering aroma of spices greets the visitors to the modest house of a pickle maker 65 year-old Haji Ghulam Qadir Senoo in a congested but secluded lane of Habba Kadal’s Chandpora locality in Old City.
Sitting amidst loads of all sorts of vegetables, fruits and bags of spices in his kitchen, Senoo is so immersed in preparing the pickles that he is unfazed by the surroundings including the presence of visitors.
A few knocks on his kitchen’s wooden door fail to break his concentration. It is only when one went closer to him that he aborted his job but not without showing his anger wrinkles on his frowned face.
“Yes what you want,” he asks while massaging his white flowing beard. But as I was about to reply, he instantly recognized me as his wrinkles within a flicker of an eye turned into a smile.
“Son, you had last visited my shop in 2004. It has been long time… I know you reporters are mostly attracted by spicy political and law and order stories,” he said with a smile and passionately guided me towards his shop Senoo Pickles.
Senoo lost his wife and two sons during past two decades of turmoil in the Valley. “I had even decided to close my shop, but my passion for making pickles and love of my valued customers made me going on,” he said.
Over the past few years, Senoo who single-handedly runs his shop since 1989 has managed to add lot of varieties with modern package facilities. “You name it, I have it,” he said whiling pointing towards the food grade plastic tumblers— filled with mouthwatering pickles of varied tastes and colors.
Hitting out at the criticizers of pickles, Senoo says that if made with good quality of spices, oil and vegetables, the delicacy is beneficial to the health.
“I procure spices in raw form and grind them myself for making good quality of pickles. I never use the spices sold in attractive packages in market. I guarantee that my pickles can be used for six months without refrigeration or adding artificial preservatives as all its ingredients are pure,” he said.
Enumerating, the health benefits of his pickles, Senoo says many of its varieties can help to control many ailments. He said the garlic pickle prepared by him is most sought after by the customers. “The customers who are suffering with heart aliment, high cholesterol, various kinds of infections and respiratory problems have been benefited by the garlic pickle. There is huge demand for it and I sell it at a nominal rate of Rs 300 per kilogram,” he said.
Similarly he says Bitter gourd (Karela) is beneficial for people suffering from diabetes. “Doctors have told me that the Karela contains juices which are similar to insulin and helps in bringing down sugar levels in blood,” he said.
To prove his point, Senoo asks one of his customers suffering with diabetes to enumerate the change he experienced after eating the Karela pickle. “Regular eating of this pickle has helped me to keep my sugar levels in control,” said Altaf Ahmad of nearby Ganpatyar locality.
Senoo boasts of preparing over 100 varieties of pickles ranging from fish, meat, chicken to mangoes, cherry and Amla—costing between Rs 100 to 400 per kilogram.
“I keep adding more and more varieties to suit the taste of my customers. Each variety has its own taste and medicinal value,” he said.
He recounts that it was the practice of older generation mostly women of Kashmir who used to ensure keeping pickles in menu. “Our ancestors knew the health benefits of pickles. Till few decades ago it was a routine in every household of Kashmir to prepare pickles. But the onslaught of modernity and fast life has drastically affected the practice. Now people mostly our younger generation is attracted to fast food which is not part of our culture neither beneficial to health,” he said.
He takes pride over his art of making pickles. “More than earning money, I make pickles to save this art from extinction and project it as identity of Kashmir. My clientele ranges from common man to VIPs. Even doctors and lawyers are among my valued customers. I regularly send my pickles to noted legal luminary AG Noorani in Mumbai. Through my customers, I send pickles through their relatives and friends in various states and countries including in Middle-East and Bangladesh,” he said.
Senoo minces no words in accusing the concerned authorities for failing to institutionalize the art of pickle making.
“The pickle making has the potential to be developed as an industry and absorbing thousands of unemployed youth. It can also help to earn foreign exchange and help preserving the pickle making which forms an important part of our culture. But is anybody interested?” he asks.