Nettle, known as "Soyee" in Kashmiri was, just a few decades back, used to punish students – Soyee Shalakhh as we all know. But can we imagine that the plant has great properties. We can make tea and soups from it once it is dried and cleaned. Earlier I had no such idea but after attending some tree talks organized by veteran naturalist, ecologist and Director of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing O P Sharma (Vidhyarthi) IFS, I came to know that it is edible, and can be made part of our food as well. Similarly I had heard about Machran Chai and Wopal Haakh from my elders, but had never seen them. During this year's World Environment Day (June 5th 2015) programme held at Basant Wodder village in Khansahib on the banks of Shali Gangaa, I suggested O P Sharma ji to have a food festival so that our herbs could be explored and people be educated about them. He agreed and said let it be a forest food festival. Luckily Mr Sharma was posted as Director Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing and when he took over as the director on 26th of August 2015, on the very first day we had a meeting with him and decided to organize this programme at Yusmarg. But due to bad weather and other logistical problems we were not able to do it at Yusmarg. Finally, we requested Principal of Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Srinagar who welcomed this idea and we went ahead with this programme on Oct 4th recently.
During the first ever Forest Food Festival in J&K the dishes were prepared only from the locally available forest herbs which include Soyee, Machran Chai, Lissa, Nunner, Pamb Haakh, Wopal Hakaah, Wan Pran, Mawal, Makki Ataa, Bamm Tchoonth etc. we had Mawal cookies, Pudina cookies and Barfi from Makki. Water Chesnut ataa was the best. Similarly Soyee tea and Soup plus Wopal Haakh Parathas were also found attractive. The live demonstration by village women making makki rotis on mud choola and village potter (Kumhar) making earthenware on his wheel was also hailed by the visitors.
During the festival a tourist namely Neelkanth Phadke from Pune, who had come to the festival along with his family told me that he has been visiting Kashmir from the last many years but he never had these things ealier. He said his family hasn't visited Kashmir to have pepsi, cocoa cola, Aloo Parathaa or dal makhni. Wazwan he said he couldn't have being a vegetarian. "We belong to Jain community and we want only vegetarian food, but unfortunately there is no choice available for vegetarian food in Kashmir and after visiting forest food festival I found 30 dishes of ethnic vegetarian food and I would suggest this food should also be available at different tourist places", Phadke added.
To make this a reality I would appeal Tourism and Forest Department to coordinate with each other so that forest herbs are explored at various tourist destinations and served to tourists in the restaurants. If coke, pepsi and other junk food prepared by MNCs can be made available in Doodh Pathree or Sonamarg why not our rich food? This type of activity could give employment to hundreds of youth in our state and I am very much confident about it ?