Srinagar: “It’s tasty and mesmerising,” said Yagnik Chaudhary of Surat when he tasted Kashmiri Rajma dish at winter food festival at tourist hub Bhuj area of Kutch in Gujarat.
“I have never had such a tasty dish Rajma chat,” he said. The Kashmiri ethnic vegetarian stall at winter festival organised by the Living Learning and Design Centre (LLDC) and Shrujan Trust was thronged by visitors for five days.
The Kashmiri stall prepared ethnic dishes like Wangan Hache Mong Daal, Razma Gogge, Gogge Haakh Tamatar Pran Fried Rice with Nadru, Makki Ka Halwa, Quince Apple Halwa, Rumah Dal, Rumah Masala snacks and sweet dish Fernee.
Another visitor Kaushal Vohra was mesmerised after having quince apple halwa. “An overwhelmed by its taste. I liked its spongy and sweet and sour,” he said.
“Most of the visitors liked ethic food at Kashmiri food stall. They had prepared so many novel varieties,” Kuntal Bhatti, cafeteria head LLDC told Greater Kashmir.
The festival was attended by a large number of participants which included the pastoral groups, artisans, sufi singers, musicians and food enthusiasts from around 16 states. During the festival, almost 10 food stalls from different states and union territories had been set up. The stall from Kashmir was set up by Centre for Conservation of Culture and Heritage (CCCH) and some Kashmiri activists working for promotion of forest and Kashmiri ethnic vegetable food.
“Kashmiri stall had new dishes everyday. The unique thing about the stall was that dishes were prepared live and ingredients used in these delicacies were also displayed. Visitors liked Kehwa, traditional Kashmiri drink, very much,” said Nikita, a volunteer from Bhuj who was deputed at Kashmir stall.
The Kashmiri group was led by social activist Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat. “We got received tremendous response from people from Gujarat and other states. In fact several people and institutions including various hotel management institutes invited us to organise Kashmiri food festivals,” Bhat said. He said visitors like Rumah Dal, which is friend rice based on Shallots (Pran) and nadru, made of lotus stem. Bhat, who has organised several ethnic food festivals in Kashmir, was invited by Sahjeevan, a Kuch based NGO working for pastoralists. He was asked to accompany some youth from Chopan community (Kashmiri shepherds) to the festival.
As Sahjeevan coordinator Ramesh Bhatti was familiar with his cooking skills, he asked Bhat to prepare Kashmiri food during the event. Later the LLDC formally invited him. With less time, Bhat went shopping in Downtown Srinagar to purchase traditional Kashmiri dried vegetables and spices. After hectic efforts, Bhat purchased dried vegetables, spices and lentils, dals like Rajma, Rumah, Pran (Shallots), Ale-Hachhe (sun dried bottle gourd), Wangan Hachhe (sun dried Brinjal), Ruwangan Hachee, Bamchoonth Hache (Sun Dried Quince apple) and dry fruits among other things.
“During the festival, our group served as many as ten Kashmiri vegetarian dishes like Rumah Dal, Rajma Dal, Rumah Masala, Rajma Salad/Chat, Bamchhonth Halwa, Gogee Haakh, Nader Pakoda, Nader Fried Rice, Pran Fried Rice, Makai Halwa with desi ghee and walnuts, badam and much more.”
Bhat said there is need to promote traditional dishes of Kashmir. “There is a wrong perception that Kashmiris only eat meat dishes. Kashmir produces tons of vegetables and forest produce which only need promotion,” he said.
Bhat got the idea to promote Kashmir’s ethnic vegetarian food in 2015. He had accompanied O P Sharma the then Additional Principal Chief Conservator Forests (APCCF) to Basant Wodder forests near Doodh Pathri in Budgam.
“When OP Sharma spoke about various forest herbs and edible green leafy vegetables like Hand, Krech, Obej, Pamb Haakh, Lissa , mushrooms, I suggested that we organise a small food festival wherein we can cook and serve the same leafy forest vegetables and mushrooms to people.”
The idea got converted into reality. On October 4, 2015, the first-ever Forest Food Festival was finally organised in Srinagar by the Department of Environment Ecology and Remote Sensing in association with Centre for Conservation of Culture and Heritage (CCCH). In 2019, two more Forest Food Festivals were organised in Yusmarg and Gurez. During COVID lockdown, Bhat created novel dishes from ethnic menu. “We have chefs and abundant vegetables and traditional spices in Kashmir,” he said.
Tourists visiting Kashmir eat vegetarian food “but don’t get authentic Kashmiri vegetarian food at restaurants.” Bhat said vegetarian menus are restricted to Punjabi cuisine like Dal Makhani or Aaloo Parathas. “This is misperceived as the authentic vegetarian food of Kashmir. This also gives a notion that Kashmiri cuisine does not have any vegetarian options.” There is tremendous scope for marketing Kashmiri vegetarian dishes at local, national and international levels. I hope that government and stakeholders will help to promote Kashmir’s ethic vegetarian delicacies,” Bhat added.