Kashmir has long been famous for consuming Houkh Seun (dried vegetables) during winters. Though nowadays, there is an abundance of fresh vegetables, available at our door step; yet people of Kashmir have been consuming dried vegetables for centuries. These sun-dried vegetables are mainly produced in rural areas due to the fact that the majority of villagers have sufficient land available to grow vegetables.
These dried vegetables not only define our identity but are also an essential part of our rich culture. People still in villages cultivate vegetables in profusion during summers and sun-dry many vegetables only to be eaten during harsh winter season.
Unlike present times, people in the past were self-sufficient and did rely mostly on these Houk Seun (dried vegetables) during long winters because due to heavy snowfall in Chillakalan, the only road connectivity to Kashmir valley i.e. Srinagar -Jammu NH would remain cut off for months. During that period, no transportation of food items would happen which led to scarcity of vegetables here.
That would compel people to equip themselves to face the winter vagaries. Though people stored many things, yet, the buffer stock of Houkh Seun would suffice them up to the end of Chill Bachha (last 10 days baby-cold period).
The idea of writing on Houk Seun struck my mind when I saw a small girl asking her mom about a packet of Hochh Hand (dried dandelion leaves) seen inside a famous supermarket at Residency Road in Srinagar.
Even her beloved mother, sadly, did not have the knowledge about these dried vegetables.
Our young generation should know about what we had in the past. And as parents and responsible citizens, it becomes mandatory to leave behind a rich legacy of our culture by passing the wealthy knowledge of our tradition to our new generation.
Nowadays, fresh vegetables have gained an edge over dried vegetables (Houkh Seun) with which our sweet past is connected. These dried vegetables seem to have faded out of the markets.
Nevertheless, anything that fades out of the markets does not necessarily become extinct. People still consume Houkh Seun in Kashmir. In fact, these customary vegetables have become a special liking of our elite class now.
The list of dried vegetables is large. However the popular ones include Ruwangun Hachi (dried tomatoes), Alle Hachi (dried bottle gourds), Wagun Hachi (dried brinjal), Gogji Hachi (dried turnip), Hochh Hand (dried dandelion leaves), Meath (dried fenugreek leaves), Nadur Hachi (dried lotus stem), Kraich (dried Iberian knapweed), Bumchoont Hachi (dried quince), Hokhegade (dried fish), Praan (dried shallot leaves), Phudnah (dried mint leaves), Tsochal (dried mellow leaves) and a variety of Haak (Collard Greens) like Wouste Haak (atriplex-hortensis), Woppal Haak (dipsaeus ineris), Drub Haak (polygonum aviculare), etc.
All these vegetables are sun dried during hot summer season and are stored for the approaching winter. These vegetables are properly washed; some are peeled and cut into different slices before stretched over wooden or plastic trays to dry.
Round slices of Gogji Hachi, Alle Hachi, Bumchoont Hachi, Ruwangun Hachi, Wangun Hachi, etc. are usually threaded in long garlands and hung on the front walls in sunlight. Later, they are stored in dry cloth bags (nowadays machine packed) to be used during winter.
Until a few years back, the sight of garlands of dried vegetables hanging on the walls of houses across Kashmir was a usual scene. But now, these garlands are rarely sighted in villages because our social position has improved in recent years due to education. Nevertheless, in markets these dried vegetable have not ceased at all.
These dried vegetables are mostly produced in villages and get sold in the markets. In past, people both in towns and cities also sun-dried different vegetables.
Although district Budgam is known for the buffer stock and the best quality of dried vegetables, yet markets like Sarai Bala, Maharaj Gunj, Zaina Kadal, in Srinagar are still famous among people for selling these vegetables. In my hometown Baramulla, a range of dried vegetables are sold either in Gade Bazer (fish market) or on both the banks of river Jhelum.
It merits a mention here that these dried-vegetables are cooked at religious festivals as well. There are many auspicious occasions for both Kashmir Muslims and Pandits on which special varieties of Houk Seun are prepared.
Kashmir’s hospitality sector is consistently changing with the new hotels and restaurants coming up with new themes by imitating the West. Serving tourists Kashmiri Wazwan all the time is no doubt good; good is to serve them these customary dried-vegetables so that our tradition can’t get ignored.
We can bring in rich recipes of these dried-vegetables and maintain our cultural ethos. We’ve examples of people even in today’s bustling world who keep alive there tradition. One such bright example is Ahad Group’s Fortune Resort in Shalimar, Srinagar that still maintains and introduces valley’s rich culture to its tourist customers.
These dried vegetables are not only consumed in Kashmir but are also consumed in other countries as well. The European Union countries are the major importers with the largest suppliers being China, USA, Hungary and Poland etc. Back home, tonnes of dried vegetables are sent to Jammu, Delhi, and Ladakh etc.
The Pandits and the Kashmiris in Jammu are the main consumers of these delicacies. They believe that no delicacy can compete with or replace the taste of valley’s fabled dried vegetables.
Every year thousands of tourists who visit Kashmir buy these vegetables to have a new food experience. They in fact pack some dried vegetables on their return journey to relish them later at their edifices.
These dried vegetables are believed to be good for health especially during winter. They help ward off cough, chest conjunctions, cold and fever, etc. Hochh Hand is believed to be rich in iron and beneficial for anemic patients particularly for new mothers.
Kraich is believed to be good for eye-sight. Bumb (star lotus) is believed to be good for arthritis patients as it relives the swelling of joints. Bumchoont is regarded as a cure for cough and chest infections, Pudina is good for body warmth in the cold while Gogji Hachi and Alle Hachi can relieve constipation because of their high fiber content.
I distinctly remember Wangun Hachi (dried aubergine) would bother me with an earache called Kaneh Keejh (Otalgia). I, however, eat all the forms of Houk Seun. I also can’t forget the childhood yummy delicacy of Gogji Hachi & Razma-daal made by my mother.
The present day, Alle Hachi & Maaz recipe, I believe can’t compete with that childhood dish of Houk Seun. “Houk Seun is centuries-old culture in Kashmir,” says noted poet and writer Zareef Ahmad Zareef.
“We’ve been preparing dried vegetables at our home since my childhood and I’m extremely fond of these traditional vegetables.” Veer ji Bhat, a Pandit migrant in Jagti Jammu, in the same vein says, “We migrated to Jammu 3 decades ago, but still have a special love for dried vegetables.”
Manzoor Akash is a teacher, Recipient of Smart Teacher and National Peace Award
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.