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Delicious bakery products hold special place in Kashmir cuisine

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Kashmir cuisine
Freshly baked Kashmiri 'bagel bread' Tilwor, also known as Chochwor. Image source: blogspot.com

Srinagar: Kashmir’s cuisine speaks for itself. Although it brings to mind Kashmir’s famous multi-course meal Wazwan, connoisseurs believe there’s a mind-boggling variety of traditional bakery products available in the state.

Very few outsiders would know that the Valley bakes products, known for their unique taste, prepared in a traditional tandoor by bakers called “kandhurs”.

These professional bakers are in the trade for generations.

For instance, there is choatt, flatbread with thick edges and furrowed surfaces, and lavaasa, a lighter variation of pita bread which the locals enjoy with a salted tea called noon chai.

Kandhurs prepare bread in tandoors, imprinting their fingertips on the dough before putting it in the oven. They use long iron rods to pluck out the hot choatt from the tandoor’s inner surface.

Lavaasa, being lighter and thinner, is prepared by placing it on a round mound of cloth filled with cotton, a round, pillow-shaped surface. The lavaasa is stretched upon it and then pasted on to the hot oven.

“Lavassa is a paper-thin blistered naan. One can also apply butter or jam to it before eating,” Ghulam Muhammad in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, better known as Gull Kandhur, told reporters.

Some lavassas are soft while others are crisp. It is also eaten as a wrap around barbequed mutton.

Chochwour, a bagel-like bread, generously daubed with sesame seeds and given a glazy look by rubbing it with pasteurised butter is another favourite of Kashmiris and is preferred with afternoon tea.

Other delicacies include British-era puffs, patties, cream rolls, pastries, stuffed kulcha (oven baked), mittha bundhh (sweet bun) and bundhh (salted bun).

“There are many types of traditional breads like baqerkhani (more like puff pastry, baked in layers and often served with the famous Kashmiri saffron-flavored kehwa), katlam (usually crispy and thin) and sheermaal, a dry, crispy bread with a long shelf life,” said Mushtaq Ahmed, a seventh generation traditional baker who runs a bakery shop in Chadoora town of central Kashmir.

Besides these breads consumed on a regular basis, Kashmir’s bakeries are also famous for specialties like kulchas, modur kulchas, telvarus, khamira rotis and khatais, most sought after on various occasions.

Kashmir, in fact, has a bread and bakery product for every season and every occasion, be it a wedding or a birthday celebration.

“There are nearly a dozen versions of sweet, salty or bland kulchaas (small, hard dry, crispy bread, usually round in shape decorated by placing a peanut in the centre) which are served on special occasions, including during mourning. Kulchas will always be in demand” said Gulzar Ahmed Sofi, who runs both a traditional and a modern bakery in Budgam.

Sofi said traditional Kashmiri bakeries are irreplaceable when it comes to special occasions in the Valley.

“Modern bakeries just won’t make the cut. You cannot serve chocolate pastry and stuff like that during Kashmiri weddings, or any other ceremony for that matter,” he added.

The roath (Kashmiri dry fruit cake) is a delicacy, usually prepared on auspicious occasions such as Muharram.

The evolution of the Kashmir bakeries owes itself to historical influences.

According to local historians, the rulers of Central Asia brought along a change during their reign in Kashmir when different varieties of baked products were introduced in the Valley.

“It was during the golden era of Kashmir, when Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, known as ‘budshah’ ruled, that bakery touched its zenith,” poet and oral historian Zareef Ahmad Zareef told reporters.

Thus, while modern culture has touched and changed almost every aspect of life in Kashmir, the traditional bakeries have withstood the onslaught of modernity and held out against pizzas, burgers and pastries as well as sweets from other parts of the country. (Shamshad Ali, IANS)

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Gourmet Grubs Squirm Onto American Plate

Culinary director, Jeremy Kittelson, says Linger is committed to changing the American palate. “As much as we love beef,” he says, “there’s no scientist who will tell you cattle farming is a sustainable practice. We should eat more insects."

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Food
Andrew takes a tentative taste of baked, salted mealworm at Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch. VOA

A huge shipping container in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, is the home of some of the nation’s smallest livestock. Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch is Colorado’s first and only edible insect farm, and one of fewer than three dozen companies in the U.S. growing insects as human food or animal feed.

Wendy Lu McGill started her company in 2015, and today grows nearly 275 kilos of crickets and mealworms every month. “I want to be part of trying to figure out how to feed ourselves better as we have less land and water and a hotter planet and more people to feed,” she explains.

Wendy Lu McGill raises mealworms and crickets to sell to restaurants and food manufacturers.
Wendy Lu McGill raises mealworms and crickets to sell to restaurants and food manufacturers.

Feeding the world’s appetite for protein through beef and even chicken is unsustainable, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. Protein from bugs is more doable.

On the global menu

Edible insects are a great source of high quality protein and essential minerals such as calcium and iron. Edible grubs — insect larvae — offer all that, plus high quality fat, which is good for brain development.

Insects are part of the diet in many parts of the world. Analysts say the global edible insects market is poised to surpass $710 million by 2024, with some estimates as high as $1.2 billion. And while American consumers comprise a small percentage of that market today, there is growing demand for a variety of insect-infused products.

Thinking small

Amy Franklin is the founder of a non-profit called Farms for Orphans, which is working in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “What we do is farm bugs for food because in other countries where we work, they’re a really, really popular food,” she notes.

In Kinshasa’s markets, vendors sell platters of live wild-caught crickets plus big bowls of pulsating African Palm weevil larvae. These wild insects are only plentiful in certain seasons.

Farms for Orphans works with Congo Relief Mission, FAO in Kinshasa and the University of Kinshasa to set up small-scale palm weevil larvae farms to bring sustainable nutrition and economic empowerment to orphanages. (Courtesy: Farms for Orphans)
Farms for Orphans works with Congo Relief Mission, FAO in Kinshasa and the University of Kinshasa to set up small-scale palm weevil larvae farms to bring sustainable nutrition and economic empowerment to orphanages. (Courtesy: Farms for Orphans). VOA

Franklin’s group helps orphanages grow African Palm weevil larvae year round, in shipping containers. “Most of the orphanages don’t own any land. There really is no opportunity for them to grow a garden or to raise chickens. Insects are a protein source that they can grow in a very small space.”

Changing the American palate

It’s estimated that more than 2 billion people worldwide eat insects every day. And even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that consumption of crickets and mealworms is safe and that they are a natural protein source, many Americans, like Denver grandfather Terry Koelling, remain skeptical. As he and his grandchildren take a tour of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, he admits, “I don’t think they are very appealing, as something to put in your mouth. You see them around dead things, and it just does not appeal to me to eat something that wild.”

Koelling gets adventurous at Linger, a Denver restaurant that has had an insect entree on its menu for three years.

Culinary director, Jeremy Kittelson, says Linger is committed to changing the American palate. “As much as we love beef,” he says, “there’s no scientist who will tell you cattle farming is a sustainable practice. We should eat more insects.”

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And so Koelling takes a forkful of the Cricket Soba Noodle dish, with black ants, sesame seeds and crickets mixed in with green tea soba noodles, and garnished with Chapuline Crickets.

“The seasoning’s great!” he says with surprise, adding, “Seems to me there weren’t enough crickets in it!” (VOA)