Must Buys Shopping List From Kashmir

The northernmost state of India is often in the news for political turmoil and instability. But it is also one of the most resourceful and artistic parts of the world.

Growing up in the city of Chandigarh, my family would often buy products from Kashmiri vendors going door to door, carrying wool carpets, pashmina shawls and embroidered tunics in the back of cycle rickshaws. We thought their stuff was so exotic! It was a prized possession to own a handwoven a Kashmiri carpet even 30 years ago.

During my recent visit to Kashmir, I was able to put a face to the goods. I visited weavers living and working in their one room shacks; watched how they sat on the floor for hours at a time, working on the same carpet for up to 3 years. It was laborious and caused eye and back problems, yet that was a skill passed on from generations that employed them. I had a new found appreciate for the craft.

Here are few things you must buy from Kashmir:

Saffron (kesar) – Kashmir is one of the few places in the world that grows saffron and you will have to travel to a saffron farm near Pampore Fields, a few miles out of Srinagar. Watch fields filled with purple flowers blooming in October. Saffron is used in many Kashmiri dishes and desserts. Every household and shop in Kashmir will serve guests kahwa, green tea made with saffron and almonds.

Dried Fruits and Nuts (mewa) – Most families in rural Kashmir own fruit and nut farms, which they sell to wholesalers to sustain themselves. Walnut trees are abundant in the Kashmir valley, producing some of the finest quality organic nuts in the world. Kashmiri almonds are much smaller than California ones, but are richer with nutrients as they have more Omega 3s. Also, you can buy golden raisins, dried apricots, blueberries, and more.

Cashmere (pashmina) – Pashmina has become a household name but the fine wool textile was first woven in Kashmir and is known as “soft gold” because of it’s high value. The wool from Changthangi goats found in this region is hand spun and woven to make fine cashmere stoles (shawls), scarves and carpets. It requires a lot of patience and skill to make these products, and many Kashmiris rely on their livelihood from sales abroad.

Copper (tamba) – Mined locally from the mountains of Aismuqum in the Lidder valley of Kashmir, copper is used to make kitchen utensils and home decorations. In Old Town Srinagar, you will find shops stacked with bowls, ladles, pots and plates along with decorative water jugs. Also, most traditional Kashmiri dishes are still cooked in huge copper pots.

Wood Work – Intricately carved walnut wood furniture is an important craft in this part of the world. You will see wood balconies walking through Lal Chowk or Badshah chowk, as well as wooden beds and chairs at homes. Traditional Indian cricket bats are also manufactured in Kashmir from the wood of the willow tree, and are considered to be of the highest standard preferred by international sportsmen.

Papier-Mâché – This handicraft was brought to Kashmir by the Persians and makes for affordable gifts and decorations. Made at home and at small workshops, artisans use paper pulp to make vases, bowls, boxes and trays.

Jewelry – Kashmiri women wear lots of heavy pieces of silver chokers, long dangling earrings and headdresses, which you can find at most jewelry shops. Also found locally are Kashmiri Lac (resinous substance) necklaces, bracelets and hairpins. If you can lay your hands on it, buy the rarest sapphire in the world – Doda Sapphire, which is only found in Kashmir.

Kashmiri handicraft stores and Government run emporiums are found throughout India. But if you want to meet the artists and buy good directly from the source, plan a visit to Kashmir by contacting Go Eat Give.

My host in Kashmir during my visit in August 2018 was Ahad Hotels and Resorts.

You Have to Eat These 15 Dishes in Kashmir

If you love grilled meats, fresh breads, fragrant rice dishes and curries rich with spices – you will love Kashmiri food. Kashmir is the northernmost state in India, bordering with Pakistan to its west and China to the east. The food is influenced by Persia, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. However, it is unique in itself.

Here are some dishes you must try during your next visit to Kashmir.

Kahwah – Traditional green tea brewed with saffron, and topped with chopped almonds. You can add sugar or honey as needed. Every hotel, shop and home will welcome guests with a cup of hot kahwah. While the best tea I tasted was at someone’s home in Srinagar, I liked the variety of breads served alongside at Hotel Heevan in Pahalgam. You can also order high tea outside in the lawn overlooking the Lidder River.

Girda – A typical Kashmiri breakfast consists of nun chai (salty pink tea) along with a piece of fresh baked bread such as girda (round yeast bread), lavas (unleavened bread), baquerkhani (puff pastry pictured above), and tsot. In downtown Srinagar, you can find old bakeries elaborately stacked with breads early in the morning.

Nadru – Because of the many lakes around Kashmir valley, lotus is grown in abundance. The locals cook lotus root in a verity of dishes and these thinly battered and fried lotus root cutlets sprinkled with garam masala are delicious. Serve them as an appetizer with a creamy walnut chutney. Try it at Welcomehotel Pine-N-Peak in Pahalgam. I also had lotus root cooked in yogurt sauce (nadru yakhni), which was a simple, light and tasty vegetarian dish.

Kashmiri Pulao – Kashmiri rice is very different from traditional Basmati. It is thicker and shorter locally grown variety, which is rich in starch and nutrients. Rice is a staple in Kashmir and cooked in different kinds of pulaos and biryanis. This is the most common one, cooked with a bit of saffron, spices, nuts and dried fruits. You can eat it on its own or pair it with a curry. The best one I tasted was at Dilkusha restaurant in Pahalgam.

Rajma – The red kidney bean stew is common in most of India, though the Kashmiri rajma is different. The beans are darker in color, smaller and of heirloom variety. It is less spicy, and cooked with tomatoes and red chilies to add a deeper red color. The riverfront Hotel Heevan in Pahalgam cooked this especially for us.

Saag/ Haak – Unlike what most Indian restaurants serve as saag, in Kashmir saag refers to a variety of greens including cabbage, broccoli, kale and kohlrabi. These are cooked with lots of mustard oil and dried red chilies. At Ahdoos restaurant in Srinagar.

Gucci – These local morel mushrooms are found only in the damp forests, sort of like truffles. They cannot be grown and cost up to $500/ kg when discovered in season. The flavor is very earthy and dry, but this gucchi and peas curry is a must try with flaky parathas. Order it at Lolaab in Pahalgam.

Dum Aloo – This dish originated from the traditional Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. The small potatoes are deep friend, and then simmered on a low fame with about a dozen spices. Try it at Fortune Resort Heevan in Srinagar.

Seekh KebabNo meal in Kashmir is complete without meat, mostly lamb. You will often find a variety of kebabs, meat curries or rice biryanis. These spiced ground lamb skewers are a popular appetizer at Cafe Chinar restaurant in Srinagar. Make it a meal with thin roomali (handkerchief roti).

Waza Chicken – A Wazwan is a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition prepared in copper utensils by a traditional vasta waza, or head chef, with the assistance of a court of wazas, or chefs. These dishes are typically cooked at weddings and parties, but available at restaurants as well. I tried the waza chicken – fried chicken, cooked in in red curry at Dilkhusa restaurant in Gulmarg, as well as a few other places.

Kokur Yakhni – The bone-in chicken pieces are simmered in yogurt and garnished with fennel and lots of dry mint. The sauce is a bit runny with lemony flavor, and pairs well with steamed rice. Heevan Retreat‘s Dilkhusa restaurant in Gulmarg.

Kofta – Though kofta (meatball) is a popular dish in Kashmiri cuisine generally made with lamb or goat, I tried a version with fresh fish at Fortune Resort Heevan’s Earthen Oven in Srinagar. The local snapper was minced, shaped into balls and steamed, floating in a creamy sweet and spicy sauce.

Kashmiri naan – This flatbread is very different than the garlic or butter naans you may have had before. Though baked in a traditional tandoor (clay oven), it is more like a pizza that you can eat it by itself. This one at Ahdoos restaurant in Srinagar was topped with cashews, raisins, coconut and cocktail fruits.

Kashmiri Halva – Most of the time in Kashmir I was too full with my meal to think about dessert, but my waiter at Heevan Hotel in Gulmarg insisted that I try their Kashmiri halva, and I am so glad that I did! Cooked with ghee (clarified butter), sooji (semolina) and water, topped with almonds, raisins and coconut flakes, this was one of the best halvas I had. I recommend ordering this for breakfast as it is quite rich.

Phirni – Now I had phirni many times before and my favorite was a thick white color rice pudding served chilled in a clay pot at some muslim owned restaurants in Old Delhi. But the Kashmiri version I had at Fortune Resort Heevan in Srinagar was made with semolina instead of rice, runny and served warm. It was also yellow from the saffron.

Of course there are far more dishes in Kashmiri cuisine that I didn’t get to try, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s just a good starting point for your next visit to Kashmir.

Have you tried a Kashmiri dish not listed above?