For centuries, locals in landlocked Kashmir used to relish dried vegetables, smoked fish and wild herbs to survive during the extreme winter. The tradition lives on even today.
While fast-food is taking over the markets and kitchens in Kashmir, but there are still many homes through which tantalizing aroma of dried vegetable meals waft.
Dried brinjals, Tomatoes, pumpkins, Dried fish, Dandelion greens or Asteraceae (handh in Kashmiri), Dried turnips, smoked fish are still stored in homes only to use them during the winter months.
Recalling the age-old practice of drying vegetables, historian and poet, Zareef Ahmad Zareef said the process of drying isn’t that simple as it sounds.
“The different vegetables require different techniques to be dried and preserved properly. It has to be taken care of that the vegetables don’t rot or get spoiled. The aroma of dried brinjal scaling, dried tomato and lean mutton cooked on firewood-lit hearths is something the young generation of Kashmir have heard of but has not witnessed it,” Zareef said.
Winter delicacies were more hygienic because of less pollution in Kashmir.
Doctors also advise intake of dried vegetables for medicinal values.
“It is not only for their roughage value that Kashmiris eat dried vegetables,” said Dr Irshad at SKIMS.
He said some of the vegetables and herbs are grown in the wild are also consumed for medicinal use and also have great medicinal values such as treating back pain, common-cold and chest infections.
“It’s also known to build the immunity of a person,” said Dr Irshad.
Muhammad Shafi Bhat has been selling dried vegetables in Qaziyar Zainakadal area of old city Srinagar since past 20 years. His father was also engaged in this trade.
“Kashmir is very well-known for its harsh winter. Back to the time when Kashmir used to remain cut off from rest of the world the practice of sun-dry vegetables and other winter foods started,” he said.
Ali Muhammad, another seller at Aali Kadal area of an old city, says the process of drying vegetables starts in June-July.
“People don’t buy these things now with the same enthusiasm as they used to in the past. Still, by the grace of Allah, I earn enough to live honestly. The sale of these dried vegetables starts from the month of November,’’Muhammad, who sells dried vegetables said.
Some of the vegetables and herbs grown in the wild are also consumed for their medicinal value.
“Iberian knapweed, grown in the wild and locally known as ‘kraich’, is dried and eaten as it is believed to be good for the eyesight. Similarly, dandelion, known as ‘hand’, is given to anaemic patients as it is rich in iron. ‘Buem’ or star lotus is believed to be good for arthritis patients as it relieves the swelling of joints,” Iqra, a botany student at University of Kashmir, told Mudasir Majeed