Return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley may be mired in politics,but a Pandit food festival in Srinagar is making many nostalgic about a shared cultural past.
The festival,coinciding with the annual Pandit pilgrimage to Kheerbhawani shrine,is attracting a large number of local Muslims. This festival has made me realise that our food is more diverse than wazwan, says Irfan Ahmad,a Kashmir University student helping himself to a mixed combo feast of Palak Te Kakur and Nader Yakhni. I wonder how this amazing cuisine has not got the attention it deserves.
The festival that began on June 22 is being held at Peerzoo,an open wooden restaurant by Jhelum river. One can choose from an assorted menu of veg,non-veg and mixed combo. The delicacies include Nene Yakhin,Choak Charvan,Ranith Gadhe,Chamani Qaliya,Dama Oluv. And if that wasnt mouth-watering enough,it is very cheap four-five dishes for Rs 200-300. And then there are music programmes to make it an unforgettable experience.
The food is prepared by students of Kashmirs Institute of Hotel Management,who are supervised by the Delhi-based master chef Amarnath.
Tariq Ahmad Mir,the brain behind the festival is delighted by the overwhelming response. A large number of customers,Mir says,are 20-something Muslim boys and girls for whom the food has been a window to a syncretic Kashmiri culture where Muslims and Pandits lived side by side.
The purpose behind organising this festival is not only about offering variety to our customers but also about rediscovering our forgotten traditional food, Mir says. While food has been a delight for our customers,it has also generated some feeling of loss of something uniquely Kashmiri. There is certainly nostalgia in air.
J&K Minister of State for Tourism Nasir Aslam Wani,who threw open festival,says it will revive the culinary diversity of the valley. This festival is needed at a time the tourist season is at its peak. This helps highlight an aspect of the rich culture of the valley, he says. Ethnic foods of Kashmir like Pandit cuisine define a way of life.
There is little difference in the preparation or even names of Pandit and Muslim delicacies. Pandits use a lot of turmeric,yoghurt and asafetida or hing but no garlic and onion,the staple of of Muslim preparations.