Jammu and Kashmir, the ‘Crown of Indian Sub-continent’ truly a paradise on Earth.
Apart from its well painted rich culture, serene snow-capped mountainous landscapes, astounding flora and fauna, and warm and welcoming people, despite many communal conflicts, militancy issues, and a political turmoil, Jammu and Kashmir have retained it rich and unique culture, something which is never found in other parts of the country!
Jammu and Kashmir are also famous for their delectable and piquant cuisine.
Jammu and Kashmir Food Culture
The Jammu Kashmir Food Culture is unique and much different from the rest of the country.
It has a wide variety of mouth-watering dishes that are filled with a medley of authentic flavours.
Kashmir is a paradise for every meat and sweet lover! Most of the dishes are prepared with the delicate and tender meat of lambs or goats.
Many Jammu and Kashmir food items have a plentiful quantity of nuts and dry fruits like Almonds, Walnuts, Dates, Pistachios, and Dried Figs.
Kashmir is famous for its rich produce of saffron worldwide.
Generous quantities of saffron and dry fruits in their dishes honestly give it a royal touch.
Each meal takes hours to be prepared and has a tedious making process.
But the hustle is worth it because the Kashmiris are real foodies. They enjoy a variety of heavy and filling meals.
To combat the chilling cold climates, they often offer large portions of food.
The Jammu and Kashmir Food Culture primarily consists of Rice along with meat gravy.
Rice is the staple food in Kashmir due to the extensive cultivation of the crop in Jammu.
The Kashmiris are very particular when it comes to following their meal schedules.
One example would be their tea-time routine, which they religiously maintain. A sweet dish is considered a must-have after every meal.
Here is a list of 10 dishes which you must-try on your next trip to paradise.
1. Rogan Josh
The name that pops into everyone’s head as soon as they hear the term Jammu And Kashmir Food is Rogan Josh.
The term Rogan Josh is made up of two Persian terms ‘Rogan’ which mean Oil and ‘Josh’ which means heat or passion.
The term ‘Rogan’ also means ‘Red Colour’. The name itself tells us a lot about the dish and its flavour.
Rogan Josh is an aromatic curry of Persian- Kashmiri Origin.
It is traditionally prepared with red meat (goat meat or lamb meat) as the core ingredient.
Spiced and coloured with sizzling Kashmiri Red Chillies, Rogan Josh is perfect for anyone who loves a kick of spice in their meat gravy.
The authentic Rogan Josh guarantees a mouth-melting texture of the meat.
Rogan Josh can be relished upon with a variety of Indian Flatbreads like Parathas or Naans.
Some people prefer having the gravy with steamed rice. A side of chopped onions or cabbage slaw complements well with its rich gravy.
2. Seekh Kebab
Kebabs are popular in every corner of the world, but have you heard of Seekh Kebab?
Seekh Kebabs in the valley are a must-try! There is no other place where you can get as authentic and mouth-melting Seekh Kebabs as in Kashmir.
These Kebabs are cylindrical-shaped kebabs made with spiced minced or ground meat- usually Beef, Lamb, Goat, or Chicken.
They are put onto skewers and are cooked traditionally on a Mangal (Barbecue) or inside a Tandoor.
The most authentic Seekh Kebabs are soft, succulent, and mouth-melting.
Seasoned with various spices such as ginger, garlic, green chilli pepper, powdered chilli, and Garam Masala, dressed with lemon juice, cilantro, and mint leaves, the Kebabs are packed with authentic flavours.
Many often confuse Seekh Kebab with Shish Kebab- a dish of Turkish origin in which the meat is chopped into cubes and put onto skewers with vegetables.
Seekh Kebabs can be eaten in many ways. Some prefer sliding the piping hot kebabs from the skewers to their dishes and eating them without any side while some relish on the kebabs as a side to their main dish of Rice and Meat Gravy.
Another popular way in which Seekh Kebabs are eaten is by wrapping them in a piece of hot, fluffy flatbread topped with yogurt-mint chutney and a small portion of finely chopped cilantro and onions.
Where to have the best Seekh Kebabs in Kashmir?
If you wish to taste the most authentic Seekh Kebabs in Kashmir, the best places to visit are either a road-side cart or a local restaurant situated in the interiors of the city, away from the city centre.
The road-side vendors serve a plate of four or six long kebabs with a free side of Roti (Flatbread), pickled onion, lemon, and yogurt-mint chutney.
At the local restaurant, you can order a plate of kebabs as a side with your spicy meat gravy and steamed rice.
I assure you that the taste of the juicy kebabs will tingle on your tongue for days after you relish on them. Afterall, Seekh Kebabs are what defines the true Kashmiri Food Culture!
Rista is a mouth-watering Kashmiri dish of the Wazwan (the multi-course Kashmiri meal which has a tediously long process of preparation and is considered an art.)
Prepared with utmost attention to detail, the masterpiece consists of soft, tender and juicy meatballs dropped in fiery red gravy made of Kashmiri Red Chillies.
The meatballs are approximately the size of a cricket ball.
The spice hits right on point and leaves you searching for a glass of water.
Rista is usually eaten with piping hot steamed rice.
Yogurt or Raita can be eaten as accompaniments to cool down the fire set in your mouth.
The relation between Rista and his chef can be compared to the relation between a painting and its artist!
Gushtaba is an integral part of the Kashmiri Wazwan just like Rista.
It’s a curry made with Yogurt and Kashmiri spices. The huge, juicy, and tender meatballs melt in your mouth.
If you wish to eat a less spicy version of meatball curry, Gushtaba is made for you.
It involves a tedious making process, but just one bite of the dish will bring a smile on your lips.
Gushtaba tastes best with steamed rice. If you don’t want to eat rice, you can order Paratha or Naan (types of Indian flatbreads) as a substitute.
5. Dum Aloo
Here comes the good news for vegetarian foodies!
If you think that, being a vegetarian, you will have to survive on Instant Noodles in the Kashmir Valley, you are wrong. Kashmiri cuisine consists of some of the finest vegetarian dishes.
Although there are very few vegetarian dishes in the traditional Jammu and Kashmir food, all of them leave you licking your fingers.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo is a potato-based dish of the Kashmiri Pandits (Aloo means Potato in Hindi).
Made with baby potatoes, it has a perfect balance of authentic spices like Red Chilli Powder, Cinnamon, fennel and Garam Masala. Dum Aloo is prepared in two styles – with gravy or without gravy.
The gravy preparation consists of fried potatoes which are further slow cooked in tomato-based gravy with cream.
The dry preparation consists of fried potatoes tossed and slow cooked in oil and spices like Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder, Bay Leaf and Coriander powder.
Dum Aloo tastes best with Indian flatbreads like Paratha, Naan or Roti.
6. Kashmiri Saag
The word ‘Saag’ is used for Spinach or any other leafy vegetable.
Kashmiri Saag is made up of Haak (Collard Greens), a green leafy vegetable that is nearly identical to Spinach.
It’s an authentic recipe of the Kashmiri Pandits, who eat Saag as a side dish.
Prepared in mustard oil with several cloves of Garlic, it tastes very different from the good old spinach or Sarso Ka Saag which is popular elsewhere! It’s a seasonal dish and is high in vitamins and minerals.
The green colour of the Saag makes the dish look extremely moreish.
Saag tastes best with Paratha or Roti if you wish to eat it as a main. It will taste great only when it is piping hot.
Thus make sure that you eat it as soon as it is brought out of the kitchen.
You will find the freshest Saag at roadside restaurants rather than the star-rated restaurants.
7. Kashmiri Pulao
One of the most amazing dishes of the Jammu and Kashmir food is the Kashmiri Pulao. Pulao is a rice dish cooked in stock, with spices and meat or vegetables.
Kashmiri Pulao is a bit different from other types of Pulao. Unlike any other Pulao, it usually has no vegetables or meat.
It is filled with dry fruits, saffron, pomegranate seeds, and authentic spices like bay leaf, cardamom, and clove.
The dry fruits and the fresh pomegranate seeds give it a faintly sweet taste.
There have been many discussions about whether Kashmiri Pulao is traditionally more on a sweeter side or more on a spicier side.
The Pulao which I had in Kashmir had a tinge of sweetness but was more on a spicy side.
It had a bag of spices in it.
It is believed that the dry fruits are added to give warmth to the person eating it as Jammu and Kashmir is known for its chilly weather.
8. Kahwa (Kashmiri Tea)
Your trip to the paradise is incomplete without taking a sip of the royal Kahwa – the famous tea of Kashmir.
Sipping on the hot tea occasionally helps to keep you warm in the brisk weather of the valley.
Made by boiling green tea leaves in strands of exotic saffron, cardamom pods, dried rose petals, sugar or honey, and chopped dry fruits like almonds or walnuts, Kahwa refreshes you and aids in digestion too.
It is traditionally prepared in a copper kettle called Samovar.
The ‘tea time’ is given special importance by the Kashmiris and their teas are quintessentially complex, yet interestingly simple.
The teas are sipped along with delicious snacks like Shangram (a sweet and crispy snack made with Semolina, Flour, Clarified Butter and Sugar) and Nadru Monje (deep-fried crispy lotus stem fritters).
The best time and place to sip on Kahwa is on a Shikhara (Kashmiri Boat) in the middle of the Dal Lake, at around 5 pm, when the chilly winds are blowing swiftly.
A cup of Kahwa gives you the warmth required to fight the cold winds.
Here, there are Kahwa vendors in the Dal Lake who come to your boat and serve you the Kahwa.
One cup of Kahwa costs just Rs. 15 in the Dal Lake.
9. Nadru Monje
Nadru Monje is the local name for lotus stem fritters which is a crispy, deep-fried, savoury Kashmiri tea-time snack and street food.
On many streets of Kashmir, you will find Nadru Monje vendors frying the lotus stems which have been spiced with the signature Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder and Cumin, and dredged in rice flour.
They look just like French fries smeared with Buffalo Sauce but have a spicy taste and a crunchy texture.
Nadru Monje is usually eaten in the evening as a snack and the best Nadru Monje can be found on the streets in the marketplaces of Srinagar and Pahalgam.
No Kashmiri meal is complete without a sweet dish.
Phirni is the best sweet dish you can have in Kashmir.
In some places in Kashmir, it is called Kong Phirin. Kashmiri Phirni is made with Semolina and flavoured with sugar, cardamom and Saffron.
The delectable desert is set and served in small earthen dishes topped with a couple of strands of Saffron and pieces of chopped almonds.
This creamy yet light desert is a perfect way to end your heavy meal!
The Jammu Kashmir Food Culture is undoubtedly the most royal in entire India since the dishes are made with some of the richest ingredients in the culinary world.
The variety of flavours in the food leaves you intrigued.
The Kashmiri food that you find at the local spots in the valley cannot be replaced by the Kashmiri food in five-star restaurants.
I would personally suggest you The Linz Café in Srinagar- a place where you can relish the best versions of almost all of the above-mentioned dishes.
Also a piece of friendly advice- you will be served generous portions of food at any eatery in Kashmir.
If you are a light eater, check the portion of the food with the hotel manager and then order accordingly.
If you are a foodie and a hodophile, you must visit Jammu and Kashmir at least once in your lifetime.
You will be awestruck by its beauty as well as its food and culture.
So what are you waiting for? Sit down and plan your next trip to the valley soon!