Takeaway

Bread, butter and bakerkhani

Riyaz Wani | Updated on January 11, 2018
Two to tango A slew of new bakeries, in the last five years, has tweaked and improvised Kashmiri breads and bakes. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Two to tango A slew of new bakeries, in the last five years, has tweaked and improvised Kashmiri breads and bakes. Photo: Nissar Ahmad   -  The Hindu

Happily ever after: A slew of new bakeries, in the last five years, has tweaked and improvised popular Kashmiri breads and bakes to adapt to the taste of tourists and young Kashmiris. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Happily ever after: A slew of new bakeries, in the last five years, has tweaked and improvised popular Kashmiri breads and bakes to adapt to the taste of tourists and young Kashmiris. Photo: Nissar Ahmad   -  The Hindu

Pick-me-ups: Cookies, puffs, breads baked in tandoors and buttery puffs — a traditional Kashmiri bakery has its counters full. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Pick-me-ups: Cookies, puffs, breads baked in tandoors and buttery puffs — a traditional Kashmiri bakery has its counters full. Photo: Nissar Ahmad   -  The Hindu

Look beyond the chinars and shikaras, and the bakeries are where you will also find Kashmir

In the days leading to Eid, when people make a beeline for Ahdoos, a bustling restaurant-cum-bakery in Srinagar, a section of the city’s population is displeased. The mad rush for bread, they argue, sits uneasily with the Valley’s lingering troubled state of affairs and its unconscionable toll on life and property.

This sentiment, though familiar to many, doesn’t hamper the festival tradition of stocking up on breads and biscuits from Ahdoos and Srinagar’s other famous city bakeries such as Jee Enn and Mughal Darbar. Queues start days before Eid but they lengthen and turn chaotic closer to the festival date. The troubled situation notwithstanding, the Valley cannot do without its breads and bakeries, and there is a whole assortment of them. People buy bakerkhanis, puffs, kulchas in addition to the more recent innovations. And also the chicken and mutton patties for which Ahdoos reigns supreme. These patties fly off the shelves almost as soon as they arrive during festivals, but the demand hardly abates on regular days.

“Our patty is different. We use sauced (sic) meat and add special ingredients that add to its taste,” says Hayat Bhat, the third-generation owner of the bakery which completes a century next year.

In fact, it all began from Ahdoos. Before 1918, Abdul Ahad Bhat, Hayat’s grandfather, was under the tutelage of English bakers at Nedou’s, a hotel in Srinagar owned by Austro-Swiss Michael Nedou.

Ahad quickly picked up the art of baking, a reason for the then maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh to send him for further training to Kolkata. On his return, Ahad started a small bakery, the first by a Kashmiri at the time. The maharaja’s patronage ensured that the bakery soon became famous. No party at his palace — or in the homes of the elites he was surrounded by — was complete without food from Ahdoos.

Initially, Ahdoos’s forte was English goodies — cream rolls, cream buns, fudges, and a variety of pastry. As India inched towards freedom from British rule, Ahad added Kashmiri items to the menu — kulcha, bakerkhani and sheermal. Along the way, he tweaked and improvised the existing varieties. The walnut tart was his creation, made possible by the easy availability of walnut kernels in Kashmir. Soon, Kashmiri dry fruits found their way into Ahad’s cakes and other confections, and helped “indigenise” them. Next on the list was the patty, still the bestselling item at Ahdoos. It’s chicken or mutton seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, encased in layered puff pastry. We don’t know yet what that “special ingredient” is but the result is there for everyone to see.

Fresh bakes

Though birthed and dominated by Ahdoos for several decades, the Valley’s bakery scene has come quite a way. There are many players in the ring, but most owe their provenance to the institution that Ahad bred and buttered. Many of the owners and staff of these new bakeries have trained in Ahdoos.

Mughal Darbar on Residency Road, established in 1984, is a short walk from Ahdoos. Some buyers claim that it has long overtaken the latter in terms of sales. The Darbar version of the sheermal, a flatbread that is popular in some other parts of India as well, is a rich concoction of flour, milk, sugar, ghee, egg, saffron and a handful of other spices. The bread here is baked in a tandoor and is in much demand at weddings and even funerals. It works best with kehwa, a milkless tea infused with cardamom, and served with a dash of saffron and a garnish of chopped almonds.

Darbar also makes an array of kulchas, a brittle round bread daubed with poppy seeds and baked in a tandoor. The kulcha has been an enduring, all-purpose bread, served with tea at family and social functions. Traditionally, kulchas have been savoury, but Darbar has a range of mildly sweet ones, in deference to the “sweet-toothed tourists” from other parts of India. Other varieties include kandi kulcha and samar kulcha, the latter stuffed with dry fruits.

“Besides experts in the kitchen, a good bakery needs quality ingredients. And we ensure this at our establishment,” says Qaiser Ahmad, 41, Darbar’s second-generation owner.

He goes on to share a story behind the bakery’s name, one that comes from his father, the founder. Haji Mohammad Ibrahim Mugloo had a friend he would go cycling with. And this friend wanted to open a bakery by the name of Mughal Darbar. But he died young. “My father fulfilled his dream,” says Ahmad.

On the road parallel to Darbar is Jee Enn, founded by Ghulam Nabi Sofi in 1972. (Jee Enn stands for the initials of the man’s first two names.) Sofi’s father Mohammad Ramzan trained in the same hotel as Ahad of Ahdoos fame. Both Sofi and his son, Latif Ahmad (also the current owner of Jee Enn), worked at Ahdoos before they decided to set up shop. Gee Enn also excels in kulchas other than the very Kashmiri walnut tarts and cookies. And its crisp puffs are now considered to be in the same league as those from the doyen of Srinagar’s bakeries.

Menuspeak

Over the last five years, the slew of new bakeries has altered the way the Valley treats its breads and bakes. Hat Trick is one such name — and it has started a chain across Kashmir (Baramulla, Sopore and Anantnag, for example). 14th Avenue and Just Baked, both in Srinagar, have positioned themselves in the high-end category.

Le Delice, a French-style confectionery on Boulevard, is the brainchild of Kashmiri baker Saqib Mir and his spouse Melanie Mir. Saqib worked in France for 14 years before moving back to Kashmir to start his business. Though Le Delice’s menu is mostly French, it has adapted some Kashmiri items to create a connect with the Valley. One such is the hill puff, a glossy heart-shaped sugary delicacy.

Good Fellas and Chai Jaai, a restaurant and a tea room respectively, sell “custom-made” goods sourced from traditional bakers.

Chai Jaai sells an assortment of Kashmiri teas with local breads, in a Cotswolds-style tea-room setting.

Good Fellas, on the other hand, tweaks traditional items such as kulchas, sheermal, choat (a variant of lavash) and chochwoar (a doughnut), to cater to outsiders who seek traditional bakery items modified to their taste.

“Kashmiri bakes are our identity and USP. Our job is to promote and introduce it to the world,” says Good Fellas owner Mujtaba Rizvi who did his master’s in creative and cultural entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths, London, before returning to Srinagar. “Selling traditional bakery at high-end restaurants is part of this trend. People in the food business know the value of tradition, both metaphorically and literally.”

Riyaz Wani is a journalist based in Srinagar

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Published on May 05, 2017
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