In her new e-book, On The Himalayan Path: Recipes and Tales from Kashmir to Ladakh, British Indian chef Romy Gill shares the earthy and extraordinary dishes she encountered as a part of her journey to the famously distant area in 2021. Merging a travelogue with a cookbook, Gill—who has appeared on the BBC’s “Prepared Regular Cook dinner” and was honored by Queen Elizabeth II with an MBE award—brings the backstory of every dish to life by spotlighting snippets of dialog and portraits of the folks she met alongside the best way.
After I was a toddler in India, rising up in West Bengal, we have been the primary household on our road to get a tv—an unlimited black-and-white affair. Often, we’d invite neighbors and buddies spherical to look at Bollywood films. These have been largely filmed in Kashmir, the valley that was as soon as the summer season capital of the Mughal—which straddles the Himalayas, bordered by Pakistan to the north and west, and China to the east. With its stunningly stunning lakes, snow-capped mountains, and rolling meadows, the panorama appeared like paradise. It was partly these films that have been answerable for my fascination with the distant state, one of many many, various components—every with their very own distinct tradition—that outline the “actual India.” Kashmir felt like a overseas nation to me, and I longed to go to.
It wasn’t simply the lofty mountains and rolling valleys that captured my creativeness: the folks and the meals additionally had an enormous half to play. My father, Santokh Singh Sandhu, labored in a metal plant with colleagues from throughout India, together with a number of households from Kashmir, with whom we shared quite a few meals and celebrations. It meant that I discovered an enormous quantity about their tradition, their faith, their meals, their language, and their values. Yearly, simply earlier than winter got here, Kashmiri merchants would additionally go to our township with shawls, carpets, dried fruits, and apples to promote. I’ve fond reminiscences of my mom stocking up on purchases.
Now, as knowledgeable chef, Kashmir intrigues me for much more causes: the assorted methods of residing, talking, and feasting, and the totally different rituals ingrained into on a regular basis life. In contrast to different locations in India, Kashmir is essentially untouched by overseas and home vacationers, primarily due to its political scenario. In 1947, with the partition of India, each India and Pakistan tried to put declare to Kashmir. Since then, combating over the area has continued, and in 1990, the introduction of recent powers for the army led to nice authorities distrust. In consequence, over 70,000 Kashmiri Pandits fled, and continued to take action for the subsequent decade. With a lot political uncertainty within the area, its delicacies and tradition is more and more tough to entry—however I strongly imagine that it’s a delicacies and tradition the world ought to know extra about. It was essential to journey the components unknown.
In recent times I’ve discovered increasingly more about my house nation by my travels to locations like Leh, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Himachal. I’ve loved the prospect to eat, prepare dinner, and study meals within the firm of native folks and see the area by their eyes. So, once I lastly determined to journey to Kashmir to work on the e-book, it will be no totally different.
I knew it wouldn’t be a simple journey to plan. It was April 2021, and the COVID-19 pandemic had the world in its grip: each nation had its personal journey restrictions and its personal laws as soon as you bought there. Returning to India at a time when the nation’s ever-increasing case charges and deaths have been making world headlines was definitely a threat—however nonetheless, I used to be determined to make the journey.
Anthony Bourdain as soon as mentioned, “If I’m an advocate for something, it’s to maneuver. So far as you may, as a lot as you may. Throughout the ocean, or just throughout the river. […] Stroll in another person’s footwear, or at the very least eat their meals—it’s a plus for everyone.” Nice issues by no means come from staying in your consolation zone. So, I took the plunge, spurred on by Bourdain’s phrases and my imaginative and prescient. As a chef, the journey was an training. The surroundings, the folks, the traditions, the love—and, in fact, the meals—all got here collectively to create a really unimaginable expertise.
I used to be in Srinagar—a big metropolis on the banks of the Jhelum River—once I met Amit, a person who my chef pal Thomas had launched me to. Previously a health care provider, Amit left drugs and now runs a communications company, and Thomas knew he had connections and information that might serve me effectively in attending to know the area, its folks, its meals, and its tradition.
After I lastly obtained the chance to go to Amit’s home for lunch and meet him and his household for the primary time, I used to be showered with a correct Kashmiri Pandit vegetarian feast: hearty dum aloo (child potatoes in a thick, yogurt-based gravy with loads of fennel), Kashmiri haakh (easy greens, which retain just a little chew and have only a trace of chili), katte baigan (a tamarind-infused aubergine dish), paneer kyalia (curd cheese with fragrant spices), and nadru yakhni (lotus stems in an fragrant yogurt gravy), all served with mooli chutney and rice.
All through the meal, I chatted with Amit about Kashmir’s meals, folks, and sweetness. He instructed me about his household’s historical past: his grandfather was Hridai Nath Wanchoo, who was referred to as crucial human rights activist in Kashmir, and labored tirelessly to enhance staff’ rights, healthcare provision, and extra. On Dec. 5, 1992, the day earlier than activists attacked and demolished the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, Wanchoo was assassinated. Within the three days following his dying, Kashmir all however closed down as folks gathered to pay their respects. Even after what occurred to Amit’s household, they stood their floor and remained in Kashmir, in contrast to many others who fled the area within the Nineteen Nineties.
After our wonderful—and thought-provoking—lunch, Amit took us to fulfill a group of wazas (specifically educated cooks), who have been cooking for a celebration. Preparation for a wazwan is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and care have to be taken to get the whole lot excellent. Every waza had their very own half to play in creating the feast, very like a gaggle of musicians coming collectively to play a bit of orchestral music. I used to be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of all the large pots cooking. It whetted my urge for food, regardless of the actual fact I had simply eaten—so, in fact, I sampled a lot of the dishes.
As everyone knows, irrespective of how full we really feel after an enormous meal, there’s at all times room for just a little extra.
Reprinted from On the Himalayan Path: Recipes and Tales from Kashmir to Ladakh by Romy Gill with permission by Hardie Grant, 2022.