Kashmir, the paradise on earth, or so they call it. But apart from the scenic beauty, Kashmiri food is something of utmost importance to Indian cuisine. And, this time though it was a family trip, my sole purpose was to discover the food of the valley.
We traveled via Air India. and, no matter what anyone says, they provided us with one of the best services that I’ve experienced in recent times. The flights (Kolkata – Delhi and Delhi – Srinagar) were bang on time and unexpectedly, good hot food were served to us during the flight. Overall, it was an extremely satisfying journey.
Last time, we went in 2009 and we met Rashid. Rashid is a car driver and used to hold a fleet of 3 cars then. But, during the recent flood in Kashmir, overnight, he was transformed to another card rivers. However, this didn’t ever dampen his soul and this time when I called him, he was ever ready.
Rashid can be reached at 9906871564 and this time, the rate is 2200/- per day including the driver stay and food
And it’s Pahalgam …..
The first destination for us, was Pahalgam. At a 3 hours journey from Srinagar airport, this place used to be literally heaven. It was plain land, surrounded by mountains and few great tourist spots like Aaru, Betab Valley and Chandanwari can be visited from here. But, for this local places, any local car needs to be taken from Pahalgam and they normally charge around 1700-2000/- for the day trip. I’d strongly suggest to stay for a minimum of 2N3D here, as anything less than this, won’t do justice.
But beware, heavy bargaining reigns here and we stayed at this place called Hotel Taj Mahal, just beside the petrol pump and on the main road. Since this was off season, we paid 2000/- per room per night for only room. I won’t say, the service is really great, but it was not bad either. The room heaters and bed warmers worked and geysers didn’t. But, the room boys provided us with hot water in buckets to make up for that.
Now, if not anything else, I am blessed with good friends. Chef Sanjay Raina, from Delhi had actually provided me wwith a list of what to eat where. And, the first place was Paradise Restaurant in Pahalgam. For me personally, I prefer any restaurant, for local food, where I can see some local crowd. And, Paradise passed through the taste and let me tell you in advance, we had almost all our meals, except one, there during our stay.
Please don’t get baffled by the pricing. Kashmiri food serving is huge in size. Any dish here can safely, very safely be divided among 2-3 persons. Now, we were craving for Kashmiri wazwan and upon seeing it here, we almost went mad. rista and Gustaba were the standard orders along with the sheekh kebab. The sheekh kebab was not the type we’re used to here. It’s of a much spongy texture and tossed with an onion, tomato gravy. The end product is divine. The Rista is mutton ping pong balls (LOL, kinda ) in a saffron based light gravy and Gustaba is the balls in white curd based gravy. Here, we found the rista balls to be of a smaller size and 4 numbers served in one plate and one large ball (cut in 4 ) served in Gustaba. The stable accompaniment here, is steamed rice.
Now, god knows why, my wife loves to eat some veg dishes and we ended up ordering Nadru, a.k.a the lotus stem. The gravy was similar as the Gustaba and frankly, I didn’t like the vegetable, but my wife seemed to. It’s of extremely hard in nature and tasted more like sojnedanta or drumstick. But, on the second day, I ordered probably the best dish of the place, Mutton Pulao. It was their star product. Saffron flavored rice with ample amount of dry fruit (primarily almond and raisin) and small mutton boti can’t really go wrong. The taste was on the sweeter side and that made it a perfect accompaniment for the Sheekh kebab. Overall, don’t miss the stuff.
For 3 1/2 persons (including my 7+ year old son), the average bill used to be around 1200/- and we, extremely contented and happy.
The second spot was the famous Pahalgam Hotel. Now, this is one of the best hotels in the city and clearly was out of our stay-budget. But, upon the recommendation by chef Raina (whom I trust blindly), we had gone there to taste their specialty- the trout fish. Now, trout is a fish, mostly found in mountain rivers and people tend to have it grilled or tandoored (with less spicing) and is said to be something-not-to-be-missed. But, sadly, either it was a bad day at work or we were still getting sentimental about our home grown Kolkata vetki, I didn’t find it much attractive. However, the decor and service was top notch.
But, the captain suggested we taste their Sufta and that was probably the best suggestion of the day. Sufta is paneer cubes and dry fruits cooked in sugar syrup and flavored with spices like black pepper, cinnamon etc. The taste is an amazing balance of sweet taste and garam masala.
Overall, I’d rather prefer somebody to have the dinner in Paradise and dessert in Pahalgam hotel
There were few other famed restaurants in Pahalgam like Volga and Trout Beat (by Pahalgam Hotel), but they were non-operational that time, hence can;t comment.
So, it’s the snow time …
And, that’s about Pahalgam and the next stop for us, was Gulmarg. The journey from Pahalgam to Gulmarg took about 4 hours, as it had to pass through the outskirts of Srinagar. In Gulmarg, I’d suggest anyone to stay near the gondola. Now, gondola ia the ropeway which runs in two phases. ticket for the first phase costs 750 and second phase 950/- and can be booked online here.
You can check the amazing road from Pahalgam to Gulmarg here
We were put up at this hotel called Hotel Hilltop and it was fantastic. It was at a 3 min walking distance from the Gondola and rooms had a great view and fantastic amenities. We hard negotiated it to 4000/- MAP each room. Even during the snowfall, we were enjoying the view from the centrally heated room without any winterwear and this includes my 7 year old son and 65+ mother-in-law. The hotel had MAP plan and the buffet served was really great. So, we hardly ate outside.
But once when we did, we tried the roadside stalls. The menu used to be very basic and rajma chawal or Maggi used to be our staple lunch….. nothing much to say.
Oops, I forgot to share ….. up on Gondola, at the first phase, it’ll be something like this
The food destination, however, was Srinagar and our final stop ….. the journey continues and luckily, on the last day of our stay in Gulmarg, there was heavy snowfall. And, the nature magically changed to something like this …
Off to Srinagar then …. another 2 hours journey and some fantastic food experience was waiting for us …
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
I can be reached at 9903528225 / [email protected]