This list is a recommendation of various possibilities in Srinagar, all in the realm of eating and drinking. Do bear in mind that meals in most restaurants are likely to be tailored to tourists as Kashmiris are famously fond of home-cooked food and visit restaurants only for snacks. Kebabs – mutton and chicken – are snacks! This is not a comprehensive list: it has my favourites only. Some of them are decidedly off-beat, like Senoo, the pickle man who makes over 70 kinds of pickles with fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and pulses in a lane off Habba Kadal. +919796131713
Baked goods like cookies, tea cakes and plum cakes are usually of very good quality and are available at JeeEnn Bakery (Polo View), Moonlight Bakery (opposite Kashmir University), Sultan Bakery and Jan Bakery (Dalgate). Other good things to buy from these bakeries are Kashmiri savoury cookies: kulchas – soft and buttery, and topped with a layer of poppy seeds; chicken patties and sheermal, puffs, baqerkhani and pheni. You can buy them per piece and take them to your hotel to eat with tea. If you plan to carry them out of Kashmir and are travelling by air, you will need a hard plastic or cardboard box that goes in your suitcase: rules for hand baggage from Srinagar change periodically. JeeEnn is well-known for its ginger biscuits. The old city is dotted with traditional bakeries whose counters groan with breads to be eaten with salt tea (all savoury) or regular cream tea (all sweet). In addition, Le Delice on the Boulevard is the creation of a local lad who has trained in Paris. He and his French wife run the patisserie which makes cakes to order. While their French-style patisserie and boulangerie is head and shoulders above the competition, Creme in the Ahdoos Hotel is a cafe that does local cookies, chicken patties and French pastries. You can sit in the modest sized cafe, sip a cold coffee and watch local press-wallahs as well as long-distance bikers and the arty crowd congregate here.
Light meals and coffee/tea: The one tea room that puts all the others in the shade is Chai Jaai. In a heritage building, complete with wooden rafters and a view of the River Jehlum, it is a timeless blend of English cream teas, French pastries and Kashmiri breads and savoury snacks with a local flavour. I love their Nun Chai Latte that you’ll get nowhere else in the city, but there are a range of kahwas, Darjeeling and China tea as well as flavoured teas. Go to enjoy surroundings that are somewhere on the continuum between heritage Kashmir and countryside in the Cotswolds. Indulge in a spot of people-watching, admiring the real papier mache wall (the only modern one in the Valley), the dainty tea-sets and charlies or attending the cultural activities held periodically.
In general, when in doubt drink kahva. It is made of unfermented green tea and is prepared with sugar, slivered almonds and cardamom, cinnamon or saffron. Coffee is slowly coming into vogue in Srinagar. The coffee bar attached to Gulshan Books in Nehru Place is a pleasant place to enjoy the most scenic, touristy spot in the city with a cappuccino and the free run of the motley collection of books. This open-to-the-elements cafe is accessible only by shikara from Nehru Park. You do have to hire a shikara back and forth as well as pay a ‘maintenance’ fee for setting foot on Nehru Park! Residency Road is where the quaint Cafe Linz stands in a picturesque public garden: drinkable Nescafe, stone walls and an atmosphere that is traditional Kashmiri rather than fashionable. Seekh kebabs (grilled or fried) is what they are famous for. On an ‘island’ called Pirzoo, on the Bund, above Residency Road is another cafe. More atmosphere and view than actual pakodas and coffee, but quite pleasant. Books & Bricks Cafe in Gogji Bagh (not a tourist area but very accessible) is great for meaty burgers, the best coffee in Srinagar and local life. Visiting chefs experiment with local ingredients to great effect.
On the Boulevard, there are several cafes, mostly attached to the numerous hotels that line the road. I cannot vouch for any, but the views are great as the Boulevard overlooks the Dal and all the activity on it. Vivanta by Taj and Lalit are well-known for their stunning views and you might want to check the boxes, so enjoy the atmosphere and take lots of pictures of the surroundings.
Meals: Ahdoos is the best-known restaurant in Kashmir. The standards sometimes waver, but when you are a century old, you do have cause for complacence. Their main claim to fame is wazwan dishes, though there is also amorphous North Indian food. It is a magnet for locals, regular visitors to Kashmir and first-time tourists, and it manages to live up to everybody’s expectations. Opposite the road, in a cul-de-sac, is Kareema, far more gritty than Ahdoos, while the cuisine is wazwan. Each has its proponents: my own loyalties are for Ahdoos and their gracious service staff. Also, the sheer gentility of Ahdoos and the way the brand has been nurtured by the owning father-son duo. A short walk away, on the same road, is Mughal Darbar. The original is on the first floor: do ignore the ground floor outlet. It is not a branch! Enjoy the wall murals on the first floor. The food is a few notches down from Ahdoos and there’s a bakery on the ground floor. Hidden from view is Fortune Resort Heevan whose restaurant Earthen Oven is a Bukhara look-alike headed by a chef from Lucknow. Kormas, qaliyas and succulent raans are on the menu here: there’s a terraced enclosure as well as a spacious lawn for meals in fine weather. I like to think of the hotel as the hidden gem of the city. Just past Nishat Garden, there is no view except of the hotel’s own but the food, while not Kashmiri, is of a high standard.
There is the (sole) vegetarian eatery: Krishna Dhaba at Sonawar serving rajma-chawal food too. Tibetan Momos House in a hidden lane between the Bund and State Bank Building on Residency Road, is a welcome change from rich, heavy food and being in Srinagar, the quality of minced lamb in the momos is noticeably higher than in the plains..It is crowded with young college students during the day and closes at 8 pm (call 9858438414)
Then, there is the roadside army of street-side stalls selling mutton and fish tikkas. They come out in full force towards evenings, and are centered around Lal Chowk, ‘Makkai Point’ past Nehru Park and Hazratbal shrine. Fried or roasted, you will smell the aroma before you see them. Imran Cafe at Khayyam Chowk is delightful for two types of kebabs: tikkas and seekh kebabs served famously with six kinds of chutney. The whole street has a row of dhabas grilling kebabs, but Imran is my pick. Vegetarian food is something of a rarity in Kashmir, but the local snack of choice: moinj gool, is one example of a kind of pakoda, made with rice flour batter. Fillings are batons of nadru (lotus stem), chickpeas, sliced potatoes and even small whole fish. More elemental is the variety of what is collectively known as massale and usually only available at Hazratbal, especially on Friday afternoons and occasionally, at other shrines too and playgrounds where nutritious, inexpensive sustenance is a necessity rather than a luxury. Then, there are wazwan shops, in various parts of the city, particularly near Jama Masjid and the now defunct cinema halls. They usually have three or four ready to eat dishes, a boon for locals who have to entertain unexpected guests. Significantly cheaper than restaurant food, it’s good for an adventure, though quality may be hit and miss. One well-known shop is near Dastgir Sahib, the shrine; the others are in Hawal, near the now defunct Shah cinema.
Food shopping: Amin bin Khalik on Polo View is my go-to place for morels (guchchis), saffron, Kashmiri shah zeera, almonds, apricots, walnuts etc. Rose water and lavender oil are also available. Prices are high but you can swear by their quality. The same products are also available at Kokker Bazar in the Lal Chowk area, though prices and quality will both be lower. There is a spice cake called ‘ver’ made from pounded red chillies, shallots and other spices. Excellent for adding to boring dals and sabzis, you can even make it into chutney. The local brand, Kanwal, has the best ver, available from a number of shops in Regal Chowk/Residency Road, the most convenient being Pick n Choose Departmental Store. One popular gifting option is wazwan preparations in cans. Wazwan of Kashmir is the best brand. Other food-related objects are wooden spoons (hugely practical in the kitchen), tiny limestone mortars and pestles and copper kitchen and tableware.