Most trips to Kashmir are three or four days long: much too short to sift through a jumble of poor choices.
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.
Baked goods like cookies, tea cakes and plum cakes are famous and are available at JeeEnn at Polo View, Moonlight Bakery opposite the University, Sultan Bakery and Jan Bakery, both near 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. Hand baggage is not allowed from Srinagar. JeeEnn has yummy ginger biscuits too. 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 French lady and her Kashmiri husband. Excellent patisserie.
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 Jehlum, it is a timeless blend of English cream teas, French patisserie and Kashmiri breads with a long list of salted 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 green tea and has sugar, slivered almonds and either cardamom or cinnamon. Coffee is slowly coming into vogue in Srinagar. The coffee bar attached to Gulshan Books in Nehru Place is a great place to enjoy the most scenic, if touristy, spot in the city with a cappuccino and the free run of the motley collection of books. Not much in the way of snacks, so feast your eyes on the Dal and the mountains and bring suitable clothing for inclement weather in this open-to-the-elements cafe that is accessible by shikara from Nehru Park. Much older Coffea Arabica on M.A. Road is a home-grown brand that fashionable locals are always seen at. Parallel to MA Road is Residency Road where there is the quaint Cafe Linz: drinkable Nescafe, stone walls and an atmosphere that is the antithesis of fashionable or cool. Do not miss their seekh kebabs for which they are famous. On an ‘island’ called Pirzoo, on the Bund, above Residency Road is another cafe. More atmosphere and view than actual pakodas and coffee, but too pleasant to leave out of a list like this. A newish kid on the block is Books & Bricks Cafe in Gogji Bagh (not a tourist area but very accessible) for rather good burgers, the best coffee in Srinagar and local life amidst books and walls that are papered with pages of books.
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 will always be great as the Boulevard overlooks the Dal and all the activity on it. Vivanta by Taj and Lalit both have 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 restaurant in Kashmir. The standards sometimes waver, but there is nobody else to touch them thus far. 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. 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. The food is a few notches down from Ahdoos and there’s a bakery on the ground floor. There is Krishna dhaba at Sonawar serving hearty rajma-chawal kind of vegetarian food too. Tibetan Momos House is 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..
Then, there is the roadside army of street-side stalls. They come out in full force towards evenings in the Hazratbal Market as well as other locations. Mutton or fish tikkas, fried or roasted, are what you can expect. 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 does it, but Imran is my pick, though Gareeb Nawaz too has its loyalists. 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, though these are in the old parts of the city. 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 cinema hall.
Food shopping: go to Amin bin Khalik on Polo View 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. One popular gifting option is wazwan preparations in cans. Wazwan of Kashmir, Hyacinth and Choncha are some popular brands, the first being the best. Other food related objects are wooden spoons (hugely practical in the kitchen), tiny limestone mortars and pestles and copper kitchen and tableware.