Think about Kashmiri food and the first thing that comes to mind is the justly famous wazwan. However, try eating it for two consecutive meals and you’ll be laid up in bed for a week thereafter, so heavy is it. Indeed, most visitors to Kashmir have no difficulty finding the ristas and gushtabas of a wazwan, available as they are in almost every restaurant and street-side stall in Srinagar. What is as rare as gold dust is a trendy hang-out for the young at heart that also serves good food. Coffea Arabica is the only known restaurant in the Valley that has pretensions to being a chilled out zone: most cities have so many fast food places that serve reasonably priced snacks in attractive surroundings that we don’t give them a second thought.
Srinagar, on the other hand, had a painful brush with militancy at precisely the same time as the rest of the country was acquiring McDonalds and Pizza Huts by the dozen. The result is that few entrepreneurs have thought of starting restaurants in the post-terrorism era: supermarkets and white goods showrooms are being given more importance.
You will get some of the best shawerma to be found in India in Coffea Arabica, which stands opposite Polo View, near the old Golf Course. The proprietors probably counted on it being a tourist attraction in its own right, but from the day it opened its doors a few years ago, it attracted residents of Srinagar like a magnet, so starved were they of a place to call their own. Children’s birthday parties are celebrated here several times a week, there being no other alternative in the city! Even though Kashmiris are ardent tea drinkers, cappuccino became the beverage of choice before long: this is the only place in the Valley where you’ll see an espresso machine.
It is not air-conditioned like Coffea Arabica is, and is decidedly a one-man band, but Sanoo Pickle House in Nai Sadak at Habba Kadal attracts customers from far and wide. The owner, Ghulam Qadir Sanoo makes around a hundred different varieties of pickles and uses a total of 32 different spices including rare ones like magga.
Thinking completely out of the box, Sanoo’s range includes pickled onions that have no oil and little spice, pickled strawberries that hold not only their shape but their flavour as well, pickled cherries, pickled lamb, chicken and fish. Even the humble channa has been rewarded with its own pickle. If your tastes run to more run of the mill ingredients, there is nadru pickle which is Sanoo’s own favourite, a stuffed lime pickle that is marvelously digestive, amla pickle that cools the system, mango pickle which is reputed to last for three years or more, and the standard mixed pickle of Kashmir that contains carrots, radish, spinach greens and nadru. It is this last that is made by the quintal and sold to every cook in the city to accompany his wazwan.