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Halwa Poori in Kashmir

Halwa Poori Kashmir - Dal Lake

Memories of my favourite roadside snack in Kashmir, with inputs by Marryam H Reshii.

I am sitting in my room with tons of emails to answer. I also have deadlines to meet for my writing assignments and most importantly, a sponge of Epic Chocolate cake that I made for my sister’s birthday, is waiting in the fridge. I need to frost it or else Saurabh will now be really pissed off! Adding to my misery is the stomach infection, which is why I haven’t still put that ganache on the cake. And, having khichdi cannot make anyone happy. So yes, perhaps I am feeling a bit grumpy too.

Meanwhile, I am spending a lot of my time on twitter these days. While I do enjoy the funny tweets, the ones by most news publications sadden me. One of the tweets I read today was about Kashmir. It’s heart wrenching to see the valley fall apart constantly and then put together half-heartedly. Owing to the socio-political issues, weather conditions and militancy, the valley has taken a lot of battering in the last two decades. But, this isn’t a post about the conditions in Kashmir. This is about my memories of Kashmir, the Kashmir I saw.

One of the most vivid memories of Kashmir I have is of the pooris that are served with Suji (semolina) halwa. From Srinagar to Anantnag, Kokernag to Achabal, Halwa-Poori was ubiquitous.

It goes without saying, that in Kashmir you’re most likely to visit Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Garden, Pari Mahal and Chashma Shahi, just like I did or most tourists do. And quite certainly, you will find Halwa Poori counters outside all gardens and tourist spots. Chances are, if not more but at least once, you will eat this delicious sweet-salty mix of poori and halwa.

But what’s so special about this Halwa-Poori? I mean, don’t we eat it at home on various occasions?

The pooris here are giant sized! They are so big in size that only one poori is fried at a time and it can be enough for a family’s entire meal. The Halwa, made with semolina, sugar and ghee, is garnished with glazed karonda (cherries or tutti fruity). It is served with Pooris – flatbreads, made of refined flour and salt and deep-fried in oil.

The combination of sweet halwa and salty pooris works like wonder.

They also have onion bhajis (Indian style onion fritters with masala) with them, which lends a crunchy texture to the whole dish. Though the halwa is yellow in colour, however, they don’t use saffron to give it that flavour or fragrance. It’s a food colour, that’s readily available on the streets at dearth cheap price.

Yearning to get more insight into this odd, yet fascinating combination I spoke to one of India’s most renowned food writers and critics, Marryam H Reshii (also one of my personal favourites), who’s an expert on Kashmiri cuisine. And sure enough, I learnt several interesting facts about these dishes.

“During the peak season, Muslims from Uttar Pradesh (UP) travel to Kashmir and rent a commercial spot outside of each park or tourist spot in the city. And, from those rented commercial spots, they serve Halwa Puri,” she told.

“Over the years, it has gained popularity amongst the locals too, as they get portions of it packed for their relatives or friends they plan to visit. However, they call it halwa-poratta and not poori. Children, in particular, are really fond of it, as it has that comforting warmth in a dish, which we grown ups basically call carbs,” she added.

She also recounted, that during one of her visits, nearly three decades ago, she had noticed Kashmiris were also selling halwa at the early morning Floating Vegetable Market at Dal Lake but with a czhot, a flat bread with hand made intricate traditional design. It’s only fitting, as a czhot is what completes a Kashmiri’s day.

I keep hearing, reading about the ever-changing conditions in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. But the images I carry in my mind, are of school children out on a picnic and indulging in the balminess of halwa-poori. Of families spending some quality time together, out in the gardens and sharing a giant size poori topped with halwa. Just enjoying their simpler happier times. And of course, tourists like me, who gorge on this delicious roadside snack, only to miss it years later while enduring the fast city life.

I’ll keep these memories of Halwa-Poori, Kashmir and its people close to my heart and hope that the valley remains beautiful, hopeful and strong amidst every challenge, every change.

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