Suheem Khanday/ Omar Rather
A Kashmiri’s day wouldn’t be complete without a cup of piping hot nun Chai (Salty pink tea) and a crisp, freshly baked bread from the Kandur (the traditional baker).
While the entire Valley is still shrouded in darkness, the Kandur remains awake preparing his tandoor to bake breads for the morning breakfast. The Kandur forms an intrinsic part of the social life in Kashmir and every locality has their own local Kandur from which the people purchase their daily quota of breads.
In Kashmir, the Kandur shop isn’t just a place where ones goes to buy the morning and evening breads, it is a social hub. A place where you get to hear and participate in discussions that range from gossip to political discourses to moral lectures. It is the place where all the local happenings are discussed. The discussions that take place in a Kandur shop or Kandur waan as it is called in Kashmiri are as varied and unique as the breads that are baked in the Kandur’s oven.
For all the breads, aroma, smell, appearance, colour, size, and overall texture are characteristics optimized by the kandurs over many years that they have spent mastering this art. The texture and quality of these breads are determined by the percentage of wheat protein, temperature and type of flour present in the bread. Here are 14 different varieties of breads you must try when in Kashmir.
1. Tsot- Girda: Tsot or Girda is a medium sized round everyday bread that is a must on every breakfast table in Kashmir. It is golden on the upper side with fingertip indentations and white from below. Consumed along with a generous scoop of jam or butter, tsot is one of the many things that Kashmiris miss when not in Kashmir. Some of the bigger versions of Girda are served with ghee or sheep fat along with non-vegetarian dishes at ceremonies.
2. Lavasa: Lavasa is a puffy level bread made from maida. The flattened dough for this bread is baked in a hot tandoor to make it crispy yet soft. One can apply butter or jam to it before eating. Barbeques and traditional Kashmiri snacks like masale tchot are served wrapped in a lavassa which is soft.
3. Tsochwor: Tsochwor or Tilvor is a bagel shaped, slightly hard bread with a sprinkling of sesame seeds on top. The baker prepares ‘tsochwor’ at noon time to be enjoyed with the afternoon tea. A golden puffy bread, scattered with sesame seeds, ‘tsochwor’ is perfectly complemented by pats of butter and makes for the perfect late afternoon nibble.
4. Kulcha: These are crispy palm-sized mounds of flour sprinkled with poppy seeds. They come in two versions- mith (sweet) and namkeen (savoury). These crumbly breads make for a perfect dunk along with some traditional Dodh Kehwa (milk Kehwa).
5. Namkeen Kulcha: This savoury version is decorated by placing a peanut or an almond in the centre of the upper face of the Kulcha along with a generous sprinkling of poppy seeds. It is consumed on special occasions like weddings, Eid etc.
6. Khatai: Khatai is another type of kulcha which is sweet in taste. This type is also called as Kandi Kulche and has a cookie like consistency. It is bigger than a namkeen kulcha and tastes best when paired with a cup of kounge Kehwa (traditional saffron drink). Anantnag town is famous for this Kulcha variety.
7. Bakerkhaani: Bakerkhaani is a layered variety of bread that resembles filo pastry. The bread is prepared by stretching a sheet of dough repeatedly and rubbing each layer with a generous scoop of ghee before baking till crisp in a tandoor. It is the local custom to send trays full of large size bakerkhaanis to the in-laws after occasions like child birth or engagements alongside fried chicken platters. There is another type of Bakerkhani, in which halwa is rolled and served. It is called a paratha and is sold at Sufi shrines and distributed on Urs or at a religious community gathering.
8. Makai Woer: Makai Woer resembles a traditional Tsochwor in shape but is a bit more flattened than a typical tsochwor. It is a small, soft round bread of about three inches diameter and six inches circumference, with the upper half sprinkled with til (sesame seeds) or khaskhash (poppy seeds) and the lower crust is crispy. It’s the evening/afternoon bread prepared from corn flour.
9. Sheermal: Sheermal is another type of bread from Kashmir. It is mildly sweet due to the addition of some sugar and milk. This dry brownish yellow bread has a sesame covered top and is prepared from date flavoured milk. Pampori Sheermal, a sheermal made in Pampore town of Kashmir is quite famous for its unique taste.
10. Makai Tsot: Makai tsot is a flat, levelled Kashmiri bread made from corn flour. Primarily eaten in Kashmir and some regions of Pakistan and India, this chapatti like bread is baked on a tawa (pan) instead of tandoor. It is an important part of the rural Kashmiri cuisine.
11. Tomla Tsot: Tomla tsot is again a flat, levelled Kashmiri bread made from rice flour. This chapatti like bread is baked on a tawa (pan) instead of tandoor. It is an important part of the rural Kashmiri cuisine and a must with nun chai.
12. Phulke. Pulke is local name for Chapati made of whole wheat flour known as atta, mixed into dough with water and optional salt in a mixing utensil, and is cooked on a tava (flat skillet).
13. Aab Tsot: It’s a type of pancake similar to South Indian Dosa, made from rice. Rice soaked in water is ground finely to form a batter.The batter is allowed to ferment overnight. After the overnight fermentation, the batter is mixed with water to get the desired thickness. The batter is then ladled onto a hot tava (griddle) greased with oil or ghee. It is spread out evenly with the base of a ladle or bowl to form a pancake. Aab tsot is relished with Samavar brewed Nun Chai in villages across Kashmir.
14. Porathe: A huge flat bread, with no stuffing inside it resembles North Indian Poori but is almost seven times its size. Sold across Kashmir outside Sufi shrines it is taken as a quick snack with sweet Halva (semolina sweet).
Made from white refined flour (maida) this bread is shallow fried on iron griddle. A normal Porathe weighs upto 1-kg, enough for an entire family on a day out.
Roath: The sweet bread with a cake like texture is baked in traditional tandoor and is topped with dry fruits. However this one bread is made for grand occasions like weddings, child birth or engagements and served with Kahva. The main ingredients that go into a roath are wheat, sugar and ghee along with black cardamom seeds and poppy seeds that add a unique flavour to it. You can find it in the Hazratbal market if you are looking to taste this special bread.
From Kandar waan:
“For every single variety of these breads, the tandoor has to be prepared differently. The temperature varies for each bread. Tshot/Girda is prepared under open flame, to make it soft and get the yellowish brown colour on its surface. Kulchas and Tsochwor are baked at a low temperature after covering the lid of the tandoor. Bakerkhani is cooked under medium flame with the tandoor opening covered with warm towel.”