The valley of Kashmir is known for its seasons. Every season brings with it its own beauty and traditional delicacies that the local people love and cherish. Winter is perhaps the season of indulgence in Kashmir. With the outside temperatures going below zero degrees, the locals prepare several delicacies to keep themselves warm. Traditional foods like harissa-a mutton porridge, alle hatche-dried bottle gourd, ruwangan hatche- sundried tomatoes, roasted chestnuts etc. are an integral part of our winter cuisine. The preparation for the harsh winter begins well before the winter has set in. In autumn, one can see a wide array of eatables being dried to preserve them for the winter. One of the oldest winter delicacies that the valley has are ‘Pharre’ or smoked fish. This unique delicacy ensures that the people of the valley can enjoy and savour fish even in the harshest of winters when there is significant decline in the fishes available in the rivers.
Although we now have a ton of methods to preserve the fish, the age old method of smoking still remains an art. People relish the unique flavour smoking adds to the fish and prepare a ton of varieties to enjoy the smoked fish with. “I remember my father bringing “Pharre” home every winter. My mother used to cook them with haakh (collard greens). The entire family would be excited for dinner on that day”, says Gulzar Ahmad, a resident of the old town.
Every autumn, one can see the fisherwomen of our community collecting grass which they then bring home and dry. The dried grass is then shaped like a platform. The local fish which are first gutted, are placed onto the grass beds and the grass is burnt slowly. The fish are smoked in this grass for a few days before they are collected and sent to the market. Usually the fishermen and women sell them in the market themselves. Half a kilo of Pharre costs around one hundred rupees but sadly one can’t see as many Pharre sellers as in the earlier days. Perhaps it is the lack of customers or the reluctance of the future generations to take up the profession. “Earlier there used to be a ton of Pharre sellers. Now a days we only see a few of them. Today’s generation wants everything precooked or premade. They don’t want to spend hours carefully washing the delicate pharre before cooking them”, says Sheema Ashai, a resident of downtown Srinagar.
Not only is the preparation of pharre an acquired art, cooking and cleaning them is an art in itself too. The grass smoked fish are so delicate that if not handled carefully, they fall apart. This is perhaps why only the eldest and the most expert women folk of the family are given the task of cooking them. The pharre are delicately cleaned in hot water to get rid of any grass strands stuck to them and any burnt skin bits. After cleaning thoroughly, they are deep fried and cooked with either tomatoes or Kashmiri haakh (collard greens). Pharre and haakh is a preferred combination as it incorporates two dearly loved staples of Kashmir- haakh and of course the fried pharre. Whatever may be the preferred combination, the fact is that the nostalgia and the memories that our traditional and age old delicacies bring back cannot be replicated by any other variety of foods we have available today.
PHOTO CREDIT : Abid Bhat