Since the lockdown was announced on 25th March, 2020 due to unanticipated pandemic heading towards us, people resorted to cooking as a stress-buster in their humble kitchens. They have been cooking all sorts of day-to-day survival meals to exotic preparations and taking social media by a storm sharing pictures, videos and even going LIVE. Although a crisis, this pandemic enforced lockdown also encouraged people to view cooking in a whole new light
Kashmiris have always been dependant on “Kandur Tsot” for their morning and evening breads. Making chapatis or rotis always seemed like a tedious task to be pulled off at home No denying many households loved it, but fetching freshly baked Girda or Tsochwor was far more convenient and pocket – friendly too. I came across some remarkable people who invested time and effort studying the intricacies of these Kandur Tsot and experimented to recreate them in their home kitchens.
Speaking to one such enthusiastic culinarian Sheikh Eiman, I discovered her experience and journey of baking Girda at home during the lockdown. Coming from a family of great home cooks, she decided to carry forward their legacy and take her home cooking to a whole new level. “For us Kashmiri folk our breakfast is incomplete without a humble Kandur Tsot (Girda.) But in order to survive and adapt to these unprecedented circumstances (post-COVID – 19 outbreak) the lifestyle had to be modified thus changing the age-old tradition of having fresh market – bought breads”, says Eiman.
With great curiosity I asked her how she came up with the idea of baking Girda at home, to which she answered, “one day while having breakfast, my granny with a sorrowful look told me that these biscuits and homemade parathas cannot replace our traditional Kandur Tsot which she was missing badly. So, I thought it was better to depend on ingenuity as one would like to stay safe in this lockdown, compelling me to think out of the box. It was then that this idea of making homemade Girda struck me”. Eiman further explains, “I don’t like to face a timeline and work under pressure. I spent a lot of time working with the ingredients till I perfected the Girda recipe.”
She described how she had to improvise by using an iron skillet as a substitute for tandoor. When finally her knowledge, experience and efforts reached fruition, she presented these perfect looking Girdas before her family. As expected they were swept away by her brilliance. Soon afterwards, she uploaded the recipe on her YouTube channel – “Aemylicious” and got an exhilarating response.
Another magnificent and resourceful Kashmiri home cook residing in Munich, Germany didn’t shy away from the seemingly daunting task of making kandur tsot during the lockdown. Aqsa Mushtaq made the most of this global crisis by baking Kashmiri breads 5357 kilometres away from home.
She shares that lockdown provided time and opportunity to explore and attempt recipes which always seemed like a far-fetched dream. Since one tends to miss home more when away from it in another country altogether, her list was full of Kashmiri recipes which she wanted to try her hand at. “Tsochwor turned out wonderful, with that hallmark crispy texture one associates with a commercially produced one. My next experiment was ‘Kulche’ and they came out short and crisp just like the ones we relish at a wedding”, proudly says this engineer by education and baker by passion. Although Aqsa’s family misses the comfort of traditionally brewed Noon-Chai, these classic home-baked goodies more than makeup for its absence.
Kashmir-born Kainat Syed runs a popular YouTube channel ‘Kashmiri Zaika’, where she documents and showcases her recipes. “Despite living away from my home state, I always had a deep connection and affinity towards Kashmiri cuisine and culture”, informs Kainat who currently lives in Saudi Arabia. While she started cooking at a very young age and is a self-taught cook, she later honed her skills through courses on Continental cuisine, going on to become a trained ‘Turkish Chef’. “We always cooked traditional food, but immensely missed the unique Kashmiri pieces of bread which are not available outside the valley and are extremely challenging to replicate at home”, she says.
“When I launched my youtube channel the appreciation was accompanied by requests to demonstrate Kashmiri bakery products. Especially traditional pieces of bread like Girda, Kulcha, Tsochwor and Bakarkhani. This coupled with my own fondness and a deep craving for the baked goodies only fuelled my desire to try making them at home“, she recollects.
“After multiple trials and tests coupled with creativity and innovations, I succeeded in achieving the perfect look, texture and flavour of a traditional Kashmiri Kandur Tsot. The love and support that pours in from all over the world keep me motivated to further polish and perfect my skills”, says the YouTuber.
“With the recent pandemic-enforced lockdown, my channel has gained more popularity and demand”, says Kainat who epitomizes the expression ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ through her creative culinary endeavours. Ansab’s story is that of an occasional home cook drawing inspiration from online tutorials and turning into an accomplished one to the sheer delight of her family. “I remember we would always have freshly-baked hot Girdas from the local Kandur with our post – Iftar Noon-Chai”, fondly reminisces Ansab about the annual family tradition.”But this year we could not get any since the lockdown made their availability scarce and the pandemic made their consumption perilous”. “That’s when I decided to try baking them at home and turned to online videos by Kashmiri home chefs and bakers which proved to be very helpful”, she says. “They turned out perfect and we could enjoy them for Ramadhan”
Observing the current situation, “I don’t think we will be getting them from commercial bakers any time soon and I’m not really complaining as they are so much fun to bake and turn out amazing”, says the excited medical student who is also a passionate artist in her leisure time. These home chefs have demonstrated how with the right attitude one can adapt and tackle adversity, transforming it into an opportunity. Although their journeys vary in their points of genesis and inspiration but have a common thread of a strong desire and urge to connect with their roots and traditions through the cuisine and taking it further by introducing its multifarious wonder to the world.
~ Tanya Rigzin
SOURCE: Tanya Rigzin