Basrakh is Back

From once a must have sweet during marriage ceremonies Basrakh lost both market and appeal. But with little modification and a sense of reviving Basrakh is back on shelves. Heena Muzzafar reports

Photo Courtesy: Tazeem | dialkashmir.com

Not so long ago, any marriage in Kashmir would have been incomplete without exchange of Basrakh, between the bride and grooms families.

Made from wheat flour and sugar, Basrakh, a special traditional sweet was exclusively used during occasions like engagements, marriages and birth.

“It was of two types, although the main ingredients were same,” says Zarief Aahmad Zarief, a renowned poet. “One of the types was polished with ghee to give it a perfect finish was common with elites, while the poor could afford the one without ghee.”

Zarief said that people in older days were mostly poor, so the classification was made on the type of food eaten by the families as well. “It was made by a particular class, called as Monjigaer, now the business is mostly handled by bakers.”

Maida (wheat flour) is mixed with Chashni (thick sugar paste), to make a hollow composition. After acquiring the shape, it is fried in ghee to help it stay intact. “It requires a lot of hard work and patience to make Basrakh,” says Fayaz Ahmad, a famous baker from Alia Kadal, Srinagar.

In Srinagar, entire localities are named after the crafts and trades done the by the inhabitants.

“Basrakh was specialisation of Dariball and Naidkadal,” says Ghulam Nabi, who is in his late fifties. “I remember Ghulam Qadir Bhat of Dariball, was one of the famous Basrakh maker of the time.” Introduced to Kashmir by the central Asians, Basrakh, Bakirkhanni, Sheermal, Kandeel Kulcha etc. became part of local culture with time.

“Kashmir has a melange of cultures and traditions, and delicacies like Basrakh are part of that inheritance,” said Zareef.

As times changed, the once important element of Kashmiri marriage, Basrakh, lost its appeal as markets adopted new varieties. “In last two decades we saw a complete change in Kashmir’s taste buds,” feels Fayaz.

Most of the raw material used in making of Basrakh would come from rural areas of Kashmir. But during peak militancy the movement of goods from rural to urban Kashmir got effected, thus forcing Basrakh makers to look for alternatives. “The ghee used in its preparation would come from Pulwama and its adjoining areas,” said Fayaz. “Then the supply stopped altogether in 90s.”

However, with little modification Basrakh is finding its way back to Kashmiri homes.

Haleema is waiting outside a famous baker’s shop waiting for her turn to place an order. “I am visiting my would-be daughter-in-law. Can I get a basket full of Basrakh,” she tells the shop owner.

Lately, a number of families are trying to reinvent their lost connection with traditional Kashmiri delicacies like Basrakh.

Traditionally Basrakh used to be main gift item during marriage and other related ceremonies.

“My mother-in-law used to bring Basrakh whenever she would visit after my marriage was fixed,” remembers Haleema. “It would complete the package of gifts.”

Haleema is happy that the practice is once again in vogue after a long slump.

Late sociologist Prof. Bashir Ahmad Dabla used the term Nabermization and Andremization to explain impact of non-local and local culture.

“The trend keeps on changing from time to time,” feels Zareef.

But thanks to the new age bakers Basrak is back on the racks and very much in demand. The new version of Basrak is slightly different, said Fayaz, the baker from Aali Kadal.

“We just added Khoya (dried milk used for making sweets) and few dry fruits,” says Fayaz.

The new-age Basrak is made by mixing a paste of maida and sugar with Khoya.

Once the required cylindrical shape is acquired, the formation is fried for long hours to make it crispy. Afterwards the crispy Basrakh is dipped in a paste of ghee and dry fruits.

“This one melts in your mouth unlike its old version,” says Fayaz.

This modification helped Basrakh get back into mainstream gift items exchanged during marriages. “In last six years we have seen a surge in demand for Basrakh,” said Qaisar, a manager at a bakery in Lal Chowk.

Apart from being a must have item in the long list of items exchanged during marriage functions, Basrakh was consumed as alternative to sweets and toffees by children.

“In our childhood there were just a few options,” recalls Mohammad Ramzan, who is in his late sixties. “I recall getting a piece of Basrakh instead of candies when I went to school.”

Fayaz, who now handles around fifty orders a day for Basrakh from both rural and urban areas, has successfully traced and employed traditional Basrakh makers at his bakery.

“Societies are dynamic in nature; therefore changes are likely to happen. But the impact of tradition remain always,” says Humaira Showkat, a teacher at Kashmir University’s department of UMIKS.

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