Now when electric power and a whole range of innovations have started impacting the traditional ways of cooking and serving Kashmir foods and tea, Faheem Mir traces an eighty-year-old restaurant that is unwilling to give up traditions
The advent of new cooking technologies has impacted traditions and culture. That is perhaps why the making and serving of Wazwaan and Nun Chai have changed from Banihal to Booniyar.
But there are many people who are resisting the change. They say Kashmir’s heritage delicacies and drinks have to maintain their own grammar both in preparation and serving. Some of them live in Baramulla’s Urdu Bazaar. They maintain these traditions even in commercial operations. They are all restaurants. This market has two restaurants and half a dozen traditional bakers.
One of them is Mohammad Subhan & Sons (M.S & S) which is one of the crowded few. Owners of these restaurants are keen to keep the traditions alive and part of the clientele is because of that.
These restaurants are famous for the Nun Chai. Although the special pink salt tea survived in all the Kashmiri households but ways of making and serving it have changed, even in rural areas. Unlike the past when people would use Samwar to serve tea, now the electric kettles have replaced the Kashmir innovation. Mostly, Samavar’s are part of the various items that brides take home but rarely use.
But that is not the case at MS&S. They use traditional Samawar to make Nun Chai and serve it with traditional Bakirkhani, Shirmal, Kulcha, Czochworu, Lavaas, and Girda. At MS&S, two items dominate the menu: Nun Chai and Wazwan.
Founded by Mohammad Subhan Gojree’s father in the 1930s, it is now managed by his grandson Bashir Ahmad Gojree, 50. Interestingly, his son Aadil, after completing his education joined his father in the profession. This makes the fourth generation in a row which has not diverted from the family profession.
Interestingly Bashir is still using the traditional ways of cooking. Chuhlaa, the traditional stove is here in vogue in the restaurant, where expert cooks Ghulam Mohammad, 60, and Ghulam Nabi, 62, are busy cooking Wazwan. People tasting mouth-watering delicacies of Wazwaan usually sip Nun Chai later for better digestion.
Instead of tea being served in teapots, at Bashir’s restaurant, boiling Nun Chai drips from the nose of Samavar. Javid Ahmad is the young man who takes rounds between the restaurant rows with Samawar in his hands and serves tea. “I am visiting this place for the last 30 years,” Abdul Rehman said,“I feel incomplete when I visit the town and do not come to this place to taste Samwar Nun Chai”.
“I have travelled almost all over Kashmir but the way this place is offering tea and other wazwan is totally different from cooking to serving,” Mohammad Yaqoob, another regular to MS&S says.
Bashir understands the shift in preparations and serving. “Undoubtedly the new ways of cooking Kashmiri food are cheaper than the traditional way, but we prefer the traditional over modern stoves,” Bashir said. “I think there is no Wazwan if there is no Daamur, foods prepared over gas are less tasted than foods prepared on Daamur”. Daamur or Dhan are the traditional hearths.
“It is my duty to protect, preserve and promote our culture and traditions and the way I inherited it,” Bashir said.
Five people work daily under the supervision of Bashir to prepare Wazwan and Nun Chai for more than 400 customers daily.
“Almost 300 to 400 people visit this restaurant per day and we are glad to serve them with all the traditional means,” Aadil Bashir said.
Despite using costly methods for preparing Nun Chai, they charge very less. “People drink two or more cups of Nun Chai here and they charge only for the first one,” Atiqa Begum said.
“I started working with MS&S when I was 20 years of age and now I am 60 and I have put in my four decades to this shop,” Ghulam Mohammad, the senior cook, said. “I have worked with three of their four generations.”
On one side of the shop, there are two people in the restaurant’s bakery preparing traditional bread in Tandoor. “We make 300 to 400 Bakirkhani and Girda per day,” One of the bakers said.
Remembering the old days of the 1940’s Faizullah Mir, 85, a retired government employee said that he used to visit the place when he was a student. Baramulla, then, was a central town and people who travelled between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad used to stay in the town, according to Mir. “The Nun Chai lovers were regular visitors to this place, even then,” Mir added.