The hub of Kashmiri food and politics in Pak for 60 yrs, loses sheen because of safety fears

RAWALPINDI: Dilbar Hotel is a landmark institution in Pakistan, famous for upholding the legacy of delicious Kashmiri cuisine for more than half a century and drawing a rich clientele of the who’s who from Pakistan’s political establishment over the years. Located in the Old Qila area of Rawalpindi, this hotel is as old as the Kashmir conflict itself and like the dispute, it has been alive and kicking despite all odds. But, once considered the hub of Kashmir politics, Dilbar Hotel is now no longer the favourite haunt of the political elite.  

The News reports that although people still swear by the taste of the Wazwan- the most sought-after Kashmiri dish served at Hotel Dilbar, the place that once served as a meeting point of everyone interested in all matters related to Kashmir has now lost its appeal owing to security concerns largely because of its location in a rather congested area near Lal Haveli. 

The present law and order situation in Pakistan has necessitated a change of venue to discuss Kashmiri politics and many are choosing the safety of Kashmir House in Islamabad over the grand old Dilbar Hotel.  

Tracing the history of Dilbar Hotel and its pride of place in the Kashmir conflict, The News reports that its importance in Kashmir’s politics can be gauged from the fact that the letters of Maqbool Bhat- the co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) were delivered at the postal address of the hotel for many years. 

According to the report, Dilbar Hotel was believed to be marked by the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, because of the high-profile gathering of Kashmiri political figures at the venue. 

This hotel was also frequented by K H Khurshid, the former president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), who had also served as secretary not only to the Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but also former AJK president Sardar Ibrahim Khan, former AJK prime minister Khan Hameed Khan and many other dignitaries of Kashmir politics.

The hotel was established by Malik Jamal and Malik Ghulam Muhammad in 1948, both Kashmiri settlers who had migrated from Kupwara, in Jammu and Kashmir. The current owner of the restaurant, Malik Aslam, who is the son of Malik Jamal, the co-founder of the restaurant, recalls that he had seen Khan Hameed Khan in this restaurant in the good old days.

According to him, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, had also visited the restaurant, while the founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had also graced the place when he was the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

According to Malik Aslam, “On the invitation of Shaikh Manzar Masood, who was the speaker of the assembly, Z A Bhutto, had honoured our restaurant with his presence somewhere in mid 70’s and he was accompanied by Mumtaz Bhutto, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and some other high-profile personalities. In Kashmir ‘Wazwan’ is considered a delicacy, and these leaders had ordered Kashmiri ‘Wazwan’ for dinner.”

He recalled another golden occasion in the history of the restaurant that his late father, Malik Jamal, used to talk about- A time when Z A Bhutto visited, clad in a shawl (stole) and Mao Tse-tung cap and his father couldn’t recognise him unless he (Bhutto) removed his shawl.

He said the present Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, and his family also used to visit Dilbar Hotel for lunch and dinner on occasions till 1984 to enjoy Kashmiri recipes. Malik Jamal passed away in 1984.

The hotel menu offers several Kashmiri delicacies. Many of them are available only on fixed days. These include, Gushtaba, Ristay, Tabaq Mazh, Maithi Mazh, Kashmiri Kebabs, Shabdeg, Karam Fish, Karam Gosht (mutton ), Aab Gosht, Saag Gosht, Karam Mutton and Razma Daal with Lobia.

Gushtaba, prepared with mutton, beef or chicken, is the pick of all these dishes. In its preparation, firstly meat is tenderised with a wooden hammer for about two or three hours till it is reduced to pulp. Afterwards, the pulp is shaped into balls that are put into a cauldron with layers of kneaded flour and turnips. Yoghurt and spices are used in the cooking process. Later, the cauldron is covered with a lid and sealed with kneaded flour. It is cooked on low flame for three hours. Rice or Roti is had with Gushtaba. It is available at the hotel on Saturdays, but one can have it prepared on order at any time.

Aab Gosht is prepared with milk and spices, excluding pepper. Milk is poured during the cooking process, giving an exceptional flavour to the dish.

Harisa is another mouth-watering Kashmiri dish. Meat is ground for several hours until the fibres are visible. Yoghurt, spices and pulses are again the special ingredients. The dish is not readily available at the hotel as it is very expensive. It is only prepared on order. 

A wide variety of Saag called, Karam is also available at the eatery. It is prepared through different methods, that also include use of fish, mutton or beef, giving it an irresistible flavour. Similarly, Kashmiri Kebabs are entirely different from Afghani or Peshawari Kebabs due to their distinct flavour.

Ramza, another dish, is prepared using Lobia, and is  very popular amongst customers.

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