Kashmir: A Prime Tourist Destination Sans Quality Food Joints

Noorain Ansari

Srinagar:  Kashmir which is known the world over for its mesmerising beauty and rich cultural heritage has virtually no place for tourists to savour its traditional cuisine. Not to talk of International cuisine no restaurant serves local delicacies.

Few tourists visiting Kashmir are lucky enough to be invited to a wedding to have full Wazwan but none has the luck to savour real Kashmiri food, people daily take in their homes.

Boulevard, the tourist hub of the state has some of the fine hotels but not a single good restaurant serving traditional Kashmiri or international cuisine. On the contrary the most fashionable boulevard of the Kashmir capital is now dotted with Dhabas like Dilli Di Rasoi, Punjabi Dhaba etc

There is no dedicated Chinese, Arabian or Mughlai restaurant in entire Kashmir Valley. All major international brands like McDonalds, KFC, Subway or Pizza Hut are absent from Kashmir.

“You will get all type of Punjabi, Gujarati and Jain foods but no Kashmiri or global flavour is available in our restaurants”, rues Hakeem Saamir Ali, CEO of Hornet Hospex, a leading travel service. Io

Some restaurants do serve an odd Wazwan dish but that may not represent the rich feast for which presentation is more important than the taste, he said.

All cities have a developed street food culture but alas Kashmir has none.

Except dingy shops selling mutton barbecue at Khayyam or rediwallas selling kebabs and tikka at Makai Point there is no place to taste Kashmir’s street food.

Even at Makai Point, Lakes and Waterways Development Authority prohibits foodies from entering its park with barbecue bought from adjacant food joints.

Moreover whatever little street food is available it is sold without any checks by the Municipal authorities, as SMC has no mechanism to test the samples, whenever lifted, for quality.

Julia Fernandez who arrived in Kashmir from Moscow has a bitter experience to share. Such a beautiful place has been messed up. There are lot of things which cause inconvenience to the tourists.

“There is no information brochures, travel guides or maps available here. A person is completely lost and often ends up at the wrong place. I wasn’t able to find any food of my liking available here. I am not used to taking spicy food or rice but since nothing else is available here, I was forced to eat whatever the dhabas serve here. There is also a huge variation in rates. One person offers a shikara ride at a very less price while as another person charges an outrageously huge amount for the same ride and same is with the food sold, Julia said.

Shilpa Gupta, a tourist from West Bengal is happy that she got to taste some amazing dishes from all across North India despite them being served in “not so hygienic manner”.

Most of these Dhabas serve food here in the open while dust and exhaust fumes from diesel driven vehicles float around, Shilpa said, adding this Boulevard should be a motor free zone”.

“There is no information available about food joints and cafes and none is in a position to recommend places for good food, says Nazanine Dehqan, an Iranian tourist, visiting Kashmir for the first time. I don’t know if there is a place outside my hotel to have fresh tasty food, she said.

Commissioner Secretary Tourism has a different take. “We can not force restaurant owners to serve this or that. Tourists usually explore the city and they themselves find out places which serve good food.”

When asked while doing road shows the world over to lure high end tourists, isn’t it incumbent upon his department to first build infrastructure, he gave no satisfactory answer.

One of the reasons why dhabas are doing good is because we have virtually no foreigners now coming to Kashmir, said Sohail Iqbal a businessman adding most of the tourists visiting Kashmir are from India. Thus to maximise their profits, dhabas and restaurants are ignoring the small but all important foreign tourists which is detrimental for our future trade. Punjab Di Rasoi, Delhi Di Rasoi, Prince Dhaba, Lhasa Dhaba etc all are operated by non-locals leased out to them by local hoteliers.

No non veg varieties are served here. Even for carnivore residents of Srinagar whenever they venture out with their families, they have to be contend with Dhaal Roti.

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