In this second part of ‘Kashmir in Capital’ series, Kashmir Observer tells a story of a mother-daughter duo serving Kashmiri cuisine to the world away from their homeland.
By Romaan Arora
IT was late afternoon when I went to visit one of the most popular Kashmiri restaurants in the Delhi NCR, Kashmiri Kitchen.
The restaurant, which maintains an eye-catching name, was in front of me with all its glory; a giant billboard, a beautiful facade, and a fascinating window.
But, to my chagrin, it was closed with a lock attached to the door.
The next moment when I was about to leave, a woman in her mid-50s arrived. To my relief, she was Qamar Kamili, the owner of the restaurant.
It was then when she politely asked me to come to her home, the whole conversation about her journey started.
Kamili came to Delhi in 2010, when her daughter completed her studies and found a decent job in the capital.
“I was a bit reluctant to come here, though I was myself a working lady there in Kashmir,” she recalls, with a little laugh and sparkle in her eyes.
“But, it was my daughter, for whom I came here, to give her a feel of home outside home. She studied here, so she was meant to work here only, so I just couldn’t have left her alone.”
The transition wasn’t hard.
Kamili’s work experience in Kashmir helped her in settling down in Delhi with ease, though she found a big difference in two faraway capitals’ way of working.
“Here in Delhi, you can put up your outlet till late at night, which is something not possible in Kashmir,” she says.
“Also, there’s no load-shedding here in Delhi-NCR while we’ve to wait for electricity in the valley for around 6 hours each day. You can also count the transportations and mobility problem. Here we can have taxis and metro, but in Kashmir, the public transport services are in a miserable condition.”
Kamili says she believes in perfection, and tries to perfect every little thing in her eatery.
“We catered for the Naval Chiefs and the Prime Minister in 2016 in Vishakhapatnam,” Kamili, who considers her Kashmiri Kitchen as her third child, continues.
“So you can get an idea now that how and why Kashmiri cuisine was selected to be served at an event taking place in the extreme south of the country, that too from Kashmiri Kitchen, which was just 6 years old in 2016. This achievement is all because of my emphasis on quality and perfection.”
But before coming of catering age, Kamili had to do a lot of adjustments in Delhi.
She remembers how she had to get a chicken substitute for every mutton dish out there in her restaurant.
“Here, most of the people don’t eat mutton, because of different reasons such as diet, taste and personal beliefs,” she says.
“As a result of this, I’ve to prepare Chicken Yakhini and Chicken Rogan Josh. Also, people here are more health-conscious, so their taste varies as compared to Kashmiris.”
Kamili must have been ideal for many, the reason being her story is also connected to the political turmoil in her homeland.
“Higher education, better living conditions, and a variety of appropriate employment opportunities were some of my reasons for sending my daughter here,” she continues.
“Had the environment remained peaceful in the valley, I would never have sent my daughter to study outside.”
Meanwhile, the tea arrives along with the snacks, and the rest of the talk continues from here. Kamili’s daughter, Pearl, also joined us by this time.
Pearl introduced me to a number of awards and certificates, the restaurant has earned over a period of 10 years.
“Kashmiri Kitchen has been the recipient of multiple awards including the ‘Hindustan Times Crystal Awards 2012’ and ‘Times City Awards 2014’. We were also recommended by Condé Nast Traveller as ‘Delhi’s 50 best meals’ in 2015,” Pearl says, while showing me the paper-cuttings of various newspapers and magazines speaking of the restaurant’s high prestige and grandiose.
“We have been associated with leading hotels like The Oberoi, Radisson, Hotel Surya, Le Meridian, and Fortune Group of Hotels for Kashmiri food festivals and catering. We have also partnered some leading caterers like Colonel Kebabz, Divas Catering, and F&B Caterers to name a few.”
Coming back to her business, Kamili appears to be optimistic regarding the reopening of her outlet, post-Covid, or once the vaccination is done all across the capital.
“Lockdown made us suffer, mainly in terms of financial stability,” she says. “We had to close the restaurant, and in June, I went to Kashmir for around four months. There was an unlock process also, but we never made any plan to reopen the restaurant, as we don’t want to take any risk.”
Most of her customers, Kamili says, are locals from the NCR, though some Kashmiris come especially from the valley, to eat at Kashmiri Kitchen.
“We’ve received a lot of love from both local and Kashmiris, be it the Pandits or the Muslims,” she says.
There was a reason, Pearl says, for opening a restaurant in NCR and not in Muslim localities of Delhi, where most of the Kashmiris are concentrated.
“We wanted to popularize the Kashmiri cuisine here among the locals, just like Chinese and other cuisines,” she says. “We had a much larger target group in our minds. We want the world to relish the rich Kashmiri flavors, not just the resident Kashmiris who are already familiar with the cuisine.”
In any case, the mother-daughter duo never wanted to establish themselves as a seasonal restaurant for winters, when most of the Kashmiris migrate from the valley.
“Our quality is superior over any other Kashmiri restaurant, and that is the reason behind our success,” Kamili says.
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