Warm hospitality lies at the heart of Kashmiriyat. However, the palpable sense of an uneasy calm inhibits most travellers from experiencing this fabled hospitality from close quarters. So, on a recent trip to Kashmir, I set out to experience the richness of this land through its food because the cuisine of a place holds the mirror its soul. My quest led me to Ahdoos, one of the finest and most popular restaurants in Srinagar to sample the best of Kashmiri dishes.
Set in an old, restored building, Ahdoos on Residency Road near Regal Chowk is situated just off the main road, cloaked by an array of road-side shops. Despite the slightly obscured location, the giant sign postings, along with a little help from Google, make finding this landmark on Srinagar’s cityscape a cinch.
During my lunch visit to Ahdoos, the place was undergoing renovation in parts, so there wasn’t much to take in about the ambience, save for the intricately carved wood panelling all around. The ambience was not the point at all, anyway. I went in search of some soul-satisfying Kashmiri dishes and on that count Ahdoos did not disappoint. After all, that’s what its reputation of being one of the best restaurants in Srinagar rests on.
After browsing the menu cover to cover, several times over, I settled for a vast spread of Kashmiri dishes on my table – Tabak Maaz, Kashmiri Pulao, Kashmiri Naan and Kashmiri Saag. Each so different in its texture, taste and preparation that one is blown away by the versatility of this cuisine.
This dry mutton or lamb rib preparation is an integral part of the Kashmiri wazwan. The ribs are first simmered with dry spices and yoghurt and then fried in butter. Tabak Maaz puts to shame every other rib preparation you’ve ever tasted. A succulent layer of fat tucked beneath a bacon-like crisp outer crust. Oh, heavens!
This delicious rice preparation is a delight for any meat lover and abounds in a richness that is the hallmark of Kashmiri dishes. Cooked in a combination of milk, dry fruit, saffron, mutton stock and served with a generous layer of toppings, ranging from a boiled egg to chicken and mutton pieces as well as spicy kebabs and a stray cube of paneer, Kashmiri Pulao is a guilty pleasure worth indulging in over and over again.
Served with a drizzle of cream, fruit, nuts and raisins, the Kashmiri Naan left me feeling a little sceptical until I decided to shun the inhibitions and dig in. The unorthodox choice of toppings comes together surprisingly well with a uniquely flavoured bread, leading you on a decadent ride.
The distinctiveness of this cuisine best stands out through Kashmiri dishes such as this saag. With soft boiled leaves still intact, the Kashmiri Saag could not be more different than the preparation we are used to in other parts of the country, especially the rest of north India. The flavours are unique and the idea of saag served with a semi-gravy to hold it together takes some getting used, but it is pleasantly palatable. And you could totally some fibre when you are gorging down all that meat.
The Creme Bakery at Ahdoos
The Ahdoos Hotel has recently added a gourmet bakery to its premises. If you appreciate a good dessert, you must give the Creme Bakery a chance. Despite being more than sufficiently sophonsified, I could not help but venture in.
Since eating even another morsel was not an option, I order a couple of cupcakes and a slice of cake to go. Talk about gluttony! Soft, textural, with the right hint of bitterness and balanced sugar, these turned out to be every bit worth the indulgence.
My take away from this very satisfying meal at one of the best restaurant in Srinagar was that the proverbial ‘heaven on earth’ is hidden in Kashmir’s cuisine. If you are travelling to Srinagar any time soon, do not miss out on eating at Ahdoos.