Discovering Kashmir’s culinary treasures with Masque’s Chef Prateek Sadhu

As Chef Prateek Sadhu prepares to rejig the menu at Mumbai’s popular fine-dine, Masque, he takes us on a journey of rediscovery to India’s paradise on Earth, Kashmir, also the land of his birth.  

Our latest foraging trip took us to Jammu & Kashmir. We’re scouring the Himalayas for ingredients we can bring back and reinvent at Masque. It’s here that we cherry pick our hero ingredients – heroes of the region and the menu, so to speak. I landed there in early December, barely dodging the thick winter. I was born in Kashmir, so here I was again looking at my roots from an altogether new perspective – and that only made it more special for me.

Prateek Sadhu Masque restaurant Kashmir

We woke up at 4 am to reach the floating market at Dal Lake at the crack of dawn. It’s a local farmer’s market where they sell to each other, and crack small deals from their modest ‘kistis’ (boats). It was about 0°C and a thick mist had descended on the market that morning, which somehow didn’t get in the way of brisk business at all. There was a sense of order to the chaos.

IMG 6285 Edit IMG 6279 Edit

Spending a quiet afternoon on Dal Lake, after our rushed morning. 

IMG 5977 Edit 1

At Pahalwan’s, in Jammu, I got a closer look at the making of kalari – a kind of cheese that’s a lot like mozzarella, and made of full fat buffalo milk. Because of the low temperatures and the sharp winter sun, what you get is a cheese that’s moist on the inside but dry on the outside. It’s had pan-roasted with a bit of salt, or eaten like a chaat, grilled in its own fat with masalas. Their kalari kulchas are also very famous. 

IMG 6113 1 IMG 6116 Edit 1

Every self-respecting Kashmiri pounds their masalas with their own hand-crafted limestone mortar and pestle. I just got a new set at Pantha Chowk in Srinagar. Not as intimidating as the one pictured here, which I’m sure would need four hands to use.

IMG 6141 Edit 1

“The guy chiselling away at these mortars and pestles sat by himself in a shed, surrounded by limestones on all sides.”

IMG 6406 Edit 1 IMG 6412 Edit

Winter once meant it was time to cook with dehydrated vegetables – or hoekhsyun – but less so now. They’re almost a delicacy now, these sun-dried eggplants, turnips, ‘haakh’ (collard greens), water lilies and bottle gourds. (P.S: I used to hate ‘haakh’ growing up. Only many years later, with some distance, I was able to appreciate its low-key pungent taste.)

IMG 6181 Edit Edit

Fresh ‘haakh’ and lotus stems at the Habba Kadal market. Both are practically staples. In a typical Kashmiri wazwan meal, you’d find them braised with yoghurt, fennel and ginger powder. 

IMG 6426 Edit IMG 6420 Edit

I found close to a hundred varieties of pickles at Senoo Kashmiri Pickles, near Habba-Kadal in the old city. No wonder they call Haji Ghulam Kadir Senoo the Pickle King. He bottles some unusual ingredients, like pears, apricots, cherries, mutton, fish, and bitter gourds…anything you can imagine. (I plan to use some of them as part of our new menu in January, with our fish course, and with butter from Gulmarg.) This business was something Senoo turned to after the conflict in Kashmir began; after his thriving transportation business took a hit. It’s unfortunate that it will have no successor.

IMG 6606 Edit Edit 1

We stopped over at the Trout Hatchery, Laribal, where rainbow trout and brown trout are bred. The snow trout is indigenous to Kashmir, but these varieties were introduced to the region a little over a hundred years ago. About 10,000 trout eggs were sent from Scotland by the Duke of Bedford in 1899, which unfortunately didn’t survive the journey. But the second attempt in 1900 was successful. The fresh water fish here is sweet and not spongey like its European cousin. No traditional wazwan would be complete without a fish curry, or a ‘taileth gaad’ – fried fish with a Kashmiri spice mix.”   

DJI 0002 8 Edit Edit

This stunning view makes it so much harder to leave. But I’m back with pots of inspiration (plus, many kilos of Senoo’s pickles) and excited to rejig the menu as we do every other month at Masque. 

Photos: Salamat Hussain

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content