By Nazima Sidiq
Srinagar: In the bustling market of Zaina Kadal in old Srinagar, Jalaal-ul-din, 65, has been selling sun-dried vegetables for almost 30 years.
Locally known as hoekhsyun, sun-dried vegetables were once considered the winter staple of Kashmir. With changed times, as fresh vegetables remain available round the year, the consumption of hoekhsyun has dried up largely.
“People don’t buy these things on the same scale as they used to in the past,” said Jalal-u-Din.
Describing the dried vegetable business as seasonal Jalal-ul-Din said, “It is from November to April that people buy and consume dried vegetables as these are considered warm for the body system. They are not considered for a hot summer day. In summer I sell seeds,” he said.
In the past, dried vegetables were mostly domestically produced and consumed, but from past several years, it has emerged as a full-fledged business from which many households earn their livelihood.
“A dealer goes house to house in different villages to collect dried vegetables and then sells stocks to us,” Jalal-u-Din said adding that they buy the stocks according to the market demand.
This year, he said the business was down, as markets were closed for around six months.
“In 2015 I bought and sold around five quintals, but this year I bought only one quintal out of which I have sold only around 30 kg,” he said.
No longer a compulsion, hoekhsyun is relished more of as a delicacy now.
Despite availability of fresh vegetables round the year in local markets due to better roads connectivity and new techniques adopted by vegetables farmers, people still throng markets to buy dried vegetables.
“Ask any Kashmiri who lives outside the state what his fondest memories of home are and he or she is likely to cite huddling with the family in the kitchen during winter and eating steaming hot rice with hoekhsyun,” he said.
Like Jalaal-u-Din, Mohammad Abdullah, 60, has been selling dried vegetables at Bohri Kadal area of old Srinagar for almost 30 years.
“It is a tradition in Kashmir to consume dried vegetables during winter. If you don’t eat dried vegetables in winter then you feel you are missing something,” Abdullah said.
“One kg of dried tomatoes costs Rs 200, dried brinjal Rs 160, dried bottle gourds Rs 240, and dried turnip Rs 160. Dried fish ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 900 depending on the size and variety of fish. Even though dried vegetables are costlier people still buy them,” he said.
Jalaal-u-Din says the prices of the dried vegetables are dependent on the previous crop.
“If the crop is good, prices are low. If the crop is not good prices go up. Last year the tomato crop was not good so if you scan the market you will hardly find dried tomatoes anywhere,” Jalaal-u-Din said.
Dried vegetables are not just consumed for their roughage value, but some of them are also considered good for health. Iberian knapweed, locally known as “kraicsh” is considered good for the eyesight while as dandelion locally know as “haend” believed to be rich in iron is considered good for anaemic patients.
Mudasir Ahmad Mir, 35, who has been selling dried vegetables in the Safa Kadal area of Srinagar for some years, prefers to sun-dry the vegetables himself.
“I sun-dried different vegetables in summer and autumn and I also buy from different dealers and then sell it in winter. People do visit and buy almost every variety,” Mir said.
For many Kashmiris travelling or living outside the state, hoekhsyun is a sweet token from home.
Mohammad Lateef, a Srinagar based business man, says he takes dried vegetables along with him whenever he travels outside the state.
“I take these dried vegetables to Patna, Delhi, Shimla, because this is my favourite food. It also saves us time, as sometimes we are too busy with work to take time out to buy fresh vegetables,” Lateef said.