Srinagar: Dried vegetables were once considered staple food in Kashmir in the absence of fresh farm produce because of the region’s prolonged harsh winters that disconnect it annually from the rest of the world. Over the years, with the region experiencing warm winters with scanty rains and snow, the demand for dried vegetables has also declined, prompting people associated with the trade to shift to other businesses.
Previously, both the 300-kilometre Srinagar-Jammu highway as well as aerial traffic would remain suspended for days together because of rains and snow, creating a shortage of essentials in the Valley. So Kashmiris used to stock dried vegetables in summers to prevent the shortage affecting them in the frosty winter season.
In Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid market, more than a dozen shops would sell the dried variety during winters. However, for nearly a decade now, the number of those shops is dwindling. Currently only two or three shops sell the winter food in the market.
According to one of the shopkeepers, Nisar Ahmad, who has sold dried vegetables for the past three decades, their demand has shown a decline over a period of time.
“I was running a family business selling dried vegetables for the last 30 years but I have shifted to the dry fruit business,” he said, adding that he still prefers to keep a little stock of dried vegetables available at his shop.
With people giving up the trade, the demand for the winter delicacy has increased, triggering a hike in its prices as well.
“Dried vegetables are costlier than fresh ones. A kilogram of dried tomatoes is sold at Rs 400 while dried gourds are available at Rs 300 per kilogram,” he added.
Imtiyaz Ahmad, who is running a provision’s store after abandoning his family’s dried vegetable trade, said his earlier business would result in losses as climate in the Valley is undergoing change.
“We are experiencing warmer winters, and the demand is waning as a result. My father would sell dry vegetables, but after I took over, I suffered losses,” he said, adding that he was forced to change when the losses became recurring. Currently, Kashmir is facing prolonged dry weather with hardly any rain or snow in the Chillai Kalan, the harshest ongoing 40-day winter period.
Jalaluddin in Zaina Kadal, who has been selling the dried delicacy for over ten years, said the demand declined in the last decade. “So I prefer having less stock, that too for urban areas,” he added.
“I used to get different dried vegetables in quintals during summers when the day temperatures used to be high. I used to sell those items here at my shop, and there was also good demand from outside the state in winters,” recalls Jalaluddin.
The decline in the winter food’s demand, according to him, has also resulted because the changing tastes of the younger generation have made them unwilling to eat it.
Businessmen are not the only ones changing their trade. Srinagar locals are also giving up stocking dried vegetables in summers.
“We had the tradition of drying vegetables at home in past years, but now trend has changed and people do not prefer to do these things at home. They would rather buy it from the market and just on special occasions,” said Zamrooda at Maharaja Bazar.
A Kashmiri Pandit, Vinod Koul, who comes to Kashmir in winters, said he likes to carry dried vegetables from the Valley to his family.
“My first request to friends in the Kashmir is to send me dried turnips and dried fish. My mother and wife almost celebrate cooking these dried things as this has become part of our tradition, but now it is nostalgia,” said Kaul, who lives in Delhi.