Srinagar: Medical experts warn against eating sun-dried vegetables, fruits, and fishes, as they carry the risk of contamination which can cause various diseases including cancer, but people in Kashmir valley still prefer to eat them during winters. Road vendors and shopkeepers these days are selling plenty of sun-dried vegetables and fishes, and there is a huge rush of buyers for them.
In Kashmir, people dry many varieties of vegetables and fruits in summers so that they can consume them during the winter. Dried tomatoes (ruwangan hachi), dried brinjal (wangan hachi), dried bottle gourds (aale hachi) dried turnips (gogji hachi), smoked fishes (farrigaadi), dried fishes (Hogaadhe) are some of the preparations that people love to eat during winters.
“During the harsh winter we face shortage of food supplies, often due to the frequent road closures, that’s why we store the dried vegetables for consumption during the winter season. Also, many vegetables like bottle gourds are not available in the market in winters. Another reason is that cold flu often infects people during winters and at that time eating dried vegetables is good for the health,” said Sadiya Najar, a resident of Srinagar.
Another resident of Srinagar said, “Most people of the valley prefer sun-dried vegetables during winters as it is our tradition and also because of shortage of supplies during winters. Sun-dried food has an unmatched taste. If we don’t eat dried food in winter, we miss the taste of winter. Not only Kashmiris but the tourists who come to Kashmir during winters also love to eat the dried food items. I don’t think that dried food has any harmful effect as we have been eating it for years.”
Kashmir valley frequently gets cut off from the world during winters due to the closure of roads and highways, which blocks the import of vegetables and fruits from other regions. The prices of fruits and vegetables also shoot up whenever there is closure of roads.
Mohammed Afzal, a vendor who sells sun-dried vegetables and fishes in Srinagar, said, “For the past 9 years I have been selling dried vegetables and fishes in Srinagar. Sun-dried foods have a huge demand during winters and every day many customers buy the dried vegetables and fishes from me. These dried vegetables and fish are more expensive than the fresh vegetables. The price of dried fishes (hogaard) is 600 rupees per kilogram and that of dried bottle gourd (aale hachi) is Rs 370 per kilogram. There is no health problem that I have heard of among those who eat these dried vegetables and fishes. These are perfectly safe and healthy to eat. Not only common people but many doctors also buy these vegetables and fishes. People in the valley dry these vegetables in a proper way and also clean them by boiling them in hot water for safety before consuming them.”
Doctor Nasir Ul Hassan, president of the Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK), however, differs. “It has been tradition since ages in Kashmir to eat dried vegetables during winters, but now the situation is different. We have access to fresh vegetables and fruits all the time in markets, but people still prefer these dried vegetables, fruits and fishes. We have not really done any study here in the valley on whether these dried foods are safe for consumption or not, but based on other studies, if the food is not stored in a proper way then it is very hazardous for consumption. Outside the valley, people also store food but they use scientific methods for storing it. Here in Kashmir people use primitive ways for storage of these dried food items, which usually leads to the growth of fungus in the food and the people have mostly chronic infections because of these fungus. It has been seen that improperly stored food gets accumulated with a substance called Nitrosamine, which is cancerous. Nowadays we see the incidence of cancer increasing by the day and the dried food could be one of the factors. Nitrosamine attacks many organs, like lungs, brain, and stomach. Fresh vegetables contain a lot of minerals and vitamins which are good for immune systems and also they are anti-cancerous. When we dry food items we lose that component.”