Phari is a traditional winter dish in Kashmir, a reddish-brown smoked fish believed to provide great resistance against diseases related to cold. Mostly the phari is cooked with collard greens (haakh) and the dish is locally known as “Phari Haakh”. The dish still remains one of the tastiest and nutritious delicacies in winters. The preparation of phari is an art. The process begins during autumn with collection of wild grass, “Narre gasse”, from nearby areas. The wild grass is brought home and is well dried. The collected dry grass is then shaped into a platform on which fishes are laid on layers, and then the dry grass is burnt slowly.
Smoked fish is a cherished food throughout the world due to its smoky flavour and delicate texture. Besides giving the smoky flavour to fish, the smoking is an ancient fish preservation method. The preservation works because of three factors: drying, deposition of naturally produced chemicals resulting from thermal breakdown of plant material, and salting. Smoked fish is ready to eat and also has great demand in western markets.
For preparation of phari, the fish is smoked till it acquires all required attributes. Smoked fish has many benefits. It protects from harmful microorganisms due to the bactericidal properties of smoke. Chemical constituents like acetic acid prevent the growth of fungi, bacteria and inhibit viral activities. This is the reason why people find it beneficial during winters for resistance against common cold and cough. The smoke also increases the mineral concentration in phari which makes it more nutritious. The smoke vapours impart colour and cause flavour enhancement in the fish. The phari also has antioxidant properties due to the presence of three important chemicals, namely 2,6-dimethoxyphenol, 2,6-dimethoxy-4-methylphenol and 2,6-dimethoxy-4-ethylphenol. The reddish brown or golden-brown colour of Phari is due to the deposition and subsequent oxidation of phenol. Besides these health benefits, phari also has some negative impacts on health due to the presence of carcinogenic compounds attributed to smoke which contain traces of aromatic hydrocarbon 3,4 benzopyrene (C20H10) which is a carcinogenic that can cause tumours in humans and animals. The average of carcinogenic compounds depends on the smoke, but the carcinogenic compounds levels can be controlled by keeping lower smoke generation temperature and also to prevent the carcinogenic compounds new techniques such as electrostatic precipitation can be used which use electrostatic precipitation filters to absorb the carcinogenic compounds and produce pure smoke.
Smoking is one of the best methods to preserve the fish. Everything in the world has pros and cons, so has phari. Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus said, “All things are poisons, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only the dose which makes a thing poison.” It is important to eat anything in limit. If we eat smoked food prepared in hygienic way and in a limit, it will be beneficial for our body, but if we exceed the limit, it will turn into poison for our body.
The writer is an MFSc (Masters of Fisheries Sciences) student at Faculty of Fisheries, SKUAST-K