The Many Secrets Of Kashmir’s Ancient Kandur Bakeries - Homegrown

The Many Secrets Of Kashmir’s Ancient Kandur Bakeries

For many cultures, bread is an integral part of the culinary identity. Whether as a staple side dish in Europe or an active facet of mealtimes as in most of India, bread has made its presence felt at dinner tables across the globe. In the northern reaches of Kashmir, the story is much the same; local breads have become a centre piece of daily traditions. Since the area is dominated by the Himalayan chill, rice is scarcely featured on the menu like in most of India’s major regions, and bread has stepped up to the plate as the leading carbohydrate on offer. However, it should be noted that it’s not usually eaten with a meal; for example, you’d rarely see any type of bread accompanying the traditional Wazwan fare.

Bread here is treated with deference and given an identity of its own instead of being a mere vessel to transport food into eager mouths. Breads are treated as individual meals, usually to be enjoyed alongside a piping hot cup of noon chai (a pink tea made with sodium bicarbonate), and Kashmir has a bread for every occasion. In the heart of the kandurs - the local bakeries - lie decades of tradition and recipes handed down through generations. To experience the full effect requires a cold winter’s morning in front of the hot ovens at a local kandur, but we’ll do our best to explain the intricacies of this ancient but thriving legacy.

Many thanks to Chef Thomas Zacharias of The Bombay Canteen for sharing his insights for this piece. To read more about his experiences in Kashmir, click here.

Girda

I. Girda

The first name on every local’s mind at breakfast, the Girda is a staple in the morning routine. The medium-sized circular loaf is cooked on a tandoor and served warm with butter or jam and has an addictive crunchy exterior with a soft white centre. The baker marks the top with finger impressions which give the bread its signature pitted appearance.

II. Lavasa

This thin unleavened bread can be served crisp or used as a wrap with meat or chickpea fillings to create one of the most iconic streetfoods in Kashmir – the Masala Tchotte. Served hot with a tangy and spicy mujj chetin (raddish chutney), this is one of the staple favourites for locals and visitors alike.

III. Ghyev Czhot

Made in a similar manner to Girda, this bread is saved mostly for special occasions because the recipe calls for a layer of ghee to make the upper layer soft and pliable. You’d be more likely to see these in abundance during the time of Ramzan.

IV. The Chochwor

If you had to compare the beauty of the Chochwor, it would probably be easier to liken it to a bagel. Soft-centred with a central hole and sprinkled with poppy seeds, it’s a favourite for the older generation to dunk in their salty noon chai.

Bakirkhani

V. Bakirkhani

More like a puff pastry than a typical bread, it is made by repeatedly stretching out a sheet of dough and interspersing it with layers of ghee. It’s another staple at festive occasions, but is also frequently enjoyed in the evening with a cup of kahwa.

VI. Shirmal

Sometimes also known as Krippè, this shortcrust bread is laced with sweet and salty elements and topped with poppy seeds. Though more like a biscuit than a pliable bread, it makes a wonderful afternoon snack.

VII. Kulcha

Very different from the kulchas (a type of leavened bread made of wheat flour) of North India, the Kashmiri kulcha is dry, hard and crumbly. Though the most common variant is often decorated with a peanut, there are numerous variations such as a sweet melt-in-the-mouth kulcha or even one that resembles the Chochwar with poppy seeds.

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