Doctors and dietitians might cry hoarse about the 'harmful effects' of dried vegetables, dried and smoked fish and dried wild mushrooms, but practice and experience have taught Kashmiris that their past generations lived a healthier, better and cheerful life because they looked within and not outside the landlocked Valley during the harsh winter months to keep body and soul together.

"The first and foremost problem with frozen foods including chicken, mutton and vegetables is that once thawed, it has to be consumed in one go. The first casualty of winter in Kashmir is electricity and without electricity, all your so-called modern kitchen gadgetry becomes junk.”

"You might afford to buy frozen food from the market when shortages of mutton, chicken and fresh vegetables hits the Valley, but how do you store it and where? Your fridge is useless in the absence of electricity and this is true of most of your modular kitchen showpiece gadgetry as I call it," Sheikh Bilal Ahmed, a senior agricultural scientist said.

This is probably the reason the local markets in Srinagar city and other major towns of the Valley are selling dried vegetables including tomatoes, brinjals, bitter gourd, lotus stems, wild mushrooms, turnips and, of course, the delicacies of the more affluent locals like dried and smoked fish.

When cooking gas and kerosene oil shortages hit the Valley - this invariably happens each time the Jammu-Srinagar national highway gets closed due to landslides and snowfall - many rural houses revert to firewood light traditional hearths.

Many rural homes still have their small poultries and those living closer to water bodies have small flocks of ducks and swans. The magic of the 'shab deg' still brings back excitement and thrill among the older generations of Kashmiris.Shab deg is a special highly-spicy dish of the fattest rooster cooked in a dough-sealed nickel-plated copper vessel with turnips over the simmering fire of the hearth.

With the winter chill lashing and tossing dried and fallen leaves outside, all members of the family would gather around mother who would first serve cooked rice to each member of the family and then remove the lid from the shab deg vessel."By God, the small kitchen, which had an eating place close to the hearth to ensure that food did not get cold as it is served, would get filled with mouth-watering aroma of the dish.



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