Often, Jammu is discussed in context with pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi or a gateway to Kashmir. People don’t ‘travel’ to Jammu but it is like a pit stop. Thus, little is known about the main attractions of this city, forget about the food. Since I have the privilege of staying in Jammu for longer periods as it is my in law’s place, I can vouch for the extra-ordinary street food this Dogra stronghold has to offer.
Jammu is generally famous for its Rajma Chawal (Kidney beans curry with piping hot steamed rice). The kidney beans cultivated in the Bhaderwah region of Kashmir are supposed to be the best quality in the world. It is a no brainer that Rajma is an integral part of both Dogra and Kashmiri cuisine. There are various places across Jammu serving Rajma Chawal, but in my view, it is best served at home.
The original Dogra cuisine is actually very simple and is normally constituted of wheat, maize, pearl millet, rice and cereals and bears striking similarity with the Himachali cuisine (owing to sizeable Dogra population in HP). However, I could see a transformation in Jammu where the neighbouring Punjab has a lot of say, especially in the breakfast spread. The deep fried aloo tikkis, chole bhature are the preferred dishes now-a-days. Chowmein as the Chinese noodles are generally referred across North India is very much in vogue. Mahajan Namkeen and Sweets on Canal Road appears the first choice for people of Jammu
The street food of Jammu is probably the tastiest offering by this city for the gastronomical devouts. There is a sizeable spread to taste and should not cause any disappointment to the rookies also. ‘Kulcha’ is a very famous snack in Jammu which comes in various forms depending on the stuffing. So it could be aloo kulcha (potato), chole kulcha (chickpea), nutri kulcha (Soya Chunks). Kulcha (as in Jammu and other parts except Amritsar) is a round baker’s spread split open and warmed on flat pan, stuffed with chopped onions, tomatoes, green chutney (coriander and mint) along with the specific stuffing.
|Kalari Kulcha in Making|
The ‘King of The Jammu Street Food’ is the famous ‘Kalari Kulcha’. The stuffing is made from the awesome Kalari Cheese (known as Maish Krej in Kashmir) is an exclusive cheese available only in J&K and to quote once again ‘it beats mozzarella by miles’ and is a ‘die if you miss’ kind of dish. My favourite place is the guy who dishes out these Kulchas in Ladies Market in front of Taj Boutique in Kacchi Chavani area. There is another advantage to eat kulcha here that you get to see so many pretty faces. J
Kacchi Chavani area of Jammu is the den of street food. You get to taste everything from kulchas to tikkis to bhaturas to golgappas. You may also come across a unique item known as ‘Lachcha Kulfi’ here. The famous Malai Kulfi is served with noodles laced in rose syrup. It is a unique stuff but not out of the world, in my view. You can always resort to the safest option of lassi if you are not in a mood to experiment too much with your food.
Along with the generic spread of snacks, Jammu offers something very unique. One of them is ‘Kachalu’. Kachalu are colocacia (arbi,arvi) corms sliced and diced and marinated with tangy spices. The texture of the bite is not smooth but slightly grainy and is probably similar to the ‘Garadu’ which is available in Indore at Sarafa Bazaar during winters. Girdhari Kachaluwala in Kachchi Chaavani is supposed to dish wonderful kachalus and fruit chaats. ‘Masala Mooli’ is a delectable dish made of baby white radishes sprinkled with right amount of spices. Wonderful example of zingy and tangy combination!
Arrival of Kashmiri Pandits in early 90’s have also added another dimension to Jammu’s food culture. Though generally restricted to Kashmiri people, the cuisine can be easily accessed by being guest in a kashmiri home or attending kashmiri wedding. Dum aloo, red and yellow paneer, tangy brinjals (chyok wangun), haakh (collard greens) and monje haakh (kohl rabi) are the recipes one must try. Kashmiris love to have baker’s bread for their breakfast and hence, every Kashmiri colony has one traditional bakery known as ‘Kaandar’. The traditional breads like gyevchot, katlam, tyel woru, kulcha (this is different) go wonderfully well with the sweet milky tea or the salty pink tea. And since I have mentioned about tea, the discussion would never be complete without mentioning my most favourite tea, Kahwa, the wonderfully aromatic clear green tea with bits of dry fruits.
|Gyevchot Bread with Sweet Tea|
As with most of the hilly areas in North India, momo is a very popular snack item here. Steamed momos are the packets of fine flour filled with grated vegetables (or chicken) and served with pungent chutney and steaming soup. It is a must experience on cold windy evening in Jammu, especially in the outskirts.
Jammu has few swanky restaurants like Falak in Raghunath Bazar area. But they actually don’t represent the food culture of Jammu. Jammu is rather epitomized by the bustling streets and the food available on these streets and in the homes on people in Jammu. Jammu is also known as the City of Temples and hence, the religious factor has somehow augured well with the vegetarian quotient here. There are pockets in Jammu for non-veg delicacies but I am not an authority on it. But the veg spread is droolicious. Bon appétit!
Jammu is well connected by road, railways and airways. Personal suggestion is to go by road or train, especially the long journeys. Best time is to visit during winters i.e. November to February where the food can be enjoyed to fullest terms. Jammu has an array of hotels and lodging arrangement due to its importance as pilgrimage point as well as pit stop for Kashmir. Area around Raghunath Bazaar offers good accommodation at reasonable prices.
This blog was published as a featured story on the website of The Alternative. Following is the link to the URL : http://thealternative.in/travel/the-gastronomic-traveller-jammus-north-indian-kashmiri-and-chinese-street-food/