A BIG hello to my fellow kooky cooks.
Having spent two memorable weeks digesting the sights, sounds, smells and food (but of course!) in the Kashmir Valley, I am back.
Trying to resume earlier routine is proving to be a bit more difficult than I had anticipated, maybe because I was away for 10 days prior to the Kashmir trip and so it has been an extended away time.
Kashmir is a land blessed with abundant fresh fruits and vegetables. The valley is also well known for its nuts such as almonds, pine nuts and walnuts (fresh green walnuts dangling from trees is a usual sight throughout the region) and saffron. Since the saffron season is very short (two weeks from October to November), we couldn’t visit saffron fields. But the spice is available in abundance wherever you go.
Say hello to a new type of tea very popular among the locals: noon chai or salted tea.
For most of us, the idea of drinking tea which is salty is likely to be alien but this type of tea is very common among some parts of Asia.
The Kashmiri people I spoke to informed me that they start their morning with noon chai and drink it several times in the course of the day. One local family I became friends with said that it was not uncommon for the father to drink 5-10 cups in one sitting.
Traditionally, noon chai was prepared in a samovar although these days stove is an equally popular medium.
The tea is had at breakfast along with Kashmiri rotis (thick, spongy, round or oval shaped flat bread).
Noon chai takes longer to prepare than regular tea so once you’ve placed the order, you have to wait patiently.
The tea leaves used to make this specialty are also different from the typical black ones. They are green and grown locally (and also in Pakistan, I believe).
The tea has bicarbonate of soda added which gives it the pink colour.
I tasted noon chai in the hotel I was staying in, in Pahalgam (photo above). The best way I would describe that experience is imagine drinking a creamy, salted tea.
In my opinion, it is an acquired taste. I am afraid I didn’t take to it and could only drink a few sips. Maybe if I had tried it a few times more, I would have appreciated it more.
Also, it may partly be a psychological barrier which makes me think that tea has to be sweet.
But it is always good to get out of our comfort zone to explore new things and this was one of those adventures.
And if you ever get the opportunity to taste Kashmiri noon chai, I would definitely recommend that you try :-).