Saturday, August 21, 2010

RegionFood Patterns of India: Kashmir

The far northern region of India is dominated by the glassy blue and white Himalayas, home of Indra, the thunderstorm god, where rivers roar through deep gorges and temperatures are well below freezing. The name Himalaya means “abode of the snow” and Hindus believe the craggy snow covered peaks are Shiva’s hair. When Brahma threw the goddess Ganga down, she was caught in Shiva’s strands of hair, preventing her waters from sweeping away the whole earth. She finally escaped near Gangatori, the sacred source of the Ganges, gushing from the throat of an icy glacier and departing at Hardwar from her mountain confines and rushing across the plains out to the sea. Only wild sheep and cave hermits live up near the glaciers. At the slightly lower altitude of 6,500 feet above sea level are the towns built around the Moghul emperor’s summer palaces and British hill stations—cool escapes from the intense heat of Delhi on the plains below.  The Vale of Kashmir was a great center of Hindu culture until coming under Muslim rule in the 14th century and today there are two strands of cuisine—the closely related Hindu Pandit and Waza Muslim (both sides have been converted back and forth depending on rulers so the lines are blurred). The main difference is Hindus use a pungent smelling ground resin called hing in place of prohibited passion arousing garlic and onions while Muslims use small shallot-like onions called praan and garlic. Kashmir has a temperate climate with lush flower carpeted valleys surrounded by apricot, apple, cherry, pear, almond and walnut orchards and thick pine forests where honeycombed morel mushrooms grow. For two weeks in late October the valleys shimmer in a sea of delicate pale purple saffron crocus. Floating vegetable gardens sprout from piled up water reeds daubed together with mud on the lakes near clusters of wooden houseboats. Winters are cold, so in summer and fall every type of fruit and vegetable is sun-dried for use when nothing can grow. Sheep are raised for meat, milk and their wool.  Both Hindu Brahmins and Muslims here eat meat—mainly lamb and goat, but the spicing is slightly different. Rice is grown in flooded paddies in the shadow of the mountains. To combat the cold, warming spices such as chili powder, cinnamon, black cardamom, pepper, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, mace, coriander seeds, ground dried ginger, and fennel powder are used.

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