Zaeka-E-Kashmir: Delving Into Kashmir’s Kandurwan
Image Credit: Sheermal

On the Dal Lake in Kashmir or in downtown Srinagar, bakeries are elaborately laid out and bakers sell various kinds of breads, with golden brown crusts and intricate, complex textures. In a majority of Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim cooking, the main part of the meal includes rice for supper. Bread is not part of the meal; it is only eaten with tea in the morning or evening. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the aroma of freshly baked bread is very inviting. This smell of baked bread rising from the bakery, or “kandurwan” as it is known in Kashmir, is a tough temptation to resist. Here are some of the most popular and commonly found breads in Kashmir’s bakeries. 


Girda is a morning bread or roti that is typically served with butter and is great as a breakfast option for that delicious taste to kickstart the day. It’s a flat tandoor-style bread made with three simple ingredients- wheat flour, water and milk, and the dough is fermented overnight. Kashmir's artisans, or “Kandurs” as they are popularly known, are skilled cooks who do tehir jobs with skill, speed and a gracious smile on their face. 


Bakarkhani has a special place in Kashmiri cuisine. It is similar to a round naan in appearance, but crisp, layered, and has a sprinkling of sesame seeds. It is typically consumed hot during breakfast. Bakarkhani is flaky in texture because of its high fat content, kind of like flaky puff pastries. To achieve this texture, it is cooked on a tandoor at high temperature with lots of fat.


Kulcha is a favourite flat bread all over India, and Kashmir is no different, Pair it with some butter chicken and you have the most delicious meal that almost never goes wrong! It is usually covered with poppy seeds and has a nice even colour with a crisp, hard yet flaky texture. This is achieved by first cooking it for a while at high temperature, then gradually decreasing to lower temperature. This process is kept consistent by adding wood inside the tandoor and slow cooking the kulcha for almost an hour.


Shirmal is a mildly sweet naan made from maida or refined flour. Traditionally, it was made like a roti or chapatti. However, these days it is prepared like a naan, barring for a few alterations in the recipe. The warm water in the recipe for naan is replaced with warm milk sweetened with sugar and flavoured with saffron as well as cardamom. It is then leavened or risen using yeast and baked in a tandoor or oven. The final shirmal is not unlike a Danish pastry partly in appearance.  


Lavas or unleavened bread is the Kashmiri version of pita bread. The crispy version of lavas can be consumed with chutneys or jams, and its softer cousin can be used to wrap meat or chickpeas, similar to a tortilla.x


Chochwor is yeast fermented bread sprinkled with white sesame seeds, usually with a hole in the middle. It is merely the local version of a bagel eaten during tea time called as “Nun chai” or namkeen tea. 


Roath is essentially bread baked in a flat baking tray with dry fruits. It has the soft texture of a sponge cake. Aside from being a delicious treat, roath has cultural significance as well. It is a part of many festivities and celebrations, most important being announcing the arrival of "new bride" in the neighbourhood. It is presented as a gift from the bride’s side to the groom’s. The wedding roath is often massive, usually a metre or more in length and breadth. 

For someone keen on learning about Kashmir’s culture, or indeed of any place, the food offers interesting starting points. Breads in Kashmir can be home-made, store bought, or made in traditional bakeries. Having fresh bread on a cold winter’s morning with warm cup of tea is simply phenomenal, especially in Kashmir’s temperate location and climate. The earthy aroma and flavour of tawa-cooked bread is simply irreplaceable. Ultimately, however, it’s the grace of the kandurs that adds that special, magical touch to the food, making it extremely inviting and appetizing.