Photos by: Ahsaan Ali
History of: Urvat il Wusqa
With the arrival of the winter season in Kashmir, many traditional delicacies are prepared. One of them is “Pherr” or “Smoked fish”. When its appetizing aroma fills the room, one forgets the harshness of the cold weather.
From ancient times the people of Kashmir have been fond of smoked fish, especially the elderly people in the center of Srinagar. It is believed that Pherr provides energy to beat the harsh cold winters and helps keep the body warm.
The pheran is usually cooked with Kashmiri Hakh (collar leaves) along with many species that add to its flavor, the dish is popularly known as “Phari Hakh”. Many people love to get this dish with Nadru (Lotus stalk), radish and tomatoes. Before the smoked fish is cooked, remove its outer layer and then deep fry the fish and then add all the spices to make the fish crispy and spicy. A little water is added to it and it is served mainly with the hot steamed rice.
In earlier times due to the lack of fresh food in winters due to the closure of highways, people used to preserve food through various methods. Smoking is one of the oldest methods of preservation. But in the modern times where there is availability of fresh foods in the market, smoking is still used as a process to enhance the taste and flavor of the Kashmiri fish (Kasher Gaad), which in itself is known for its quality.
The process of making smoked fish requires effort from many people and is quite interesting in itself. The fish are usually caught first from Lake Dal and then the women who are experts in cleaning, washing and removing its internal organs. After washing, the fish are laid down on the wild, dry grass, which is loosely braided together in the form of platforms and then dried for a while, after which the grass has been burned to smoke the fish on it.
When the fish turns reddish brown and is properly smoked, these fish are collected in a wooden basket and then sold in the market.
It used to be a good source of income for the fishmongers. But with the passage of time, demand has declined due to various factors such as the young generation’s changing food choices. Still, some families have kept this culture alive.
Sultan Ahmed Tiploo, living in Anchaar Soura, has been dealing with smoked fish for decades. Although many taboos are associated with making this trade, but he is never aware of them. “Young generations are reluctant to do this business as they feel they will be looked down upon if they will continue to do so,” Tiploo said.
Tiploo mentions that the material used to make smoked fish is also becoming more expensive day by day, especially the grass, because they can not use ordinary grass to make it.
Sultan along with his family members strive hard for this culture not to die but due to the changed lifestyle this culture dies along with many traditional delicacies day by day.
“Sales of these fish are declining, but some people are still happy with this dish. And until there are people who love this dish, we will continue to make it,” Tiploo said.