By Parvez Butt
Srinagar, Feb.13 : Every year when heavy snowfall disrupts normal life in the Kashmir Valley, Hokshuns, the indigenously dried and preserved vegetables, are part of the diet of general household here.
While trucks ferrying essential commodities are stranded en route in the valley during snowfall and it is impossible to move out , the Kashmiris ensure their meal through Hokshun. The cooked food made of Hokshun is very delicious in taste.
"Hok" mean dry and "Shu" is vegetable in Kashmiri language. It is basically the dried vegetables which include gourds, turnips, spinach and even tomatoes.
In summers, months ahead of the onset of extreme winters in the valley, Kashmiris collect essentials in the form of rice, vegetables, pulses, salt and other items and preserve these vegetables. Today, readymade Hokshun items are also available in markets.
Despite changes in eating patterns and tastes as well as modern dehydrated and processed vegetables available in the market, Hokshun (dry vegetables) still finds a place in most of the Kashmiri kitchens.
It is a common sight during summer to find housewives engaged in preparing Hokshun. They dry vegetables and hang them on house-walls.
"We dry these vegetables in summers and sell them in winters. This process continues till three months of January, February and March. Vegetables like tomato, birnjal, Kaddu (pumpkin), Karela (bitter gourd), and spinach are dried. It is even sold outside in places like America, Mumbai and other places as well," said Gulam Rasool, a vegetable dealer.
For centuries vegetables have been preserved in this manner for consumption during winter months in the valley.
Srinagar's famous Batamaloo and old town are the nodal markets for variety of Hokshun items.
One is drawn at the sight of huge varieties like Alae Hache (dried bottle gourds), Ruvangan Hache (dry tomatoes), Vangan Hache (dry brinjals), Hoch meeth (dry fenugreek), Hoch Palak (dry spinach), Gogji arae (dry turnip), Gogji Mus (small dry turnip with leaves), Bumb (a wild herb), Hand (a wild herb) at such shops.
Earlier, Kashmir was not dependent on food supplies from other places during winters since Hokshun was prepared in almost all the homes. Besides its medicinal qualities, Hokshun items are also very appetizing.
"It is very tasty. We, the Kashmiri people, specifically give preference to taste. Besides, it can be preserved for a longer time. And hence, it has larger shelf life as compared to fresh vegetables. These dried vegetables can be used and are palatable for two to four months," said Ajaz Ahmed, a local.
Popular belief is that Dal (pulses) and Hokshun provide warmth.
"In this season, Kashmiri people eat this more to treat the ailments like cough and nausea. Despite of the fact that these dried vegetables do not have any vitamins or nutritious value, they are being eaten to treat the ailments," said Firdusa Parveen, a local.
In markets, Hokshun vegetables are sold at the same prices as the normal fresh vegetables but with different packaging.