DELECTABLE ICON

  • Akash Hassan
  • Publish Date: Dec 2 2017 1:30AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Dec 2 2017 1:30AM
DELECTABLE ICON

How the popular Krishna Dhaba came to be a city landmark

 

It’s late autumn in Srinagar and around 9 pm the city is nearly deserted. Even the otherwise bustling tourist hub of Boulevard Road is quiet and dark; there are few visitors around and most shopkeepers have downed shutters. A few restaurants by the Dal Lake are open but they are mostly empty. 

A little distance away in Ram Munshi Bagh, though, one eatery wears a festive look. Its white bulb lights shine bright, revealing a jumble of cars and auto rickshaws parked on both sides of the road outside – and, of course, a crowd of people pouring in and out. This is New Krishna Vaishno Dhaba, the famed vegetarian restaurant better known as Krishna Dhaba.

This evening the eatery is filled to capacity and waiters are on their toes. “It is like this for almost the entire day. But at dinner time, the rush is even more,” says one waiter wearing the dhaba’s uniform of grey dress and blue cap. 

Surinder Singh, 46, from Ludhiana, Punjab, is having dinner with his wife and two daughters. “We are on holiday,” says Singh. “This is our third visit to Kashmir and every time we come here we eat at this place. We really enjoy the food and it is not very expensive.”

At the next table from Singh’s is Rathindara Chatopadya, a retired government employee from Kolkata. “This is my first time here,” he says. “They have good vegetarian food at such a great price.”

The dhaba is as popular with tourists as with local people. Faizan Wani, 23, from Kupwara is a regular customer. “In Srinagar, this is one of the best places to try diverse Indian cuisines. From parantha to Idli dosa, there are dozens of delicacies on offer. Rajma chawal here is the best I have ever tasted,” says Wani, who studies in Uttarakhand and is home on holiday. “Whenever I am in Srinagar, I prefer to eat at Krishna Dhaba. This place offers excellent food and it is affordable. Glitzy cafes and restaurants that have sprung up across Srinagar are becoming much too expensive.” 

Krishan Dhaba was started by Ramesh Kumar, whose family had moved to Srinagar from Jammu in the 1930s. It is now managed by his brother Pawan Mehra, 45. “In 1937, my late father Krishan Lal opened a sweets shop here,” says Pawan. In 1984, Ramesh turned the shop into a dhaba. Five years later, an armed rebellion against Indian rule erupted in Kashmir. “We closed the dhaba in 1989,” says Pawan, “because the situation became really bad and there was no business.” 

The family fled to Jammu and tried setting up an eatery there, but the effort proved unsuccessful. “Some of our family members came back to Srinagar in 1994 and opened the dhaba again,” says Pawan. “The situation was still bad but we had no option other than to run our business somehow.” 

Pawan himself returned only after his elder brother Ganesh Kumar died in 2009 to run the restaurant with his brothers, Subash Kumar and Ramesh Kumar.

“All of our family lives here now. We have a house here and most of the family members even speak Kashmiri,” says Pawan.

In the past decade or so, the dhaba has flourished, even attracting high-profile customers. “Former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah used to come here. They love our rajma,” Pawan says with pride. “Many ministers, mostly hailing from Jammu, are also our customers.” 

The dhaba is a boon to assorted shopkeepers and vendors who make a living around it. Abdul Raheem, 50, from Khanyar in Old Srinagar has been putting up a stall selling local Handicraft items on the footpath outside the dhaba for over two decades. “I put up my stall here every evening,” he says. “Earlier I used to work during the day as well but now I am not keeping well and work in the evenings only.” Thanks to the rush of customers at the restaurant, Raheem says he earns enough for his family of six. 

A few shopkeepers nearby too say their business is greatly helped by the presence of the dhaba.