To Order: A Plateful Of Tradition

  • Javid Parsa
  • Publish Date: Jun 20 2016 10:08PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jun 20 2016 10:08PM
To Order: A Plateful Of Tradition

 Where has all our Houkhe Syun  gone?


I have a vivid memory of running away to my maternal grandparents’ on weekends and being treated to a piping hot serving of Ale Hatche (dried bottle gourd) over a heap of rice. Took me no time to devour it.

 And that is just one of so many cherished childhood memories of gorging onHoukhe Syun at my relatives›, mostly during winter vacations.

 As I grew older, though, dried vegetables, meat and fish started disappearing, almost imperceptibly, from our plates. Now, these traditional delicacies are a rarity.

 “How did this happen?” I asked my mother and grandmother.

 “We get fresh fish all year round, why put in the effort cleaning and drying them for winters?” came the reply. The same, of course, applies to meat and vegetables. 

That’s a convincing explanation. But is that it, or is there more by way of an explanation? 

Until not very long way, the extended harsh winter made it impossible to grow fresh vegetables in the valley. And heavy snowfall closed down the national highway, cutting off supply from outside the state. Non-availability of vegetables and fruits in winters was thus a real problem, to mitigate which the people came up with various ideas. The most practical, of course, was drying vegetables during the summer and autumn months when they were plentiful and storing them away.

 As a bonus, dried vegetables helped cure ailments like common cold, and kept the body warm. Houkhe Syun, in fact, has been used for such purposes since ancient times.

Oh, how I loved feasting on Houkhe Haakh (dried saag) to keep warm after making snowmen in my garden. My great grandfather was often force-fed a bowl of rice andWangan Hatche (dried eggplant) to cure chest congestion.

 Not just eating it, the whole process of preparing Houkhe Syun itself was sheer joy.I have fond memories of many summer afternoons sitting with my grandmother, washing and slicing a heap of tomatoes and placing them on a mat to dry. While we did that, we talked and talked, and she would tell me stories. Oh, how I cherish those days, those sights and smells, those stories.

 As far as I can  remember, Houkhe Syun was part of my everyday life when I was growing up. But somewhere along the way, it vanished.

 It’s not just that we no longer prepared Houkhe Syun at home, it disappeared from the markets as well. Now, you seldom find people selling Houkhe Syun and HoukheGaade. Even if you do find some, it won’t have many takers. A lot of people who earned their livelihoods selling Houkhe Syun have moved on to selling other stuff or taking up some other work.

 The primary reason for the lack of demand for Houkhe Syun, as my mother explained, is the availability of fresh vegetables and meat all year round. That the past decade or so has not witnessed harsh winters has greatly helped. The Srinagar-Jammu highway is now motorable for most of the year, enabling an uninterrupted supply of fresh produce from outside the valley.

 Also, an increasingly consumerist economy has flooded our markets with a variety of canned foods, disincentivising the need to put in all the effort that went into cleaning and drying vegetables and meat. 

There was another issue, and this came from growing awareness about health. Although drying up vegetables extended their shelf life, it also increased the risk of exposure to harmful microbes over a long period, especially since home-madeHoukhe Syun did not use any preservatives. This, though, was anything but an insurmountable problem; a little more hygiene and some preservatives should have done the trick. But I suspect it was just a convenient excuse to abandon another of our age-old traditions in the name of “modernity”. 

Today, we get almost anything we want anywhere, anytime. And that’s all good. But it won’t do us any harm to preserve at least some of our traditions and practices, certainly not such a tasty and tasteful one as Houkhe Syun.