Kashmiri tradition of Hokh Syun sustains winter comfort, economic benefits amidst Chillai Kalan

SRINAGAR — The timeless tradition of Hokh Syun, a unique culinary practice in Kashmir, permeates the kitchens of rural and urban homes, infusing the air with the aromatic essence of winter dishes crafted from sun-dried fruits and vegetables harvested during the summer.

Notably, Hokh Syun involves soaking carefully preserved sun-dried produce in hot water until they swell, then sautéing them in oil and spices. The result is a symphony of flavours that embody the essence of winter comfort for the people of Kashmir amid the harshest winter period in Kashmir, called Chillai Kalan.

For Kashmiri farmers like Hafeeza Bano of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district and Dilshada Begum from Baba-Wayil village of Kangan, Hokh Syun is not just a tradition but a boon. These farmers sun-dry surplus vegetables from their gardens, consuming some and selling the rest during winter. The economic benefit of selling Hokh Syun outweighs selling fresh produce in the summer when prices are lower due to abundant supply.

“While fresh produce is available year-round nowadays, Hokh Syun remains an integral part of Kashmiri kitchens. This tradition, born out of necessity in the face of harsh winters, continues to be a cultural touchstone. Despite modern supply chains and year-round availability of fresh produce, the unique taste of Hokh Syun holds its sway,” Hafeeza told the news agency KNO.

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The demand for Hokh Syun, she said, is not confined to local markets; Kashmiris living abroad carry these sun-dried delicacies with them.

Vendors like Abdul Ahad in Hazratbal experience a continuous demand, with sales reaching new heights with each passing year. Highlighting that sun-dried vegetables have been a cherished tradition among Kashmiris for centuries, he noted that their consumption during winter is an age-old practice, with the demand surging from late December to February.

Explaining their significance, he added, “These dried vegetables are renowned for providing warmth in winter. While people traditionally grew them at home, nowadays vendors in Srinagar and other towns also offer these.”

In the northern regions of Kashmir, including Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara, the age-old tradition of consuming locally produced sun-dried vegetables like brinjals, gourd, turnips, spinach, and tomatoes during winters has been deeply ingrained in the culture for centuries.

Even in places like Kargil, Leh, and Jammu, there is a notable demand for sun-dried vegetables, showcasing the widespread popularity of this Kashmiri tradition.

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KNO also conducted interviews with numerous residents from rural as well as urban areas who expressed a preference for dried vegetables during the chilly days in Kashmir.

“In addition to fresh vegetables, many people, particularly during the bone-chilling winter, prefer consuming dried varieties such as Ruwangan Hache (dried tomatoes), Al-Hache (bottle gourd), Nader Hache (lotus stems), Hokh Gaad (dried fishes), Wangan Hache (dried brinjal), and Gogji Hatche (dried turnip),” said a vegetable seller in Hazratbal.

Meanwhile, health experts suggest that eating sun-dried vegetables once or twice a week during winter is generally safe, but it’s important not to make it a daily habit. They advise being careful about how the vegetables are dried and stored.

“If you notice any fungus on sun-dried veggies, be cautious, as the fungus may contain harmful toxins that could lead to health problems, including an increased risk of cancer. So, enjoy sun-dried vegetables in moderation and make sure they are properly prepared and stored to stay on the safe side,” they said.

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Kashmir News Observer (KNO) is an organization that gathers news reports and sells them to subscribing news organizations, such as newspapers, magazines and radio and television broadcasters.

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