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Breaking Bread with Lal Chowk’s Pakhtoon Delicacy

Breaking Bread with Lal Chowk’s Pakhtoon Delicacy

Arif Nazir

Selling an early morning delicacy in the city centre, a sweet stall has been serving tastes since the sixties. With times, even as the kiosk has found a new owner, it has retained the old charm in Srinagar.


With an icy December dawn, the misty sunrise heralds yet another first-half daily routine for Shahid Pakhtoon in Srinagar’s trade heartland, Lal Chowk.

Lighting up the charcoal heater, Shahid settles at his regular work-space, as the sleepy market around him gradually comes to life.

Back in the sixties, his late father Ghulam Mohammad Pakhtoon, an Afghan descent would start the street delicacy at the red square’s quiet corner.

The sweet stall makes an early morning appearance in Srinagar’s city centre. / Arif Nazir for MI

‘Kashmiri Halwa’ with ‘Athi Cxott’ or Chapatti has since been an early-morning street food for many to begin their day with.

“It seems only yesterday when I would sit by this young boy’s father and have a couple of plates over an endless chat,” says Ali Mohammad Elahi, a labour from Pulwama, whose stare goes to other end where Shahid flips hot-halwa on a plate to serve his customers.

The old man still saviours the sweet with the same love and affection. He comes to Srinagar once in a week to taste the Pakhtoon delicacy.

Samsaar ha badlov, gobra,” Elahi makes a comment to Shahid pointing to the change of the time and the place.

Elahi is one of the oldest adherents of the Pakhtoon stall. / Arif Nazir for MI

Back then, Lal Chowk was a different place filled with different characters. While Elahi was jolly and humorous, Ali Pakhtoon would mostly act as a stern-faced sweet-seller.

It was only a few years back that Elahi—whose hometown kept him away from Lal Chowk for some time—knew that his old Pakhtoon pal’s son has stepped in his father’s shoes.

“My father sat at this place from the early 1960s to 2000 and after that his health deteriorated,” says Shahid. “He couldn’t do it further, so I had to come forward to do it, and I am glad that I did. He passed away early this year.”

Shahid’s is among a few surviving stalls in Lal Chowk carrying an old-world charm. / Arif Nazir for MI

Apart from his regular customers, there’re some random stops-by and Shahid welcomes them all.

“Sit here, brothers,” he asks two young boys, new to his kiosk.

While they taste the dish, Shahid paces up his hand to flip the spoon upside down on the pan. The early morning wafting aroma only adds a cherry on top of the cake.

Spotting the ingredients, the duo gets into a conversation with each other.

“Cashews and raisins,” utters one with fashionable attire.

“To me, semolina, ghee and sugar are the main things,” the other one replies humbly.

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Setting his pheran right and rubbing his mouth clean, Elahi surprises the duo.

“Both of you might be right,” he breaks in, “but to me, the most right thing is to just taste it, without talking about it.”

The seasoned stall devotee’s passing remark spreads smile before walking away with the promise to see Shahid again next week.

Among his customers are young lots out for early-morning tuition or work. / Arif Nazir for MI

Done with their plates, the duo gets up, looking pleased.

“This is the most right thing to have, if one has skipped the breakfast,” one of the boys says, while handing Rs 50 note to smiling Shahid.

Soon the pan is empty, and Shahid packs-up from what is now a jam-packed market.

Noon time at the city-center is not quiet at all, and neither does it suit the Pakhtoon’s morning street delicacy.


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