Srinagar : The aroma of spiced meat, cooked on charcoal fire, hangs in the air. Kashmiris, of late, may have been flooded with trendy coffee shops and restaurants, but barbecues at Khayam Chowk in the old quarter of Srinagar continue to be a big draw.
There are around a dozen barbecue sellers on the street, once famous for the Khayam cinema hall. People swear by their wares, saying such barbecues can only be found in this area, dominated by the butcher community.
Imran Cafeteria established 40 years ago by Muhammad Yusuf, grandfather of present owner Abdul Hameed, is among the busy spots at Khayam Chowk.
“One out of every four people in Srinagar city has had a barbecue at Khayam Chowk,” claims Hameed proudly , as he serves a patron.
The specialty of the barbecues at Khayam Chowk, said Hameed, is the mutton used here, as compared to other barbecue kiosks that serve beef.
“The reason behind our success is that for the last 40 years we have never compromised on quality,” says Hameed. He then directs an employee to give a second helping of chutney to a customer.
For those interested in digging into these delectable barbecues in the comfort of their home, the shops in the area, including Imran Cafeteria, have also introduced pack-and-carry options.
The area is replete with scenes of men fanning charcoals with battery-operated fans. Among them is Ghulam Nabi Khera, more popularly known as Sher Khan, who can be distinguished by his broad shoulders and husky voice.
“I had learnt barbecue making from a Baloch (a resident of Balochistan in Pakistan) near the Langhda Bazaar of Karachi where I had gone to meet my nephew,” says Sher Khan.
After the India-Pakistan war of 1965, he returned to Kashmir and started selling barbecues at city centre Lal Chowk. In 1966-67, he went to Mumbai where he operated a joint by the name Shera Cafeteria for 15 years.
Many Bollywood stars regularly visited his shop, he claimed. Among the famous Bollywood stars who used to visit Shera Cafeteria, Sher Khan says he was the most impressed by late screen villain Amjad Khan.
“Amjad Khan was a very humble person, I was impressed by his philanthropy,” says Khan recalling with nostalgia his days in the Andheri area of Mumbai.
Sher Khan also remembers comedian Qader Khan for his humour. “If you posed a tricky question to him he would literally slaughter you with his one-liners,” he says with a giggle.
Apart from the mouth-watering taste of the barbecues, the other specialty of Khan is the chutneys. “It is the craft that Allah has bestowed to my hands,” he says.
Though his shop is not as well furnished as the others, he finds pride of place at Khayam Chowk for being one of the first to introduce barbecues in the area.
Besides men, women too can be seen thronging the area, with some flocking here with their entire families.
The rates of the barbecues are however a dampener. “Since the rates of mutton are soaring, we are compelled to sell at Rs.70 a plate,” said Sher Khan.