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Update: APRIL 2017
Spring is afoot in the Kashmir Valley with the hope of an idyllic summer and normalcy after a year affected by unrest and after-effects of demonetisation. Most restaurants should be open on all days with a bit of caution on Fridays. Best of luck.
This year there has been an exponential increase in restaurants especially the arty-cafe types. New entrants include Kathi Junction at the Sara City Mall, GoodFellas on the Bund, and Books & Bricks opposite Amar Singh College.
Winterfell Cafe, a GoT-themed cafe, has recently opened for business on the Boulevard.
This regularly updated guide is based totally on my own taste buds. Some of the more touristy places may be missing since local residents are off their PR radar.
Lunch & Dinner
The slightly posey menu at The 14th Avenue overlooking the Jehlum near the SPS Museum at Rajbagh is offset by the location and friendly service. Plus they have free wifi if you ask nicely. The new 14th Avenue Cafe at Parraypora is recommended.
The original Karim's has opened a franchise at the erstwhile Mehfil restaurant at Polo View.
The quality of the food & the service at 7c's Fine n Dine at the Sangarmaal Complex has vastly improved of late. Seating availability can be something of a lottery and the name remains unredeemably clunky.
Imran Cafeteria in Khanyar serves the best grilled mutton tikka. The skewers are served on a lavassa with a platter of six or seven dips/chutneys.
Look for the original Imran's since a number of copycats have sprung up in the vicinity.
Old-timers and regular visitors to the valley swear by Ahdoos at Residency Road. Tea and kababs at Ahdoos are a time-honored tradition. The chicken patty and chutney are simply magnifico.
Tip: Ahdoos refers to the restaurant, not the bakery shop.
Cafe Coffee Day adjacent to Burn Hall School and
Coffea Arabica at the Broadway Hotel are the best places for coffee in Kashmir. Cafe Coffee Day has opened new outlets at Kashmir University and Nishat. The food at Coffea Arabica is excellent though pricey. The ambience is a huge plus.
Fast Food Chains
Modern Sweets at Karan Nagar has the freshest burgers in Srinagar probably because their buns are oven-fresh.
Best as takeaway. However the service is excruciatingly slow.
Cakes and Pastries
La Delice, a French-style bakery run by a French Lady on the Boulevard and the Just Baked bakery at Rawalpora are new entries on the list.
Catherine Wheels served with thick maple syrup in an old-world setting at Hotel Highlands Park are alone worth the journey to Gulmarg. Nothing else comes close.
The fact that Gulmarg is one of the most beautiful tourist spots in Asia helps.
If you insist on pure vegetarian food, Krishna Dhaba opposite Cafe Coffee Day at Durganag is the best option.
It is probably the only place in Kashmir where three people can have a full meal for a couple of hundred bucks.
Recommended even for non-vegetarians.
You still cant get a decent hot chocolate fudge anywhere in Kashmir.
The houseboat-styled Food Court may be worth a visit for the ambience at the restored Zero Bridge.
Cafe Peerzoo on the banks of the Jehlum behind the General Post Office used to be a kind of finishing school for trainees at the Institute of Hotel Management. The food was prepared and served by the students and the quality varied from sublime to passable. These days it is just another government-run facility and the food roulette is history.
Worth a visit for the location.
If you are not lucky enough to experience the genuine article at dinner with a local family, any decent restaurant will offer a variety of passable Kashmiri dishes.
Ahdoos is a safe bet for restaurant-style Kashmiri food.
The only authentic Wazwaan is served on a Trami at a Kashmiri wedding. Restaurant versions are rip-offs.
Available only in winter. The best hareesa is homemade. The takia opposite the mosque at Aali Kadal serves the best commercially produced hareesa in town.
The best way to experience hareesa is to have it fresh from the cooking pit very early on a freezing winter morning.
Kanti is the Kashmiri version of the tikka, served as a dish (with fried onion rings) rather than on a skewer. Available at any decent restaurant.
The best qahwa (Kashmiri Green Tea) is homemade with saffron and chopped almonds. Most restaurant versions are rip-offs.
Try Ahdoos at Residency Road.
The traditional bakery of Kashmir has evolved under a strong Central Asian influence and thus, for a society whose staple food is rice, an amazing range of traditional breads are baked in wood-fired tandoors.
Every locality has its own ‘Kaandur’ or professional baker who bakes different varieties at different times of the day using recipes evolved over centuries.
Tip: The tastiest varieties are available in downtown Srinagar.
Bread for Breakfast
Tsot (girda) is a medium-sized round bread.
Lavassa is a large unleavened flat bread.
Bread for Tea
Tsochvor is a small round bread with a soft upper half sprinkled with til
Tip : Split the bread and feed the filling (goj) to a bulbul (the local nightingale). Butter the upper and lower halves and experience two varieties of bread for the price of one.
Baqerkhani/katlam is a bread cooked in layers.
Kulcha is a small hard dry, crumbly bread.
Tip : Dunk your Baqerkhani or kulcha in Noon-chai and use a spoon to scoop out the creamy mixture.
Sheermal is a dry, crumbly bread with a long shelf life. The best kind of sheermal is available in Pampore.
Khand Kulcha is a sweet variety of kulcha. Try khand kulcha from Behram Sahib in Anantnag.
Gyov Tsot is a slightly larger Tsot cooked with ghee.
Tilvor is another king of bread cooked with ghee.
Roat is a kind of super-size bread gifted with Nabat Not, a bowl made of sugar crystals on traditional occasions.
Surprisingly for a destination replete with lakes and streams, fish joints are few and far between. Gaad (fried fish) is available most evenings at a mobile stall just outside the parking lot of the Aquarium on the Boulevard .
The proprietor will not open his shop if he feels his merchandise is not fresh enough.
At later hours tipplers frequent the stall.
Lotus stems fried pakoda-style with fiery onion chutney are the Kashmir equivalent of french fries. They are common at roadside stalls along with fried potato slices and mattar.
You can buy a bundle of Nadur from a local grocer, split the stems lengthwise and fry without batter till golden brown and crispy.
Roasted chestnuts/water chestnuts (singhara) are seasonally available at roadside stalls.
Kashmiri Black Dal with proprietary mixtures of salt and spices served in cones made of lavassa bread. Commonly available at roadside stalls.
Frozen ice & milk sticks. Am Buda's kulfi at Bohri Kadal was a regular feature of college summers. These days locals recommend the kulfi made by Gulfishan Bakery at Lal Bazaar.
Lotus seeds with a watery fresh almond-like texture. Only available seasonally in and around the Dal Lake.
Best rubbed over with lemon & salt.
Excellent aloo & plain paranthas are available at a corner tea-stall opposite the motorcycle
Tip : The adjacent fishmonger has passable fried fish in the evenings.
Senoo Kashmir Pickles at Habba Kadal sell an amazing variety of pickles including chicken, mutton, vegetable, fish, mango, cherry, karela, amla, apple, plum and garlic. Not as savoury as my grandmother's pickles, but quite popular.
Pass the pickled apricot, please!
Kashmiris are traditionally just not into sweets.
Phirni is a sweet dessert like kheer, but based on suji (semolina) rather than rice. The best phirni, topped off with saffron threads and chopped almonds, is homemade. Most restaurant versions are rip-offs.
Best when rolled up in a slice of the giant parantha available at the same shop.
Basrak and Khand Gaazar (literally sweet carrot) are traditional sweets available at roadside stalls.
The drive down to Srinagar from the nearest rail head at Jammu offers unforgettable mountain scenery plus the chance to experience some unique local flavours.
Pick up kaladi (dried milk cheese) from roadside sellers around Udhampur and relish it golden-fried at your destination.
Look for the original Prem Sweets as a number of copycats have sprung up in the vicinity.
Look for the shacks on the right-hand edge of the road with the Baghliar dam forming the backdrop.
Precariously perched shacks on the cliff edge overlooking the Chenab between Ramban and Banihal serve excellent meetha parathas.
Excellent buffalo-milk Kaladis , makki-di-roti, and unsalted butter can be obtained from nomadic Gujjars in the hills of Kashmir.
One of the most memorable meals you can have in Kashmir is a trout you have hooked, gutted and cooked on-the-go.
This page has a trout recipe fit for a king (quite literally, since the author is the son of the last Maharaja of of Indore.)
Nothing finer, anywhere, indeed ….
Credits: Saleem Bakshi for selecting the best food on offer along the national highway and Sparsh Bansal for providing inputs from the tourist point of view.