Not everybody can afford glitzy restaurants and fast food joints that now dot Srinagar city. There are thousands who still throng city’s famous Food Street that has survived both competition and change. Zafar Aafaq reports
Ghulam Nabi Kumar, 48, a low rung government employee posted in Srinagar, travels by train everyday to reach his office. He lives in Verinag village of Islamabad district. “I cannot afford to rent a room in the city,” said Kumar, who has to manage his expenses out of a meagre salary.
For lunch he goes to the Food Street located in the city centre. This is the part of his daily routine.
“I eat my lunch here every day, I cannot afford to visit the posh restaurants,” said Kumar.
Food Street is a narrow alley of small shops located in the busy centre of Srinagar city at Budshah Chowk. The street is famous for its economic and affordable lunch.
A plate of rice with cooked lentils or vegetable cost just Rs 40. “Even the price of rice with cooked meat or rista is manageable for me,” said Kumar.
Since morning Food Street starts reverberating with clattering of utensils and whistles of pressure cookers. By 10 am the food is ready to be served.
Unlike other restaurants, the delicacies served at the Food Street have homely touch. There are only a few items in the menu including, lentils, vegetables, cheese and a few non-vegetarian dishes.
“This place is for people who belong to a particular income group,” said Javed Ahmad, regular visitor at the Food Street. “Food is delicious as well as affordable.”
The entire Food Street runs on a common code of service. A customer can eat as much rice he wants but has to pay for just one plate. “It is like eating at home. I can ask for extra rice without worrying about paying more,” said Younis Dar, another regular customer at the street.
The bulk of customers who visit Food Street daily are from different areas of Kashmir. “They are those people who visit Srinagar for some work,” said Mohammad Yasin Kand, who owns a food-outlet at the street. “They belong to the lower middle-class and middle-class sections of the society.”
Given its popularity among regular visitors to the Srinagar city, Food Street is also known as Batte Gali (Batte in Kashmiri is rice and Galli means street).
As one passes through the street the smell of cooked food emerging from panes and pots is compelling. At lunch time the entire street wears a festive look.
The Food Street has fifteen shops, with fourteen on one side and a single big one on the other side.
One of the biggest shops in the Food Street belongs to Yasir Dharma, who inherited the business from his father some twenty-five years back. “Since then I am taking care of it.”
Each day Dharma serves more than three hundred costumers.
He employs three waiters and a few cooks. They are paid on the daily basis. “I earn Rs 250 a day,” said Irshad Ahmad, who works at Dharma’s shop.
In business since last 50 years, the Food Street has earned the tag of poor man’s street as well.
Nearly a decade ago, Jammu and Kashmir tourism Development Corporation got the street renovated. A pillared entrance has been set up which opens into street. The renovation included installation of street lamp posts which no more glow due to lack of maintenance. Red baked tiles are interred into the street.
The floods of 2014 caused serious damage to the infrastructure of the street which included the furniture as well. But the businessmen allege that they are yet to be compensated. They say that officials come only at the time of collection of rent. “Government is not even bothered about the cleanliness of the street,” said Dharma.
Earlier the owners of these shops used to get subsidized supply of Kerosine but now they have to rely on commercial LPG cylinders which have affected the margin of profit.
“We earn less than Rs 2 in a plate,” said Kand. “Imagine we have to pay nearly Rs 5000 for water supply per year,” complains Kand.
They say that government should completely redesign the street on modern lines so that it will attract tourists. “The building should be demolished and the space should be integrated into street,” said Amin. “The development project of the street should be part of Smart City Plan for Srinagar.”