Snuggled between two shops located on a muddy by-lane in old Srinagar, Raja’s shop entices more customers than the other two. The reason is that he sells mouth-watering barbeque and its winter in Kashmir.
On a chilly December evening, I along with a friend who wouldn’t stop pestering me about taking a bite walked to the shop in tasteful anticipation. Raja is a clean shaven lad in his late twenties who greets customers either plainly or enthusiastically, depending on the level of familiarity he shares with them. My friend in his inimitable feminine tone asks Raja for the obvious.
“You will have to wait as you can clearly see,” Raja replies from behind his makeshift barbeque iron–roaster which sits precariously outside the boundary of his shop.
Peeking into the shop, I find the insides overcrowded; men deviously satiating their palettes, another teeming mass of eager men on the steps waiting for the people inside to finish. We were last in line.
The movement of his hand held cardboard piece sends clouds of smoke from the roasting meat chops into the nippy air. The spice laden smoke intoxicates the senses. It’s this smell which somehow makes the wait endurable and appetizing. Anticipation is the only appetizer. Waiting suddenly became appealing as a chatty group of youngsters bring cricket into the waiting game. The test match between India and South Africa is in question. Arguments mix with the smoke emanating from the iron-grill.
“South Africa should have gone for the win. Sixteen runs is no big task,” says one sharp featured teenager in his boyish voice. “They are not called chokers for nothing,” another adds.
No one seems happy with the draw. As with everything else, Kashmiris are absolutists when it comes to cricket. We believe in a win or a loss. Yes or no. There is nothing in between, but wait.
An impatient group of middle aged men plead Raja to clear the space for them. Raja responds with a clichéd “Have patience, it pays well,” to the gathering. Several mouths are complaining about the lack of space inside the dimly lit shop. Raja isn’t perturbed by the complaints; he keeps issuing curt responses and shifts the cardboard piece to his left hand to fan the roasting meat on the grill.
Winter in Kashmir heightens the flavor of barbeque. As bone splitting cold grips the landscape, more and more men are seen frequenting barbeque stalls. A walk around the old city and you will spot dozens of these stalls selling barbeque at various rates. At several of these places, women in standing cars accompanied by family relish the spicy meat-delight inside. It’s a food no one seems to dislike.
Meanwhile, the space inside Raja’s bunker-of-a-shop is cleared and we enter and shift to the corner of a wooden seat. The fumes from the barbeque warm our taste buds as we settle into our seats. My impatient friend is fond of the chutney Raja serves along with the barbeque. He asks for a plate full of it without hesitancy. Raja smilingly disproves and tells him to wait. Another five minutes and Raja hands us Lavasas (Kashmiris bread) and two plates of chutney and six steaks of steaming barbeque.
Our wait is finally over.
Originally published here — https://archive.authintmail.com/article/reporters-journal/waiting-barbeque