Pulwama, July 03: Ghulam Hassan Sofi has been working extra hours for a couple of days at his baker shop locally known as Kander wan at Rajpora village in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district to ensure that he makes a sufficient number of Sheermal, a traditional bread.
The demand for this sweet delicacy spikes before festive occasions like Eid.
He kneads dough in a big wooden box (Tagaer); he is helped by his wife who is picking up Sheermal from a red-hot clay oven (Tandoor) with a long iron rod (Seekh).
The baked Sheermal are collected into a wicker basket (Kranjul).
The hot crispy Sheermal is sold to customers who queue outside Hassan’s single roomed baker shop.
Sheermal is a flat, circular and furrow surfaced bread, weighing around 60 grams.
There are around 20 bakers in Rajpora, a historic village of Kashmir, which make this brownish bread daubed with sesame seeds.
What sets Hassan apart is his mastery. He is reputed as the best baker (Kandur) in the locality for his high quality Sheermal.
Hassan’s father, Ghulam Qadir Sofi, is credited as the innovator of this traditional delicacy of Kashmir.
Shabir Ahmad Parray, a local baker says that Qadir was the person who started the tradition of Sheermal making in Rajpora; others learnt the skill from him.
“Of the 20 bakers, 7 are Qadir’s grandchildren,” Shabir said.
Hassan narrated that Sheermal was consumed by rich people during yesteryears and common masses were unable to afford it due to poverty.
“My father and grand- father used to make Sheermal at a landlord’s house. They used to work as family bakers for the landlord,” he said.
However, over the years with improved socio-economic status of people Sheermal is a must eat delicacy for people in Kashmir on festive occasions and other social gatherings.
Hassan said that each year he gets multiple orders by Kashmiri diaspora from Saudi Arabia, United States of America, Australia and various gulf countries for Sheermal.
He added that orders for RajporaSheermal drop in from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and other cities of the country.
He narrated that around 20 orders are received a month from customers from different cities of the country.
Customers crowd Rajpora lanes leading to bakery shops on Eid eve. This delicacy adds to the experience of Eid Khewa (traditional green tea of Kashmir) and Sheer Chai, salted tea.
“Rajpora remains buzzing with Sheermal lovers who queue up outside the baker shops; The streets get congested and it becomes difficult to walk,” Zahoor-u-Din, an aged resident of Rajpora said.
Zahoor-u-Din said that fresh Sheermal is crispy and tasty.
“The Sheermal of Rajpora is unique, once I bought Sheermal from Pulwama to avoid rush at Rajpora. That didn’t taste good,” he said, adding that since then he buys it from his village only.
Sheermal is usually taken with pinkish salted tea or Sheer Chai. It is consumed on occasions like engagements, marriage parties and other social gatherings like circumcisions (KhatanHaal).
However, for the majority of people in Kashmir Sheermal is a must on Eid.
Sheermal making is a lengthy process:
sieved flour is taken in a cauldron, it is mixed with water and yeast (Maaye); the mixture is kneaded to make dough; ghee and sugar is added according to requirement and the mixture is further kneaded. Afterwards small spherical balls (paedas) are pinched off from the dough; these are spread horizontally on a wooden plank (Takhte).
The balls are rolled with a roller to make flat circular structures which are brushed with egg paste and daubed with sesame seeds. Finally, they are stuck to the inner walls of a hot clay oven and baked for 30 minutes.
These are picked up on turning brown with a long iron rod locally named as seekh. The Sheermal is ready to serve.
Sheermal making has changed the fortunes of many bakers in Rajpora. Hassan, who was a labourer before Sheermal making, owns a huge apple orchard. He purchased the land from a rich family where he was working as a manual labourer.
He also spent a hefty amount on the education of his children, two of whom are postgraduates in political science and one is a science graduate.
However, the younger generation of Sofi clan show a disconnect with this art of Sheermal making for it being drudgery.