Kashmir and its unique tryst with food is a fable in itself. Kashmir boasts of such a grand cuisine, including Wazwan, Harissa, and Kehwa, that people around the world are fond of it. To make this unique bond between people and their food, restaurateurs in Kashmir have been coming up with themed restaurants where both the food and the aura give a unique experience.
To name a few, Café Pirates, café Ertugul, Rose - The Coffee Company, Ottoman café are many of those themed restaurants.
Café Pirates – North Kashmir’s first theme-based restaurant – is situated in Baramulla. The theme of the restaurant is “pirates”. The ownership of the café is shared by Syed Irfan Bukhari, Faisal H. Bhat, and Sheikh Aabid.
Faisal H. Bhat and Syed Irfan Bukhari had conceived the idea of the café while pursuing their master’s degree and thought was “to start something unique in the valley.”
“After working in different fields, we had some ideas of coming up with a theme-based restaurant. We had several ideas for themes but we finalized on “pirates” because this was something very organic and I had an old house, the material of which I wanted to use so it had to be an old theme and it fit the theme of the pirates,” says Faisal, one of the owners of the Café Pirates.
Everything inside the café reflects the theme “pirates”. The roof is made of ropes and metal because pirates use the ropes to get in and out of the ship. The café has a stage built in the form of a ship’s front deck and its wheel. The wheel of the ship is taken off when the café hosts or organizes events.
“Kashmiri people have a habit of keeping old things intact and we tried to use that and exploring different markets in Delhi, Chennai, and Singapore, we got some material and that perfectly matched our theme,” Faisal adds.
Inspired by the Hollywood movie ‘Pirates of The Caribbean’ that stars Johnny Depp in his most eccentric manifestation, the café has a large painting on one of the walls depicting a pirate ship being engulfed by the Kraken, a Greek mythical monster.
The counter is in the form of a chest and the props supporting the theme are binoculars, stopwatches, anchors, and other ship elements.
The menu mostly includes continental dishes with a touch of Arabian cuisine including the mouth-watering delight and everyone’s favorite, Shawarma.
“I keep traveling to a lot of places in the world and then I get ideas of different cuisines and different tastes and I try to implement them here,” Faisal says.
Another theme-based restaurant is Café Ertugul. This must-stop food place is located on Srinagar’s I.G. road at Solina. Tafheem Tariq, the owner of the place is a recent MBA graduate from the University of Kashmir.
The theme of the restaurant is based on the crazed drama series ‘Ertugul’. Portraying the life history of Sultan Osman’s father, the man who established the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish drama series holds a Guinness World Record as the best dramatic work and has developed a sub-culture in Kashmir valley.
While speaking about the theme of his restaurant, Tafheem said that the idea to start the Ertugul theme restaurant stuck his mind during the covid-19 lockdown in 2020 when everyone in Kashmir was stuck inside their homes and he was involved in volunteer work (distributing Covid-19 essentials across the city).
He realized that people in Kashmir were in love with the Turkish series and its handsome protagonist Dirillis Ertugul. “After seeing a huge fan base of Ertugrul in Kashmir, I decided to create a space which will be based on the Ertugrul theme,” Tafheem said.
Tafheem himself was the architect of his café and made sure that each and every corner reflects the theme. The maximum portion of the café is customized with the logo of the Kayi tribe of which the protagonist Ertugul was a chief in the series.
The walls of the café are designed in Turkish style; the ceiling is also customized and even the furniture has been chosen as such that compliments the theme. The person visiting the café will find a lot of woodwork, stones, fire torches, goat skins, and even some props at the place. All of these gimcracks have been used to accentuate the feel of the place.
The café has also built a little space called “Jirga”. Jirga itself is inspired by the series and is such a place where people come, sit, and discuss in a cordial manner.
“I am trying to make this café such a place where people feel connected, discuss ideas, share love, happiness, and knowledge. And that is the reason why we have set the tag line of our café as People’s Café. We intend to be people-centric, from service to food and from ambiance to the aroma,” Tafheem adds with pride.
Rose – The coffee company
Not far away from Tafheem’s Ertugul, there is another themed restaurant that has been stealing hearts in Srinagar. This little place is named Rose – The coffee company and is situated at Rose enclave, Sanat Nagar. The ownership of the place is shared by two cheerful friends, Amad Altaf and Zuhaib Shafi. The theme of the café is Rose and Pastel Colours.
Inspired by the famous tea and cake shop, Peggy Porschen of the United Kingdom and Polar berry of Denmark, Zuhaib, and Amad went with the theme of Rose and Pastel.
“Most of the cafes have a dark theme in Kashmir and there are no places here with pastel colors and it is a very popular theme outside South East Asia, so we wanted to start with roses and pastel colors,” Amad said while speaking with Rising Kashmir.
One can find different colors of roses in the restaurant; even the ceiling of the café is that of the rose. The walls of this lively food-place are painted in pastel colors and the ambiance of the restaurant also goes with the theme and the food of the restaurant is a complement to the theme.
Apart from the interiors and the aesthetics, Zuhaib and Amad are attempting to revolutionize the food in Kashmir.
Similarly, a stone’s throw away from Zuhaib and Amad’s Rose, there is another great place called Ottoman café which is a Turkish restaurant situated in Srinagar’s Hyderpora. Mohammad Mahdi who owns the restaurant says the theme of the restaurant is inspired by Turkish culture.
“In Delhi, I tried Turkish food and I liked it very much and was inspired by their food choice and other things, so I planned to open a similar café in Srinagar,” said Mahdi on the choice of the theme of his restaurant.
The interiors of Mahdi’s restaurant are designed according to the Turkish cafes and are fully manufactured. On one wall of the restaurant, the famous Blue Mosque of Turkey is painted bright and blue. Also, cups have been imported from Turkey and delightful Turkish food is served at the place. Some delicious items on the menu are Ankara Kabab, Doner Kabab, sweets Baklava, and Shakshuka. The café also plans to serve authentic Turkish coffee.