The history of baking is as old as that of mankind itself. Excavations in Egypt have revealed the presence of bread in the form of round flat cakes. While the Greeks are credited with the preparation of cheese cakes, the Romans were perhaps the first to use yeast as a leavening agent. The word cake however traces its origin to a Nordic word ‘Kaka’. The origin of baking in India is often contested. While some attribute it to the Europeans (Dutch, French, Portuguese), there are historical linkages to the Middle East and the Mediterranean which suggest the introduction of baked bread, especially in the coastal region of Malabar. The first recorded baker in India was Mambally Bapu of Kerala who established the Royal Biscuit Factory in 1880.
While it can be argued that the British introduced Kashmir to the world of baking, the culinary art can be traced to Central Asia. Kashmir being an important contributor to the trade along the famed ’Silk Route, drew its inspiration from its contacts in Central Asia. The indigenous bakeries in Kashmir are locally called ‘Kandurs’ probably deriving its name from the ‘Tandoors’ used to bake breads such as Naan & Kulchas. A number of famed bakeries have sprung up in Kashmir such as the ‘Le Delice’ serving French delicacies such as the Croissants, baguettes, & Congolais or the ‘Iqra Bakers’ serving hazelnut cakes or the ‘lee Enn’ Bakery famous for the plum cakes, coconut biscuits and Patties. While these bakeries cater to western delicacies, the more traditional Kashmiri bakeries tempt the taste buds with their baqerkhanis, lavaas, chochwors, kulchas and shirmals . Traditionally, Kashmiris prefer to start their day with two special teas – the ‘Kahwah’ and the ‘Nun Chai’ alongwith an assortment of breads. It is a common sight to see the locals lined up outside bakeries for their daily fix. These bakeries also double up as socialising avenues, where the youth as well to the old catch up with each other. Some delicacies like the tsot-girda, tsochwor or tilwor and roath are the hallmark of Kashmiri cuisine.
According to Ghulam Nabi Kitaas, who traces his ancestry to Central Asia, Kashmir was a cultural melting pot where traders from China(Tibet) and Central Asia would always make a halt at Yarkand Sarai in Srinagar. His father who was a baker would often speak of his relatives in Tashkent, Ghulam recounts. Bakery in Kashmir is more than a way of life. Besides tantalising tastebuds, bakeries also provide employment to many. For some, it is a tradition passed on from one generation to another. Remarkably, in North Kashmir, five enterprising women have opened a bakery in Zachaldara signalling self empowerment of women In Naya Kashmir. Lasifa, Ruksana, Saiba, Mumtaz and Zeenat, the newest entrepreneurs on the block have become role models for women’s upliftment in Kashmir.