Friday, November 18, 2016




It is believed that onion originated from ancient Egypt. And by now,  it has been in cultivation for about 7,000 years.

Potatoes were grown for domestic consumption in some Latin American country. From Latin America, Spanish settlers brought the potato to Europe sometime in the 16th   century.
From Europe, Portuguese introduced the potato to the  Indians in the 17th century. They called it 'Batata' and it is still known by the same name in Maharashtra. Later British traders introduced potato cultivation in  Bengal where it came to be known as Alu. By the end of the 18th century, it was cultivated in entire north India. In Kashmir, potato cultivation was introduced during the Dogra rule.

Nilamata Purana is silent about potatoes and onions. In Rajtarangini, Kalhana does not confirm the use of onion in Kashmiri kitchen or cuisine. There is a mention of ‘ Palandu ‘ in 8th  Taranga verse 143 but read in context, it is like a herb or medicinal item presented to Guru along with incense and some other herbs. Maybe some outsiders were carrying onion as medicine or special herb for Kashmirian   Kings or royal families but the population as such was unaware of its usage in cuisine or kitchen till 14th  century.

To Kashmiris, both potato and onion appeared alien, not like their own native green leafy ‘Haak’. Possibly onions and potatoes arrived in Kashmir very late. I don’t know why Kashmiris were unkindly fascinated by this combination of two words Ganda (onion ) and Olluv (potato).

For many centuries, Kashmiris treated both potatoes and onions as something thrust on them. Although onions gradually found acceptance in Muslim households, potatoes had to face some callous treatment from a common Kashmiri. The common refrain from the use of potatoes was expressed by Kashmiris
like this:-

“ ‘Treath yimun oluvun .Beyi   osuai na kenh aeti ’ meaning ‘ To hell with these potatoes. Couldn’t you find anything else in the market? "

Kashmiri Pandits use potatoes extensively during religious fasts.  Although Kashmiri Pandits relish Dumallu  (  A dish prepared from boiled and deep-fried potatoes ) as a special dish in every feast yet they remain inimical to its general use.  The common sentence heard in Pandit  households is like this  :

“Kyah   chhukh   olluv  khyvaan . Sienn  paava anizihey ”

“ Why are you eating these potatoes? You should have bought a Paav ( 250 gms ) of mutton.”

The disdainful attitude towards potatoes came to surface when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was nicknamed as Olluv Bub ( potato father ) by Kashmiris. Sheikh had advised Kashmiris to eat potatoes when rice crops failed and drought-like situation prevailed in the valley. This fact has also been recorded by V S Naipaul in his travelogue ‘ An Area of Darkness.'

While people in plains make bulk purchases of potatoes and onions and store them, a Kashmiri generally buys need-based quantity. Kashmiri Muslims prefer to use the shallot variety of onions known locally as Praan. They use Praan extensively in their cuisine, especially in Wazwaan. Gradually, Kashmiri  Pandits have also brought onion to their kitchen. Though they do not use it for preparation of their core or traditional vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes like Yakhni, Rogan Josh, Mutsz (  mutton balls ), Haak, Dumallu, Pullav, Rajmash ( kidney beans ), Tchaaman Kali ( yellow cheese ), Vozij Tchaaman ( red cheese ), etc.  Onion is liberally used in salads, pickles and Indian style vegetables cooked in Kashmiri Pandit households.

When I was young, I would be surprised to see that carpenters at work would usually carry a dish of onions and potatoes in their lunch tiffin. For some time, this dish got associated with carpenters. Many times, when some Kashmiri saw this dish in a fellow Kashmiri’s tiffin, he would instantly comment:-

“ ‘Kyah  sa tche kyaa az chhaana seinis pyath votmut . ’ meaning ‘
What happened?  Why have you come down to a carpenter’s dish today? ’”

And the disdain for potatoes and bulb onions would also get reflected in streets. If a crowd of idlers could not find a suitable nickname for a simpleton walking on the road, they would just call him ‘ Ganda-Ollu or onion and potato ’.

Sometimes one would get surprised and start pondering as to why a particular person is being hooted on his back by a strange nickname ‘Ganda- Tsoor or onion thief ‘. The person had the remotest link with either onions or thieving.

And quite often I have heard Kashmiris saying:-

 “ ‘Aeit   ho, ba   chhuss  vaenni  heissuv. Mey  chuvv na vaenni  Ganda- Rus’ meaning ‘  You beware, I am still in my senses. I have not drunk onion juice as yet."

Here onion juice or Ganda- Rus meant liquor or some intoxicating drink.
I found that boiled/fried potatoes mixed with chop fried onions are a popular recipe in many European countries. Germans love this recipe of mashed potatoes ( after boiling or deep frying ) mixed with chop fried onions laced with herbs or spices.

It has now been established that both onions and shallots contain Allicin, which helps lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. Shallots have a milder taste and odour than onions, so shallots are more commonly eaten raw.

Presently onions are extensively grown and used in Kashmir. And the production of bulb onions far exceeds the production of shallots ( Praan ). To meet demand, onions are also imported into Kashmir. While demand for potatoes and onions has surged, I am not sure about the past disdain that Kashmiris used to give to these two items.

( Avtar Mota )

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