Unfortunately for people who like to try out the local food when they’re travelling, Srinagar seems to cater primarily to those who want to stick to the familiar. There’s plenty of paneer makhani, daal makhani, tandoori chicken and the like here, too little good Kashmiri food. So we were very relieved when various people—including local residents—suggested we try Ahdoo’s.
Maqbool Chacha, the caretaker at our houseboat, told us that Ahdoo’s Hotel had been established by someone named Ahad—and that the name ‘Ahad Waza’ (a waza being a traditional Kashmiri chef) had become synonymous with excellent culinary skills. "They didn’t have a restaurant till some years back," Maqbool Chacha told us, "but now that they’ve opened one, it’s very good."
I’m not sure if Maqbool Chacha had all his facts right, but this I can vouch for: Ahdoo’s serves very good Kashmiri food. The hotel is a smallish one—but a very well-known landmark—on Residency Road. There’s enough parking in the front yard for a dozen cars, and in the corner of the yard is a large sign: ‘RESTAURANT’, with an arrow pointing towards a door. We arrived here at about 2 PM, tired and hungry after much sightseeing. In through the door, and there’s a staircase leading up, just beyond the ladies’ and men’s loos (the ladies’ was cramped, but clean). Up the staircase, on the second landing, is the restaurant.
Ahdoo’s Restaurant is a large one. There’s a big central hall, and on two sides—one overlooking Residency Road, the other overlooking the Bund and the Jhelum River beyond—are more tables. There are screens made of polished wood, but that’s about all there is in the way of anything fancy. Yes, the tables are clean, and there are crisp tablecloths and clean runners, but this isn’t a restaurant that focusses on smart décor. The focus, instead, is on food. The menu, brought to us within moments of our sitting down, seems to be tailored for varied palates. There’s loads of the typical North Indian food; there’s even some Chinese food, and there’s the Kashmiri food. After some debating over what we absolutely must eat (since we are familiar with Kashmiri food), we settled on tabakmaaz (deep fried ribs), methi qurma (chopped mutton cooked with fenugreek leaves), mutton dhania qurma (a mildly flavoured curry of mutton in a yoghurt sauce, with fresh green coriander added at the end), and plain rice. For drinks we ordered a fresh lemonade each (note: alcohol is forbidden in Kashmir, so don’t hope for wines and spirits here!)
The lemonades arrived less than a minute later, and just a couple more minutes, and there was the food too: good fluffy rice, on top of which we spooned that rather fiery-looking methi qurma. It only looked fiery, because the usual Kashmiri chilli is more known for its redness than for its heat. Instead, this was a somewhat spicy but not very hot curry of finely chopped mutton, in which they’d mixed in a decent amount of chopped dried fenugreek leaves. Delicious. To tone down the spice, there was the tart but mild mutton dhania qurma (I’d have liked a little more fresh green coriander in it, but it was, nevertheless, an excellent dish). What really surprised my husband was the tabakmaaz. The only time he’d had it before was in Delhi, where it was a chewy, tasteless bit of rib; here, at Ahdoo’s, he finally ate a good tabakmaaz: a thin, slightly fatty bit of meat, covered with a gorgeously crisp bit of what can only be described as ‘crackling’. Superb, and my husband—initially wary—thought so too.
We loved Ahdoo’s so much, we returned the next day for lunch again. This time, with our rice, we ordered mirchi qurma (mutton cooked in a sauce of red Kashmiri chillies—not as fiery as many other Indian curries, but not recommended for the faint-hearted); and lahabi kabab, recommended by our waiter. This latter dish turned out to be an interesting variation of the basic ‘dough’ used to make classic Kashmiri meatballs like rista or gushtaba: it was meat pounded with mutton fat and mild spices—especially cardamom—to a silky smoothness, then cooked in a sauce till the meat was tender. In the case of the lahabi kabab, the sauce is a thick tomatoey one. Very nice. At my request, we also ordered nadroo yakhni: sliced lotus stems cooked in a yoghurt sauce. My husband was wary of this too; in Delhi, the lotus stems we get are frightfully fibrous. Here, at Ahdoo’s, even he had to admit that the nadroo yakhni was perfect: the nadroo (lotus stem) crunchy but not fibrous, the sauce slightly tart and very mild.
Ahdoo’s has a dessert menu that includes fruit custard, fruit cream (both basically chopped fruit mixed with custard or sweetened cream), and a couple of Indian desserts, including kheer, firni (both types of rice puddings), and shahi tukda (fried sliced bread that’s soaked in syrup, then served with thickened milk). On both days, the only Indian dessert actually available was firni, made from coarsely ground rice cooked in sweetened milk, garnished with raisins, almonds, etc. The firni at Ahdoo’s was all right, nothing to write home about, but not bad either.
On both days, too, after such a huge lunch, we needed something to wash it down—and what better than Kashmiri kehwa? Ahdoo’s does a fantastic kehwa, a local green tea brewed with cardamom, cassia bark, and saffron, poured at your table from a ceremonial old samovar, with slivers of almond and threads of saffron falling into your cup. The perfect end to a Kashmiri meal.
Our lunches at Ahdoo’s cost just over Rs 1,000 per day, excluding a tip. Service is generally fast, the waiters are efficient and helpful, and the food is excellent. Highly recommended.