Feature: Nadroo: Kashmir valley and its delicacy

Prof Upendra Kaul

A Kashmiri kitchen without a Nadroo is unimaginable. Wherever a Kashmiri goes, whether in the country or abroad, he tries to find out how to get it. It may be available in the form of an ugly looking tuber, with a thick dark skin and hair like fibres, which is poor in taste.

It can never be the same as we get in the valley especially from the Dal Lake. In Kashmir it grows naturally in two famous lakes, the Dal and the Wular .

Besides this, it also grows in other lakes likes Manasbal and Aanchar. The nardoo of Dal Lake is considered the best and the tastiest. Manipur in North East also has good quality nadroos growing in Loktak lake of Imphal.

The locals there, however, take it raw, in the form of a salad along with other local herbs.

Nadroo is a part of the Lotus flower plant which grows in freshwater lakes (botanical name Nelumbo nucifera). It has been mainly cultivated in South East Asia, Mediterranean and also in some Latin American countries since ages. Hindus, Buddhists and Egyptians consider Lotus as a sacred flower.

The roots of this plant remain attached to the muddy water of the lake and grows as a rhizome. The rhizome forms into cylindrical shaped jointed nodes of about 2-4 feet in height with big leaves sprouting over the surface of water, called “Kheyl” in Kashmiri.

These leaves often are used for domestic purposes to serve eatables. Towards the end of its growth cycle comes out a mesmerising flower, the Lotus, with a diameter of 10 to 15 cms. In Kashmiri it is called Pamposh. There is a popular saying “Lembi Manz Pamposh” about this flower.

Meaning thereby that if one has to be in mud, he must remain above it and shine like a lotus flower. It is loved so much that children are often named Pamposh and several business houses such as Pamposh Hotel, Pamposh travels, Pamposh traders etc. are commonly seen.

According to popular folklore, nadroo gained popularity in Kashmir around the 15th century when its ruler, Budshah Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abdin, encountered the plant during a shikara ride on the Gul Sar, now known as the Gill Sar. Gul means flower or rose in Persian.

He was so struck by the lotus flower that he decided to introduce it in all the lakes of the region. Interestingly his boatmen had harvested some nadroos and added it to his evening meal, drawing great attention to the root of this beautiful flower.

This led to this root becoming popular and Kashmiris started frying, steaming, boiling and cooking nardoo, making it one of the most ubiquitous vegetables in the Kashmiri cuisine. It has a dim white crunchy flesh with a chest nut like flavour and has very thin delicate fibres or threads.

There is a well-known myth regarding the nadroo threads. According to the legend the yarn threads that Lalla Ded, the Kashmiri mystic saint (1320-1392) wove were thrown into the Dal lake when her tyrant mother in law ridiculed and taunted her for yarning it too thin. These got changed into the fibres of nadroo for eternity.

The seeds of lotus or lotus nuts locally known as Pum-bacch are abundantly grown and sold by footpath vegetable sellers in several parts of the valley, including Boulevard, Ashai bridge, main bazar of Bandipore town and also near Manasbal. These are eaten raw. Chinese and Japanese use the paste of these seeds in bakery products. Scientific literature suggests that these have anti inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties which can reduce blood pressure and fight ageing.

Nadroo is as much a part of Kashmiri kitchen as is mutton. It is cooked in a variety of ways. Nadroo Yakhni, a delicacy cooked as a curry with yogurt. It is also cooked with fish or meat usually with red chillies. Another way is to consume it as a curry with potatoes, turnips, spinach or with lentils etc. It is also had as a snack in the form of street food called “Nadir- Monji” with tea or other beverages.

Many of you may recall that in 2014 floods of Kashmir valley we were almost robbed of this delicacy. The floods completely destroyed it because of muddy flood waters contaminating the Dal Lake the main supplier of Nadroo. All the hopes were lost of its revival.

The farmers and traders went to the senior authorities of the agriculture department for help in bringing it back. But they were told that Nadroo cultivation is not in their jurisdiction of research and development.

Finally, the disappointed farmers of Dal decided to take it as a challenge themselves. They went to Nigeen lake which was relatively spared in the floods and started taking saplings and seeds from Nigeen. These they replanted in their region when waters had cleared. This was a tedious and a time-consuming task which finally bore fruit in 2017 when nadroo made a comeback in the markets of Srinagar after 3 years. Many connoisseurs, however, feel that the quality is not the same and it is harder, but at least it is back.

Nadroo harvesting begins in October and lasts till the end of January. It is a tough job as the farmers have to go deep into cold mud and waters some times in near Zero temperatures for its extraction. In the authors experience one of the best places is to buy it from a few lady vendors on the foreshore road. It is sold as a bundle known as “Geiyd” weighing about 1 Kg. One bundle has nadroos of various dimensions. Depending upon the quality and sizes of the stems it is sold at a price of Rs 200 to 500 per bundle. These outlets also sell turnips and Haanz Haakh ( Collard greens) . It is exceptionally soft and different in quality and taste from that grown in farms.

It is hoped that authorities take care of the Dal which is getting filled rapidly with plastics and waste of the city. Dal Lake is not only a treasure of the valley in terms of its beauty all around the year with different hues and colours, but also a source of fresh vegetables of very delicate flavours, nadroo being only one of them. — Courtesy Greater Kashmir

Prof Upendra Kaul is Founder Director Gauri Kaul foundation, Recipient of Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy Award