We met Humayun Jaan at Jan Bakers in very casual and unassuming way, while he was trying to fix some plumbing issues of the store. Kashmir was our first tour after blogging started. And like all bloggers, the mind constantly looks for stories while traveling.
Jan Bakers is at Srinagar. Correction- Jan Bakers is at such a strategic point in Srinagar which is distinctly noticeable.
As one enters the stretch by the side of Dal lake, just near the Dal gate, one cannot ignore the small insignificant looking bakery which is just at the beginning of the stretch. When we went on a Saturday on our way to Pahalgam, to pick up some quick eatables, we didn’t assume how crowded it would be on the inside. On a Saturday morning, the place was jam packed as some of the sweet shops in Kolkata during poila Boishakh (Bengali New year). Smell of freshly baked goods fascinates the family. The mother hen and the cock kept on taking rounds of the large glass counters just like they would have done in a candy store or I would have done in a Book shop. We picked up few eatables, heard that the owner Humayun Jan was outside in a green jacket and one of the workers from the store led us to him. In a green jacket, and a characteristic Kashmiri soft tone, he requested us to some time later or perhaps next week for a detailed discussion. The desi ghee biscuits reminded us of Kayani Bakery in Pune, which uses only Amul Butter for their biscuits and all the biscuits end almost within 2 hours of opening of shop in the afternoon.
Bakery has a long history in Kashmir.
With the British staying in for long duration at this picturesque place, the process and know how of baking got passed on to the locals. While planning our trip to Kashmir, we had heard a lot about Ahdous bakery and many others. The first bakery is believed to have been opened in 1930s by a gentleman named Harry Nedous. The Sofi’s are three generations in baker business when the grandfather Muhammad Abdulla Sofi was one of the workers at the bakery opened by Nedous. His son, Ghulam Nabi Sofi, got the skills passed on from his father and worked in Ahdous bakery for sometime till he opened Jee Enn Bakers. This is also one of the well known bakers in Srinagar. The white forest pastry was invented by him in the valley and it is a must have.
When we returned to Srinagar, after all sight seeing and travelling across, we retired at a houseboat on our final day. We had lunch in Ahdous and checked out the bakery. The restaurant and the bakery have got split between the brothers, as we were told. We then headed towards Jan Bakers to try our luck. We were fortunate enough to have a tete a tete with Humayun Jan since he was present in the bakery. We expected the bakery empty or moderately packed but proved wrong. The entire time that we were there, it was a myriad of activities and we started chatting over the counter. He soon called us inside a small back office doubled as storage of the cakes and also as a connecting corridor between the bakery and the shop. People kept on moving in between, freshly baked cakes and pastries in trays were stacked and that extremely ambrosial aroma of fresh baking got stronger.
Humayun Jaan speaks softly, slowly but doesn’t mince his words. Jan Bakers was started in 1985 by the elder brother of Humayun Jan. They belong to a family of goldsmiths and as he says, Kashmiris have a herd mentality so that was the time when everyone was trying to open up bakeries in Kashmir. During our stay in Kashmir, we had already experienced the importance of bakery in every small and large village. Bakrkhani or bagirkhani, is one of the most popular breads and a staple all across. Humayun has seen it all and one can sense it, as he shares the time, when due to disturbance he had to keep the bakery closed for 6 months and still went on paying salaries to this 50 employees. The uncertainty does not allow him to expand and he has two daughters who wouldn’t get into the business. Hence he wants to focus on this particular shop only.
The bakeries in Kashmir have also seen a lot of changes in the last decade. Even though health consciousness may not encourage lots of people digging onto the products enriched with Amul Butter or Ghee, bakery products are preferred over sweets. As Humayun says, all the cookies and cakes are made with Amul butter. There are butter and ghee mixed biscuits too, which literally crumbles and melts in your mouth (wish there was a better phrase to explain this) and not to miss the plum cakes, fruit cakes and the butter pound cakes. Humayun plans to experiment more with the cakes in coming days but its the uncertainty of the region that acts a deterrent. Humayun is a representative of lot many more Kashmiris who started Baking and somewhere, everywhere, the stories would be similar.
Life comes back full circle for the valley when Melanie Mir, a French woman, comes to Kashmir with her husband Saqib Mir, a local, who has been in France for 14 years, and opened up a French bakery called Le Delice. From Bakrkhani to Madeleines, it is a complete journey for the baking loving valley and its people.
P.S. – I am being told that Saqib had to eventually close down his establishment due to disturbances around and thus history repeats itself in the valley time and again.