Abdul Wajid Parray
“Barbecue” or better call it “seek-e-Tujj”. The name is enough to make your mouth water like anything. This splendid recipe needs no introduction as such; since everyone is well aware of its amazing taste. But for the sake of editor`s feel to give this write-up an OKAY remark, let me define “barbecue”.
Well ‘Barbeque’ is a special non-vegetarian recipe that is prepared by smoking or baking chopped meat pieces over slow-burning wood or charcoal. Popularly known as seek-e-tujj in Kashmir, the tongue pleasing barbecue which amply rules the hearts of all the foodie people in Kashmir has a tale to enlighten.
First of all, let me throw light on the various varieties of barbecue. Here barbecue or Tujj is simply found in the form of minced mutton or beef held through steel rods called seekh over an iron grill and roasted over red heated ember called bath-e-Czini.
The mutton or katt-e-maaz claims to be the finest of the seek-e-tujje and costs the most but the cost is entirely worth its grand and majestic taste. After mutton, follows the beef or buod maaz and finally the second-rate option is that of the skull meat or Kall-e-maaz which is considered as the least expensive.Thus the main ingredient of the tujj is the mutton but on account of the escalating price of mutton, the pocket-friendly beef has engulfed the markets. The vendors of the tujj commonly recognized as the tujje-woul usually pile up a small wooden structure, in the form of a canopy, for selling their product, the tujje.
These vendors can be seen mostly winnowing the tujje with some handy fan or any cardboard scrap called gatt-e`. Although many fine tujj walas have successfully expanded their petite shops into well organised hotels and restaurants, but as a rule you will find tujje-walas shops as pushcarts held fixed on ground with their wheels detached and supported by some uneven bricks and stones as boulders.
I doubt if they have any stay order for that or not but doesn`t matter because we all are well aware of the phrase“ Kashmir mei sab chalta hai” These unstable woody structures are so cramped and less spaced that you have to keep yourselves stand-up all along enjoying the tujj. But that makes no difference at all because the extreme fervour of the tasty tujj engulfs the minds of its users to the fullest. Be it harsh wintry cold or hot scorching summer, the flavoursome non-vegetarian recipe is liked wholly the entire year.
Now turning the wheel to the history of Barbecues. Well many beliefs exist there about the origin of the barbecue. Some believe that the word barbecue has been derived from the root word “barbacoa” meaning “sacred fire pit”. It arrived from the Caribbean to Spanish, Portuguese and French and then to English. In French barbecue means “from beard to tail” indicating the roasting of an animal from head to tail in a hearth. Another claim is that barbecue is a truncated form of bar-bear-cue or Bar-B-Q as it is believed that it originated from the time roadhouses came up with pool tables and thus labelling BAR, beer and Cue or BBQ. In fact, in modern English barbecue refers to any social cookout that has roasted meat as its main ingredient.
Coming back to our valley, if one has to trace the history of barbecue in Kashmir then a genuine view is that the Kashmiris were greatly influenced by the cultures which arrived with the invasion of Kashmir from central Asia, Persia and Afghanistan. This sphere of influence reshaped the art, custom, rituals, belief and mainly the food-culture of Kashmir from time to time. There are even more dogmas about the arrival of barbecue in Kashmir as through the ethnic group of northern Pakistan called the Balti. Period! Whatever may be the philosophy and the past behind the barbecue in Kashmir, I will feel proud to kiss the hands of that credible person for such a wonderful gift to the valley of Kashmir.
Moving on to the countless devotees of the seek-e-tujj in Kashmir among which the srinagarites have fallen into an extreme romance with the tujj. One can find its vendors (tujje-walas) almost in every street corner of the city. But if you are a non-veg freak and never like to compromise for the yummy taste then there are some picky eating places in Srinagar that rule the roast in barbecue sale and are extensively known for providing the top-notch seekh-e-tujj in Srinagar and all districts of the valley.
In Srinagar, the popular food-savvy areas include the Khayam chowk, Nowpora; not to mention the exotic boulevard road about which there is a touch of some heavenly add-on. The fact behind the zeal of this eating point is that the splendid beauty of the Dal Lake blends with the extreme taste of the tujj giving the combo a unique identity. Besides the evening hours is regarded as the preeminent time to have barbecues at the Dal Lake. I don`t know the exact reason for this but the tujj-lovers say that it adds to the taste of BBQ`s to have it during the late hours of sundown.
Sitting at the parapets along the Dal Lake, the glamorous scene of the sunset plus the soothing breeze from the great Dal Lake adds to the taste of having seekh-e-tujj much the same way as the Lawasa and chutnee adds to its tang. I myself am a big follower of having tujj along the Dal Lake. The aroma that comes out of the burning of fat over the red hot embers attracts the customers like a strong magnet attracting the puny nails. Ha-ha, the Tujje-waalas use this mouth-watering smell as their main advertising strategy to catch their customers. Indeed a very witty marketing policy, I must say.
Well, the meat-culture in the valley has spread its tentacles all over the valley and has engulfed not only Srinagar but people from other districts are getting more and more addicted to this NON-VEG thing. Ironically the patron customers of the Tujj-walas are the daily wagers including the Bus-conductors, drivers, street-hawkers and the like. Not to mention the young Arnolds, I mean the body-building freaks who feel having red meat is the only thing that can pump-up their physique speedily in few days. For them, it`s becoming more like a staple food, alas an inevitable habit.
The cult of Seekh-e-Tujj in Kashmir despite being exceptionally appetizing is considered an indecent move in the Kashmir society for it is mainly associated with lewd bullies and other rude foodie guys whose only job is to fart around sitting at the street-corners round the clock. Mostly the shabby people, the hulks and the goons are seen buzzing around these tujj-walas. In fact it`s mainly considered as a manly stuff and rarely will you find any female around a tujj-woul (BBQ vendor).
Other reason for labelling it as “bad” is that it`s very much associated with alcoholism. Some more come up with the justification that it is unhealthy due to the fact that it is not well roasted by keeping the meat uncooked due to improper heat. Following this, people feel too shy to have the tujj publicly in the broad day light and usually prefer to take it in the evening hours after returning from their daily work.
Even with such demerits, people can`t avoid the tujj because of the magnificent taste of the tujj that`s just inevitable. I too join the same fervour but not so habitually rather socially, once or twice a month as a treat along with my peers. In fact down to the longing taste of the seekh-e-tujj, I never mind its downsides. Oops! I can`t say more about having tujj; my parents will get to know about my romance with the tujj and I don`t want to earn their wrath just for sincerely sharing my secret. So the rest is left for your presumption.
Lastly, I wind up my barbecues with a kind advice: Firstly for those who have never experienced the wonderful tujj, I suggest tasting it at least for one time and I bet my boots their tongue won`t stop licking the leftovers on their fingers and plates…ha-ha.
Secondly, the message for the tujj-savvy people is that the difference between a food-lover and being voracious needs to be underscored. Our fever pitched infatuation towards tujj must not transform into an inevitable addiction. The extreme fervour is fine up to some extent but spending most of your fortune and that too lavishly is not a good math. Last of all, a decent romanticism with the tujj is the only requisite point to finish up this article.