In Kashmir, a Century-Old Tradition of Preparing a Winter Delicacy Is Disappearing

A favourite with elders, this smoked fish dish – faer'ie – involves cleaning raw fish, leaving it to dry, setting its grass bed alight, scraping off the outer layer, cleaning it once again and then selling or eating.

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As the harsh winter arrives in Kashmir, Mohammad Sultan’s family starts preparations to make the traditional winter delicacy of smoked fish. This is locally known as Faer’ie. His day begins with the unloading of buckets of fresh fish from a load carrier which has arrived from the market. These fish will be smoked.

Sultan and his wife clean the raw fish and leave them to dry in the sun for hours and then lay them on a platform of dry grass. They then set the dry grass alight. Hours later, the outer smoked layer is patiently scraped, the fish is cleaned once again and then taken to the markets.

Smoked fish are sold only in the winter months. The delicacy is mostly cooked along with the famous “Kashmiri haakh” (collard greens) or tomatoes during winters.

A woman taking a look at the fish after setting them alight on a heap of dry grass. Photo: Abrar Fayaz

The tradition of making these smoked fish is nearing its end, as people have begun to abandon the occupation. The Anchar area of Soura in Srinagar was originally a hub of this but is now left with only two families carrying forward the tradition.

Locals are now concerned that this might be the last generation who are engaged with the tradition which was started centuries ago by their ancestors. The fish of the Anchar lake had given to birth to what is now a fading culture.

Also read: In Photos: Traditional Kangris Still Keep Kashmiris Warm Every Winter

“The younger generation doesn’t show any interest in this practice, as they feel the result is not worth the hard work it takes, and they are looking for other means to earn their livelihood,” an elderly woman complained.

In Srinagar, smoked fish used to be sold in every market. Now it’s rare. One can only find them at Habba Kadal, Safa Kadal and Soura chowk areas of the old city.

A fresh stock of fish left to dry. Photo: Abrar Fayaz

The demand for these fish has fallen over the years. Sultan says that he used to sell 100 to 120 kilograms of smoked fish during the winters but nowadays he barely sells 20 to 40 kilograms annually.

The changes in the lifestyle and food habits of the people have contributed to the disappearance of this practice as well.

“I have two sons, neither of whom want to be associated with this tradition. They don’t want their wives to do this work,” he said. “In our family, only my wife and I are doing this work. Our ancestors used to do this work, I have done this for the past 20 years and I will continue to do it while I am alive.”

“If I have something good today it’s because of this work. I financed my children’s education out of the money earned from this work,” he said.

Smoked fish is also used as a home remedy to fight the common cold in winters. Even though the demand has declined over time, smoked fish is still popular among the elderly of the area.