This pitstop town in J&K has the best diversity of North Indian, Kashmiri and Chinese street food.
Often, Jammu is discussed in context with pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi or a gateway to Kashmir. People don’t ‘travel’ to Jammu but it is like a pit stop. Thus, little is known about the main attractions of this city, forget about the food. Since I have the privilege of staying in Jammu for longer periods as it is my in law’s place, I can vouch for the extra-ordinary street food this Dogra stronghold has to offer.
Jammu is generally famous for its Rajma Chawal (Kidney beans curry with piping hot steamed rice). The kidney beans cultivated in the Bhaderwah region of Kashmir are supposed to be the best quality in the world. It is a no brainer that Rajma is an integral part of both Dogra and Kashmiri cuisine. There are various places across Jammu serving Rajma Chawal, but in my view, it is best served at home.
The original Dogra cuisine is actually very simple and is normally constituted of wheat, maize, pearl millet, rice and cereals bears striking similarity with the Himachali cuisine (owing to the sizeable Dogra population in HP). However, I could see a transformation in Jammu where the neighbouring Punjab has a lot of say, especially in the breakfast spread. The deep fried aloo tikkis, chole bhature are the preferred dishes now-a-days. Mahajan Namkeen and Sweets on Canal Road is the first choice for the people of Jammu
Jammu’s street food is probably the tastiest offering by this city for the gastronomical devouts. There is a sizeable spread to taste and should not cause any disappointment to the rookies also. ‘Kulcha’ (as in Jammu and other parts except Amritsar) is a round baker’s bread split open and warmed on flat pan, stuffed with chopped onions, tomatoes, green chutney (coriander and mint) along with the specific stuffing. It is a very famous snack in Jammu which comes in various forms depending on the stuffing. So it could be aloo kulcha (potato), chole kulcha (chickpea), nutri kulcha (Soya Chunks).
The ‘King of The Jammu Street Food’ is the famous ‘Kalari Kulcha’. The stuffing is made from Kalari Cheese (known as Maish Krej in Kashmir), available only in J&K and it beats mozzarella by miles. My favourite place is the guy who dishes out these Kulchas in Ladies Market in front of Taj Boutique in Kacchi Chavani area. Another advantage to eating kulcha here – you get to see many pretty faces.
Kacchi Chavani area of Jammu is the den of street food. You get to taste everything from kulchas to tikkis to bhaturas to golgappas. You may also come across a unique item known as ‘Lachcha Kulfi’ here. The famous Malai Kulfi is served with noodles laced in rose syrup. It is unique, but not out of the world, in my opinion. You can always resort to the safest option of lassi if you are not in the mood to experiment too much with your food.
Along with the generic spread of snacks, Jammu offers something very unique. One of them is ‘Kachalu’. Kachalu are colocacia (arbi or arvi) corms sliced and diced and marinated with tangy spices. The texture of the bite is slightly grainy and is similar to ‘Garadu’, which is available in Indore at Sarafa Bazaar during winters. Girdhari Kachaluwala in Kachchi Chaavani is supposed to serve wonderful kachalus and fruit chaats. ‘Masala Mooli’ is a delectable dish made of baby white radishes sprinkled with right amount of spices. Wonderful example of zingy and tangy combination!
The arrival of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 90’s have also added another dimension to Jammu’s food culture. While generally restricted to Kashmiri people, the cuisine can be easily accessed if you are invited to a Kashmiri home or wedding. Dum aloo, red and yellow paneer, tangy brinjals (chyok wangun), haakh (collard greens) and monje haakh (kohl rabi) are the recipes one must try. Kashmiris love to have baker’s bread for their breakfast and hence, every Kashmiri colony has one traditional bakery known as ‘Kaandar’. The traditional breads like gyevchot, katlam, tyel woru, kulcha (this is different) go wonderfully well with the sweet, milky tea or the salty pink tea. And since I have mentioned tea, the discussion wouldn’t be complete without tealking about my favourite tea – Kahwa, the wonderfully aromatic, clear green tea with bits of dry fruits.
As with most of the hilly areas in North India, momo is a very popular snack item here. Steamed momos are the packets of fine flour filled with grated vegetables (or chicken) and served with pungent chutney and steaming soup. It is a must experience on cold windy evening in Jammu, especially in the outskirts.
Jammu has few swanky restaurants like Falak in Raghunath Bazar area. But they actually don’t represent the food culture of the cosmo town. The city is rather epitomized by the bustling streets and the food available on these streets and in people’s homes. It is also known as the City of Temples and hence, the religious factor has somehow augured well with the vegetarian quotient here. There are pockets in Jammu for non-veg delicacies but I am not an authority on it. But the veg spread is droolicious. Bon appétit!
Jammu is well connected by road, railways and airways. Personally suggest to go by road or train, especially the long journeys. The best time is to visit is between November and February, when the food can be enjoyed to the fullest.
Jammu has an array of hotels and lodging because of its importance as a pilgrimage point as well as pit stop for Kashmir. The area around Raghunath Bazaar offers good accommodation at reasonable prices.
This article is a part of the Gastronomic Traveller series, an Untravel special on November’s theme of the month – Nature On My Plate.