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Features

Families in Food: Srinagar’s 100-year-old restaurant that is steeped in history

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Nestled in the heart of Srinagar, a 100-year-old restaurant is steeped in history — its three-storey building home to several shades of nostalgia, shared by people across cultures and continents. Ahdoo’s, located in the posh Polo View Market on the banks of river Jhelum and a stone’s throw away from the iconic Dal Lake, is the only restaurant in the city that stayed open in the Kashmir Valley under the shadow of terror, and even when the insurgency was at its peak during the 1990s.

A witness to the state’s tumultuous history, Ahdoo’s first opened its doors as a standalone bakery in 1918. In April, 2018, the restaurant marked its centenary by revamping itself, while, at the same time, retaining its historical essence and flavour. The bakery has now been renamed as Crème. Today, the restaurant’s wooden panelling and carpeted floor hark back to another era, its tea and snacks and the appetising dishes — gushtaba, rista (a meatball dish), mirchi korma, and wazwan, the traditional feast which wasn’t served by any establishment at that time — evoke memories among those who have been its regular visitors for decades.

Hayat Bhat, the 45-year-old owner and managing director of Ahdoo’s, says that his great-grandfather, Abdul Ahad, worked in the accounts department of Maharaja Hari Singh, who sent Ahad’s son and Bhat’s grandfather, Mohammad Sultan, to study at the East India Company’s confectionery in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The only confectionery in Kashmir at that time was Nedou’s Hotel, set up by Michael Adam Nedou in 1988. When Sultan returned, he and his cousin set up a bakery, Ahadoo and Sons, named after his father, Ahad. The first Kashmiri bakery in Srinagar, it found favour with the locals and the tourists and branched out into a 60-seater restaurant in 1921. In the 1980s, Bhat’s father extended the brand to include lodging. Today, Ahdoo’s boasts of 120 seats.

Nestled in the heart of Srinagar, a 100-year-old restaurant is steeped in history — its three-storey building home to several shades of nostalgia, shared by people across cultures and continents. Ahdoo’s, located in the posh Polo View Market on the banks of river Jhelum and a stone’s throw away from the iconic Dal Lake, is the only restaurant in the city that stayed open in the Kashmir Valley under the shadow of terror, and even when the insurgency was at its peak during the 1990s.

A witness to the state’s tumultuous history, Ahdoo’s first opened its doors as a standalone bakery in 1918. In April, 2018, the restaurant marked its centenary by revamping itself, while, at the same time, retaining its historical essence and flavour. The bakery has now been renamed as Crème. Today, the restaurant’s wooden panelling and carpeted floor hark back to another era, its tea and snacks and the appetising dishes — gushtaba, rista (a meatball dish), mirchi korma, and wazwan, the traditional feast which wasn’t served by any establishment at that time — evoke memories among those who have been its regular visitors for decades.

Hayat Bhat, the 45-year-old owner and managing director of Ahdoo’s, says that his great-grandfather, Abdul Ahad, worked in the accounts department of Maharaja Hari Singh, who sent Ahad’s son and Bhat’s grandfather, Mohammad Sultan, to study at the East India Company’s confectionery in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The only confectionery in Kashmir at that time was Nedou’s Hotel, set up by Michael Adam Nedou in 1988. When Sultan returned, he and his cousin set up a bakery, Ahadoo and Sons, named after his father, Ahad. The first Kashmiri bakery in Srinagar, it found favour with the locals and the tourists and branched out into a 60-seater restaurant in 1921. In the 1980s, Bhat’s father extended the brand to include lodging. Today, Ahdoo’s boasts of 120 seats.

“Teatime is a very important part of our repertoire. Our menu — cakes, seek-e-tujj (the tongue-pleasing barbeque), butter toast, kebabs and chicken pattice — has found its way to many people’s hearts and has a tradition of its own,” Bhat says. Before Independence, several high-profile British officers, bureaucrats and other dignitaries would come to the restaurant. With a chuckle, Bhat reels off the names of some celebrities who have visited the restaurant during the last 10-15 years. They include film personalities such as Karan Johar, Alia Bhat, the crew of Student of the Year (2012), Kabir Khan, Pankaj Kapur and Supriya Pathak, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, and many others. “Salman Khan couldn’t come, but the food was sent to him at The Taj where he stayed,” says Bhat.

During the 1970s, Hayat’s family ran Hotel Park in Srinagar where the food was served from Ahdoo’s. The stars who descended at the hotel included the likes of Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Rishi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan. They would stay at the hotel, but were served food from Ahdoo’s.

To Bhat, every day at the restaurant is memorable. Over the decades, Ahdoo’s has withstood the city’s dark moments, including the period of militancy in 1995-1996, when 99 per cent hotels in Kashmir were shut, and the 2014 floods, when it could offer nothing more than tea, but remained open following requests by customers.

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