Growing up in West Bengal, as part of a Punjabi family, I longed to visit the beautiful lakes, snow-capped mountains and rolling meadows of the Himalayas. To me, as a young girl, it looked like paradise. Bollywood movies only enticed me further. Then my husband, Gundeep, regaled me with tales of his travels in Ladakh. They held me transfixed and fuelled my fascination for these magical places.
It wasn't just the incredible landscapes that captured my imagination. As a chef and a food writer, I was intrigued by the local people, their food and culture. With so much political uncertainty in Kashmir, the hospitality and cuisine of the region can get lost in the noise. I wanted to learn those stories and share them with the world.
I first visited Ladakh while writing an article for SUITCASE and further research trips followed, when I enjoyed the chance to eat, learn and cook some of the region's recipes.
I met the wazas, Kashmiri chefs who specialise in preparing the wazwan - a sumptuous, multi-course banquet renowned in the region. I learnt how they continue to prepare the spread using traditional techniques and methods. Nothing is wasted in the preparation; each part of the sheep is cooked for the feast.
I talked with saffron farmers to learn about the treasured spice - how the saffron is cultivated, harvested and used in cooking. One feast in particular sticks in my mind as the best vegetarian meal I've had. It was cooked by the mother of Amit, a former doctor and friend of a friend, who helped guide my research for this book. I hope to taste her incredible cooking again someday.
In Ladakh I fell in love with skyu, a type of flour pasta shaped into small discs with thumb imprints. It's then slowly cooked in a hearty, root vegetable broth, and sometimes mutton or creamy yak milk is added. I met Charol and her mother-in-law, who taught me how to make momos (dumplings). These filled dumplings, stuffed with meat, vegetables or paneer and then steamed, are famous in Ladakhi cuisine, and you can find them across the region.
Exploring the Himalayan trail taught me a wealth of cooking techniques I wouldn't have encountered elsewhere. There's so much more I need to learn about the homeland in which I grew up. This book is my attempt to begin that journey of discovery, through recipes and stories.