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For Kashmiris, telvor is the banana bread of the lockdown

Crusty on the outside and soft inside, the 'telvor' is best had with a generous helping of butter

The telvor looks like a cousin of bagel.
The telvor looks like a cousin of bagel. (Vinayak Razdan)

In 2016, Kochi-based Vinayak Razdan and his wife Mona were visiting the eighth century Martand Sun Temple in Kashmir. As they were heading back they spotted a kandurwan (baker shop) in a lane outside the temple. Hungry and tired, they bought freshly baked telvor and started eating it there. Razdan says the kandur (baker) looked surprised that the “tourists" were interested in his bread. In fact, one onlooker remarked, “Yiman maa aasi tscohwor melan nyebri (It’s evident tschowor must not be available where they live)."

A good telvor or tscohwor should be crusty on the outside, soft inside, with a sprinkling of sesame seeds on the top. It looks like a cousin of bagel and the Turkish bread simit: circular in shape with a hole in the centre. Among the huge array of breads baked in tandoors in kandurwans across Jammu and Kashmir, telvor is made in the afternoon to be had with evening tea: kehwa, salt tea called sheerchai/nunchai or even normal chai. But the indulgent way of having it is by slicing it into two halves and slathering it with butter: it’s the maida-fuelled comfort food like Maggi and banana bread, which some people have been baking with a vengeance during the lockdown.

Razdan, who curates the cultural blog SearchKashmir and is the co-founder of a games studio, says during the lockdown he had bought baking essentials as his wife wanted to make cakes. He realized that since he had time, why not experiment. “Making telvor first seemed like the proper thing to do since cakes are easily available. Once you learn how to make telvor, you don't have to travel to Jammu or Kashmir or Delhi to eat it,“ he adds.

Delhi-based designer Samina Khan, who usually visits her parents once or twice a year in Srinagar, has no access to a kandur in her area. She sometimes buys Afghani bread from Bhogal. As her boutique in Shahpurjat was shut during the ongoing lockdown, she says she had time to do things otherwise not possible. Seeing the pictures of homemade telvor being posted on a Kashmiri Facebook food group, she too decided to give it a try.

“They actually came out well. Crisp on the outside with a soft centre. Melting butter on a tscohwor is the ultimate snack. But I miss bread from the kandur, because he is at heart a kandur," says Khan.

She says growing up in Nishat, Srinagar, whenever she and her sister would walk past a kandurwan, they would buy some bread, or tschot, and eat it on the way. She says she does that even now when she is in Srinagar. The other ritual being taking out her grandmother’s samovar for serving tea.

Khan says she felt nostalgic when the smell of the baked bread filled up the house. “Happy memories of vacation time with family in Kashmir: dastarkhan, samovar, laughter, clinking of cups, all came rushing to my mind. The tscohwor, no matter what gourmet cakes I have had, beats everything else.“

She says today her daughter Fizaa baked a banana cinnamon bread. Asked if given a choice, what would she opt for: “Of course, telvor. Absolutely very possessive about our culture and heritage. Once a Kashmiri, always a Kashmiri."

Abu-Dhabi based Rekha Wangnoo, who is a homemaker, still remembers the name of the kandurwan opposite their house in Srinagar’s Karan Nagar area: Tek Chand Kandur. Evening tea in her childhood meant freshly baked katlam (a flaky bread which is crisp on the outside) and telvor from his shop, the latter always devoured with dollops of butter. She says when they moved to Abu Dhabi, they used to have bagels as an alternative to telvor, but the crispness and taste was missing.

Wangnoo, who is passionate about cooking, says when a Kashmiri friend posted a recipe of telvor, she followed it step by step. She now makes it once a week, and likes having it with sheerchai. If she was baking a couple of times in the week before the lockdown, now, with everybody home—husband and two children—she has been baking every day. Besides cakes and biscuits, her repertoire includes other Kashmiri breads like katlam, kulcha, gaev girda and bagirkhani.

Razdan, whose wife now wants him to bake more often, plans on making katlam next: “Then slowly maybe my evening tea will become more home-like (home being Jammu, where kandur breads are easily available)." As for telvor, he says kneading the dough was the tricky part as it would stick to his hands. His mother offered to help, he refused. “Obviously things got strange with the dough. The hair on my hand was glued. But I kept going."

He says when he posted a picture of the finished product on Facebook, some people commented that he had been too generous with sesame seeds, others said it looked like a bagel. His response: “I have never had bagel. All I can say is, what I had was a tscohwor that tasted like a tscohwor."

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