Harissa is a hot favourite in freezing Kashmir

The 40-day harshest spell of winter, locally called the Chillai Kalan, began in the Kashmir Valley on Thursday, with locals queueing up outside traditional shops selling harissa, the sizzling breakfast mutton dish.

Nazeer Ahmad, 64, a resident of the old city’s Naid Kadal area, has been selling harissa for the past four decades. His shop, which remains shut during the summer months, has reopened with the winter setting in.

“Chillai Kalan is the period when harissa-gaers (harissa-makers) do brisk business. People line up at the crack of dawn in freezing temperatures for the hot dish at traditional shops,” said Mr. Ahmad, whose shop saw a 200% rise in sales in the past one week alone.

Locals prefer to have the dish, which is prepared overnight and served only in the morning, at the shops. There is a reason for having this high-protein and high-cholesterol diet. “Harissa keeps the body warm all day. It helps people brave the sub-zero temperatures and chilly winds,” said Dr. Naveed Nazir. “Given the health risks if taken frequently, people traditionally discontinue preparing harissa once the spring sets in.”

Kashmir Valley is reeling under sub-zero temperatures during nights for the past three weeks, with Srinagar recording a minimum temperature of -3.7 degree Celsius. All schools and colleges remain closed in the Valley. To escape the harsh winter period, all major offices have already shifted to the winter capital Jammu.

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