Kissir and Tsemik, Savory Buckwheat pancakes with a spicy yogurt chutney, a delicacy from Turtuk

As we entered Turtuk valley, nestled between Himalayan Range and Karakoram Mountains..

They say the strongest bonds and memories are created over food – whether with a person, place or just good times. Meet Kissir (savoury buckwheat pancakes) & Tsemik (cucumber yogurt chutney) – the main characters that stole a piece of my heart forever to remain in Turtuk. Buckwheat, with its ample protein & dietary fiber content, is a sacred crop in Turtuk – looks like they caught on with its superfood status early on 😀

Turtuk is a tiny village in the Leh district of Jammu & Kashmir in India. Situated on the banks of Shyok river, nestled in between Himalayas on one end and Karakoram mountains on the other, its fantasy-land-like beauty is something that words cannot do any justice. However, since it’s 7 kilometers away from the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, security on the way from Nubra to Turtuk is tight, and documents are checked at multiple check-points. Although open to tourism now, even Indians needed a permit for visit until a few years ago.

We drove from Leh to Turtuk, via Nubra Valley. It was bang in the middle of Ramadan Sawm or fasting season that we finally landed in Turtuk. Our hosts – Husain Baig & Jamila, a sweet couple – were obviously fasting, yet Husain showed us through the wonders of the entire Farol Turtuk, the part he stays in, never complaining about the steps, the heights we had to climb through the day, none of it. Ever smiling, he inquired what we’d like to eat for lunch. Wanting to spare them the trouble while fasting, we offered to check out something at the only local restaurant – a delightful small open space perched near the bridge on Shyok river. The only preference we had – to eat something from the local cuisine.

It was summer in Turtuk, and buckwheat (one of the several crops they take pride in growing at that height) had been long harvested. The café still offered one local delicacy named Kissir with Tsemik. We did order it, apprehensive if we’d like it, the gastronomic adventure nothing new to us. Out they sent buckwheat pancakes with a curd based chutney as accompaniment..the pancakes savoury, the curd chutney seasoned with ground chillies, cucumber & garlic.. the austerity of the pancakes balanced by the kick of chillies in curd. It was love at first bite. We learnt later that the Balti cuisine is extensive, yet seasonal – they enjoy harvested grains and vegetables in the summer, while meat and cheese is for winters when vegetable produce is scarce.

On the banks of Shyok River or the River of Death, as the locals call it..

The courtyard of Kacho Mohammad Khan, the last royal descendant, who has turned his residence into a private museum..

Mohammad Ali, a skilled metalsmith who is one of  the hundreds of people tragically affected by sudden accession of Turtuk by Indian Army in 1971..Separated as an infant from his father who was supplying provisions to the Pakistani Army, he finally got permission to visit his parents in Pakistan in 2015. He is nearly 50 years old now, and his father didn’t fully recognize him during his only visit home as a grown-up.

Some of Mohammad’s hand-forged and beautifully hand-stamped utensils. I resent picking only one of his creations, sold for a measly amount of INR 300.

Turtuk’s natural refrigerator – an underground larder that is mysteriously cold throughout the year without any electrical supply. A possible underground stream is theorized for the sub-zero temperatures even during summer, but there is no proof of it. The villagers stock all their supplies for winter in shelves assigned to each family.

We requested Jamila to serve the Kissir and Tsemik duo for breakfast the next day, to her genuine amusement. As she made those precious pancakes, she let me watch the procedure with a guarded demeanour, like she was letting out a secret too precious. I suspect that comes with the brunt of history the Baltis had to face. They went to sleep as Indians before Partition & woke up the next day in the Gilgit Baltistan province in Pakistan. Years later, slept in Pakistan and woke up as Indians when Indian military ended up reclaiming that small part called Turtuk in the war of 1971. The reasons were termed ‘strategic’, but I’m trying to be as non-political as possible when I gauge what it feels like when a land a people identify themselves as a part of, keeps on changing hands, merely for the sake of ‘strategic advantage’. Strangely, Kissir & Tsemik became a symbol of something greater than mere food in my mind. It stood for perseverance, toil & immense grace through it all.

Kissir aka buckwheat pancakes are extremely healthy and nutritious too! Buckwheat has 13 grams of protein content for every 100 grams – a very impressive stat for a pseudo-grain. It also has essential fats like Omega 3 & 6, more than 50℅ of its carbohydrates content is in the form of dietary fiber, making it more of complex carbs.

Kissir is a staple in Gilgit Baltistan & Turtuk in Ladakh, yet it’s recipe cannot be found anywhere online. It is incredibly yum, and takes about 20 minutes for the entire preparation. I’m going to share the same with you, as noted from Jamila, our host in Turtuk:

RECIPE: KISSIR AND TSEMIK/ BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES WITH YOGURT SAUCE

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

FOR KISSIR

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups kuttu ka atta or buckwheat flour
  • 1-2 tbsp oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Buttermilk (optional – Jamila didn’t use this, but could make pancakes fluffier)

METHOD:

If you couldn’t find buckwheat flour, you can grind whole buckwheat seeds in a normal mixer to coarse/ smooth consistency as per your liking. I like it coarser, but fine flour will make the pancakes fluffier.

Mix the flour with water to batter consistency (like pakoras) and add salt to taste. Set this mixture aside for 10 minutes.

Later, ladle some batter on a hot girdle/tawa and spread it only slightly (it will stick if you spread it too much).

Pour 1-2 drops of oil around the pancake, flip once lightly browned, serve hot.

FOR TSEMIK

INGREDIENTS:

  • 200g Thick yogurt/ hung curd
  • 1 Cucumber, medium, grated
  • 2 Green chillies, finely diced
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • Few sprigs Coriander, for garnish
  • Salt, to taste

METHOD:

Coarsely grind chillies & garlic in mortar & pestle (you could use electric grinder too; would lose the authenticity though).

Mix all ingredients in curd/ yogurt. Add water to adjust consistency.

Prepare this beforehand so you could refrigerate it for a while.

Typically, this cold chutney accompanies the hot pancakes. Enjoy your meal!

I’d love to hear how this recipe turned out for you, if you tried it. Do post a pic on Instagram and tag #fitfoodiediary in the picture!

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving) (with Tsemik)*

Energy 299 calories
Protein 14 g
Fat 5 g
Carbohydrates 49 g
Of which, Fiber 8 g

*Recipe is for 4 servings; all values in grams.

NOTES

The pictures included in the post show you a glimpse of Turtuk through my lens, all shot by me or my husband, unedited. Kindly do not copy without prior permission, and give due credit.