On Srinagar’s ‘freedom road’, a hot favourite pizza outlet

October 19th, 2008 - 1:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Oct 19 (IANS) Walls awash in colour, wacky posters, anti-skidding ceramic floors, upholstered furniture and uninterrupted pop music. The first pizza outlet in Srinagar offers all this - with a dash of ‘freedom’.The Smoking Joe Pizza restaurant in uptown Rajbagh area is slowly becoming a landmark in the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. It is located on what has been christened as the ‘Hurriyat (Freedom) Road’ here - and the symbolism does not escape anyone stepping in for a steaming pick of his or her favourite pizza.

“We come here almost daily. I love pizza, but more than that, I love my freedom to sit in this restaurant, listen to my choice of pop music and bite into the juicy fare,” said Suhail, 16, a student.

Vijay Rana, the chef of the pizza joint, was trained in one of Mumbai’s top hotels for four years before the franchise of the international pizza chain decided to shift him to the troubled Kashmir Valley to bring some culinary cheer to the locals.

“I belong to Himachal Pradesh. Therefore, the cold weather here is no problem for me. I in fact opted for Srinagar when I was told that Smoking Joe Pizza was setting up an outlet here.

“The people are educated, well behaved and often call me out to pat me for my effort,” Rana, 26, said. He also said he was training a few locals for the job so that he had standby chefs during emergencies.

“The people here like spicy pizzas, especially chicken-based ones. We get our foodstuff from outside as we have strict quality control,” the chef said.

The outlet is located next to the office of the separatist Hurriyat Conference.

Rakesh Sharma, the manager of the restaurant, said: “We are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. We also have a home delivery arrangement for the entire Srinagar city. We have motorbike riding delivery boys.”

“As we started operations in Srinagar in July this year, we have hardly had any tourists visiting the place as there was trouble in the city for almost two months.

“All our guests have been locals and, touch wood, we are doing good business. We did a small ad campaign in the city to announce our arrival and gradually our customer rush has been picking up,” said the manager of the restaurant.

It is not just the younger generations of the locals those throng the restaurant, even middle-aged locals are visiting the place.

“I have liked the preparations here. They are nicely cooked and hygienic. The stuff here is not heavy - either on my stomach or the purse,” said Basharat Ahmad, 52, an engineer who had come with his wife and daughter to the restaurant.

The young customers who have become regular visitors are impressed by the history behind their favourite food joint.

Sajad, 18, a student here who stepped into the place after taking lessons at a nearby tuition centre, said: “They say Joe was a Mexican cowboy who came to Texas and was drawn towards the aroma of a steaming pizza being prepared by Isabella, an Italian immigrant in the US. Joe fell in love with Isabella and her pizza. They married in 1851, but unfortunately, Isabella died a year later.

“Smitten by his beloved’s love, Joe started making pizzas according to her recipes. His pizzas soon became a craze with Texan ranchers and his place was known as Smoking Joe Pizza.”

The road outside the eatery has often witnessed tension in the past with the security forces trying to prevent separatist gatherings. For this reason, the road has been named as the Hurriyat (Freedom) Road.

“Both the separatist leaders and the security forces can sit across the tables here to enjoy the aroma and savour a nice pizza to ease their tensions a bit!” said Suhail.

Here at last, perhaps, are the tables across which both separatists and mainstream politicians can sit and enjoy their food, forgetting their ideological differences for a while.

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