Once upon a time there lived a king named Timur. The king used to hear too many stories about the Paradise on Earth and one day, he set out to look for the ‘paradise’ – Kashmir. It was in fifteenth century when Timur invaded the lands of Kashmir. With him came a large number of workers, woodcarvers, architects and cooks. Each one was a master of his art, especially the cooks. These cooks were the descendents of the ‘Wazas’ and maybe that’s why they were gifted with the art of preparing ‘Wazwan’.
What is ‘Wazwan’? If you ask anyone to talk about Kashmiri Cuisine, it won’t be complete without the mention of ‘Wazwan’. In fact, the maximum part of the conversation would be about ‘Wazwan’. But before telling you what it actually is, I would like to give a brief introduction about the Kashmiri Cuisine.
Kashmir is blessed with a proficient art of cooking food which is sealed by a unique taste. There are three main styles of cooking food in Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits, Rajputs and Muslims - each have a different style of cooking based on their traditions.
The elaborate food prepared by the Kashmiri Pandits of the area defines their ethnical identity and their strict traditions which forbears them from using chicken and mutton. The use of onion, tomatoes and garlic is also minimal (consider nil). So what kind of ingredients would you find in the food prepared by Kashmiri Pandits? Although the variety of ingredients is huge and a few Kashmiri Pandits do include meat in their food but three things can be found in abundance in their food - spices, oils and yogurt. The most popular vegetarian dishes included in the cuisine of Kashmiri Pandits are –
Veth Tsaman (Indian cheese cooked using Kashmiri spices & oil), Ladyar Tsaman (Indian cheese cooked using turmeric), Dum Aloo (Potatoes cooked using Dum cooking technique) , Methi Chaman and Phirni.
One question has always been in my mind about Kashmiri Cuisine? How do they get that distinctive taste which makes them so popular? The obvious answer is use of different spices and cooking techniques but one small secret behind their uniqueness is that they cook food on both sides (top and bottom). This has been considered an unavowed trick of Kashmiris. Sorry for disclosing!
Their love for non vegetarian food is clearly perceptible through the food prepared by them. With mostly non vegetarian varieties of dishes, Muslims refrain themselves from using asafetida (hing) and yogurt. The Muslim tradition in Kashmiri Cuisine, sad but is considered to be near extinction. Except from a few traditional restaurants and regional stalls in the state, this art is somehow vanishing. This is something really melancholic considering the fact that these are the people who claim to be the descendents of the ‘Wazas’ and gave us the most luscious royal banquet known as ‘Wazwan’.
They follow their own proscriptions in cooking while retaining the basic identity of the Kashmiri Cuisine. The recipes do vary according to different regions in the state. The cooking patterns and a few of the ingredients are changed depending upon the region and availability of the ingredients.
Methodology used while preparing Kashimiri Cuisine
As already mentioned, people of Kashmir have their own unique cooking techniques. The most important methods employed during preparation of food are seasoning and marinating. The period for which a particular food is marinated determines the taste and texture of the dish prepared from that food ingredient.
Kashmiri food is quite versatile for Kashimiris have adapted techniques from nearby regions and have molded them to give their own version of culinary art. The use of spices and marinating technique comes from India. Preparation of ‘Wazwan’, Seekh Kababs, and other meat based dishes always involve either seasoning or marinating.
The delicacies involve use of dry fruits, especially the curries.
If you doubt the uniqueness and versatility of Kashmiri Cuisine, you can easily cross check the facts through ‘Wazwan’.
Okay, so I have mentioned this word a lot many times and probably, most of you already know what ‘Wazwan’ is. In case you don’t what this word stands for, here’s what it is.
Wazwan – Kashmiri Royal Banquet
What is Wazwan and why do I seem so crazy and enthusiastic about this? If you meet any foodie who is familiar with Wazwan, you can sense the same amount of exuberance in him. Wazwan is a multi course meal prevalent in the Kashmiri tradition since the ancient times. The meal particularly came into existence with the invasion of Timur and arrival of ‘Wazas’ in Kashmir. With 36 lip smacking dishes, preparation of Wazwan is considered an art very difficult to master. Only a few cooks at present can get it done rightly. Wazwan, a core element of culture and identity of Kashmiri people, consists mostly of meat based dishes. If you serve dishes based around lentils or pulses, you might be blamed with utter profanation. Such is the tradition of Wazwan.
According to the tradition, guests need to be seated in a group of four and would need to share food from large plate known as ‘tarim’. The meal begins with a ritual of washing hands at a basin known as tash-t-nari. Then the tarims (large metal plates) arrive heaped by rice. There are four Seekh Kababs, four pieces of methi korma, one zafrani murg, one tabak maaz, one safed murg and first few courses served on the tarims. The chutney and curd are served separately in small earthen pots. As one trami gets completed, the new one is brought with different dishes and this continues until the dinner has run its complete course. The best part of Wazwan is that it’s still practiced the same way as it was practiced during royal times, thus giving you a completely royal feel.
Still, there are a few dishes which are considered to be a must while preparing Wazwan. These are – Tabak Maaz (ribs of lamb simmered in yogurt and fried when they become tender through simmering), Rogan Josh (a tender lamb cooked with Kashmiri spices), Rista (meat balls in red gravy), Aab Gosht (lamb curry), Daniwal Korma (mutton curry with an abundant use of coriander), Marchwangan Korma (a preparation of extremely hot lamb) and Gushtaba (The meal ends with Gushtaba).
Phirni (a dessert made by using semolina and milk) is a very popular and common dessert in all over India. This dish originally belongs to Wazwan.
Just talking about Wazwan makes me experience a burning desire to visit the Kashmir again and again and experience the real taste of Kashmiri Cuisine. Such is the charm of this culinary art. If you are also like me who has set on a journey to discover the best cuisines of the world, especially India, Kashmir is the place where you must begin.