The culinary art of the Kashmiri Wazwan
is learnt through heredity and rarely passed on. This has made wazas (cooks) very popular and revered, and they are in great demand, especially during marriages and ceremonial events
The most important part of cooking Kashmiri food is the traditional
skills, which only a Kashmiri cook or a wazwa can perform using the tried and tested techniques that he would have learnt in his homeland since childhood. Also, copper vessels are an important part of cooking in Kashmir.
All Spiced Up
Kashmiri food is one of the richest cuisines present in India. What makes it stand apart is its simple yet very rich texture, and the use of redolent and aromatic spices. Spices filled with flavour and aroma are the life of Kashmiri food, and this is achieved by using ingredients like ginger-garlic, cinnamon, black cardamom, fennel, and saffron. Apart from these ingredients, a true Kashmiri flavour can be brought to the dishes by only using the special Kashmiri mirchi.
Contrary to popular belief, Kashmiri food is not just about non-vegetarian dishes. In fact, Kashmiri food caters to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. A dish which is always appreciated by the vegetarians is the Paneer Meethi Chaman. Non-vegetarians are the biggest fans of the good old Rogan Josh, a dish which represents Kashmiri cuisine at its best. Kashmiri pundits have always been lovers of good food and their dishes reflect the versatility of the Kashmiri cuisine. Dum Aloo Kashmiri is one of the most popular dishes which Kashmiri vegetarians love and like to cook for others too.
The Ceremonial Serving
Wazwan is the ceremonial meal of Kashmir with its 36 delectable dishes, during which the whole family eats from one plate, and they sit in a circle on low seats or cushions. Like any other culture, the food completes the rich culture of Kashmir, and the whole concept of Wazwan comes from the feeling of hospitality which Kashmiri people are known for. Wazwan is based on the concept of serving whatever that is available in the house to the guests from which the traditional culture and warmth of the people comes.
Kashmiri Green Tea
Wazwan and elaborate family dinners usually end with kahwa – a green tea which originates from Persia, and is consumed in Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and some regions of Central Asia. The tea is made by boiling green tea leaves with saffron strands, cinnamon bark and cardamom pods and occasionally Kashmiri roses to add a great aroma. Generally, it is served with sugar or honey, and crushed almonds or walnuts. Some varieties are made as a herbal infusion only, without the green tea leaves.
Traditionally, the tea is prepared in a brass kettle known as a samovar, which contains live coals in a central cavity, and which keep the tea perpetually hot. Around the fire-container there is a space for water to boil and the tea leaves and other ingredients are mixed with the water. These days, Kahwa is made in normal pans and vessels. It is often served in tiny, shallow cups, and usually served to guests or as part of a celebration dinner. Saffron is added to the drink for special visitors. Sometimes milk is added to it, but this is generally given to the elderly or the sick. The tea is considered to be good for digestion and brings warmth during the cold season.
At Zune, we offer a fine selection of all-time favourites from Delhi, Punjab and Kashmir. Kashmiri cuisine is based on traditional methods of cooking using fresh and seasonal ingredients blended with exotic tastes, colours, textures and spices. We purchase the ingredients from a local vendor and the vegetables are bought every day so that the freshness isn’t discounted at any cost. All the ingredients are available quite easily to us and that too of a good quality, which helps us maintain a consistent taste and standard of our dishes.
History of Kashmiri Cuisine
The history of modern Kashmiri cuisine can be traced back to the 15th century invasion of India by Timur, and the migration of 1,700 skilled woodcarvers, weavers, architects, calligraphers and cooks from Samarkand to the valley of Kashmir. The descendants of these cooks, the wazas, are the master chefs of Kashmir.
The royal Wazwan is considered the ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir. It offers no less than 36 courses, of which 15 to 30 are meat preparations, cooked overnight by the master chef, Vasta Waza, and his retinue of wazas. Guests are seated in groups of four and share the meal out of a large metal plate called the trami.
The meal begins with a ritual washing of hands at a basin called the tash-t-nari, which is taken around by attendants. Then the tramis arrive, heaped with rice, quartered by seekh kababs, pieces of methi korma, tabak maaz, safed murg, zafrani murg, and the first few courses. Curd and chutney are served seperately in small earthen pots. As each trami is completed, it is removed, and a new one brought in, until the dinner has run its course. Seven dishes are a must for these occassions– Rista, Rogan Josh, Tabak Maaz, Daniwal Korma, Aab Gosht, Marchwangan Korma and Gushtaba. Mutton, chicken or fish are important in a Kashmiri meal and the Kashmiris often combines vegetables and meat in the same dish in their daily meals. Mutton and turnips, chicken and spinach, fish and lotus root are other popular combinations.