Kashmiri food originated from the picturesque Kashmir Valley, which lies in the lap of the Himalayas. Kashmir not only offers mesmerising locations but also a wide range of lip smacking and exotic delicacies. The rich, redolent dishes steeped in traditions have evolved through many generations and are known to be a blend of three different cooking styles - that of Kashmiri Pandits, Muslims and Mughals. Traditionally rice has remained the staple food for the Kashmiri populace which is most popularly complimented with varied preparations of meat. Kashmiris including the Brahmin Pandits are voracious meat eaters and thus a number of appetizing and luscious Kashmiri dishes of meat like rogan josh and yakhni are available. Varied range of traditional Kashmiri breads like bakarkhani and tea like sheer chai are also quite popular in the region.
The region offers a wide array of food items, zaeka-e-Kashmir, particularly authentic non-veg cuisines made of chicken, mutton and fish, some of which has become hugely popular across the nation. The Kashmiri cuisines primarily non-vegetarian with of course some exquisite vegetarian dishes on offer are mostly influenced by the traditional cuisines of the Kashmiri pandits and the mughlai cuisines. Of late aspects of culinary styles of regions like Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia are also noticeable in Kashmiri food. Generally Kashmiri cuisines, most of which are marked with ample use of turmeric and yogurt are quite rich in flavour and mild in taste. Spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and fennel which are generally considered hot are used widely in different Kashmiri cuisines, while garlic and onion are not used much. The region that boasts of being the leading producer as well as exporter of saffron, use this colouring and seasoning agent as an ingredient in many of its dishes specially sweets and pulao (a rice preparation). The exquisite aromatic flavour of variety of dishes of this region, particularly seasoned with saffron, has become an integral part of Kashmiri food, some sort of a trademark, making it more enticing among gastronomic enthusiasts. Dry fruits are also used extensively in different Kashmiri dishes, especially in preparing curries. The unique aromatic flavour of Kashmiri rice has garnered much fame with the Kashmiri pulao topping the rice dishes giving stiff competition to the various other rice delicacies across the nation. Traditionally ghee is used in cooking Kashmiri dishes, however in modern day many health conscious Kashmiri families have switched to mustard oil.
Wazwan: The ultimate ceremonial feast in Kashmir is known as 'Wazwan' and consists of mostly meat-based dishes. The word 'waz' means chef and 'wan' denotes an array of meat curries and other elaborate dishes. It's a princely 36-course banquet, with about 15-34 dishes and is popularly referred to as a 'feast fit for kings'. The preparation of the cuisine is regarded as an art and the dish is held with high regards in the region. The non-veg items can be prepared out of fish, chicken and lamb but beef is never used. Serving of any item based on lentils or pulses at the time of this feast is regarded as a desecration. This popular dish has made its way not only to the leading hotels and restaurants in India but also to different international Kashmiri food festivals and occasions. Lamb meat highlights the menu with some of the popular dishes like Gushtaba, Rogan Josh, Rista, Tabak Maas, Dhaniwal Korma and Marchwangan Korma.
The different courses of the dish are prepared by and under the supervision of the head chef called a vasta waza who is assisted by a team of chefs called wazas. The term Wazwan is derived from two words, ‘waz’ meaning cook or cooking and ‘wan’ meaning shop in Kashmiri language. Some of the items are cooked overnight with great precision. This multi-course dish is usually prepared during special occasions of the Kashmiris like the marriage ceremony. The art of preparing the Wazwan, which is considered with pride, has been passed on hereditarily and is hardly shared to anyone outside blood relations. Thus some wazas have made their names with their rich lineage of such service and remains greatly in demand during occasions.
Wazwan is served in traem or a large copper platter with each platter serving a group of four guests. While the name of Allah is taken by the Kashmiri Muslims prior to consuming the meal, the Kashmiri Brahmins take the name of Lord Rudra. The ritual of Tash-t-naer that is washing of hands of the guests takes place with the attendants taking around a jug and a basin. The traem heaped with rice that is quartered with four sheek kababs also including two tabak maaz, barbecued lamb ribs prepared with milk, butter and ground spices; four methi kormas, prepared out of chicken or mutton seasoned with combination of spices including dried methi (fenugreek) leaves; one zafran kokur, a preparation of chicken with saffron sauce; one safed kokur, a preparation of chicken with white sauce; and a few other courses is served to the guests. Accompaniments of the meal which are served in small earthen pots include chutneys or dips and saffron garnished yogurt. Thereafter the junior cook or the waza serves around twenty more courses.
Seven Mandatory Dishes of Wazwan:
There are seven items that must be served in such occasions. These are
- Tabakhmaaz or Qabargaah, barbecued lamb ribs prepared with milk, butter and ground spices
- Rista, a spicy gravy preparation of meat balls where the ingredients of the gravy includes fennel, saffron and paprika and takes its colour from the dyer's alkanet
- Dhaniwal Korma, a preparation of lamb roasted with spices, onion puree and yogurt and garnished with coriander leaves
- Rogan Josh, one of the signature dishes of Kashmiri cuisines, a lamb gravy, ingredients of which includes asafoetida , Kashmiri chillies, yogurt, ginger and bay leaves among others
- Gushtaba, a preparation of spicy yogurt gravy containing meatballs - Marchhwangan Korma, a preparation of chicken thigh or leg pieces that is cooked with a spicy onion sauce
- Aab Gosh, chunk of lamb prepared with thickened milk, cardamom and fennel-based spice mixture.