Flavoursome: All photos Copyright RIM Inc.
Magical Figure 36! span>
Flavoursome/Ravi V. Chhabra
The Kashmiri cuisine festival mid-January at #Hotel Broadway refreshed the memories of my earlier visit and with vengeance. A celebrated difference - the guests were seated in groups of four on a ‘Dastarkhan’, the traditional cushioned-seating on the floor to share the meal on a large metal plate called the ‘Tarami’.
We began with a ceremonious hand-wash in a #‘Tasht-Nari’ (portable wash basin: photo at the end) taken around by attendants. Soon the #‘Tarami’ arrived heaped with rice and the first few course(s)! The steamed greens - Kashmiri #Haq leaves (a fine spinach family) that were subtle in taste and had a pleasing aroma.
A typical ‘Tarami’ consists of a mount of rice divided by four ‘seekh kababs’, four pieces of ‘methi korma’, one ‘tabak maaz’ and two pieces of ‘tarami murgh’ one safed, the other zafrani, all of it accompanied with curd for better digestion.
The traditional Kashmiri community cooking called #‘Wazwan’ is truly a feast fit for the royal. It comprises a #flavoursome #36-course meal, mostly non-vegetarian dishes! The ‘Waz’ means chef or a culinary guru and ‘Wan’ stands for the shop replete with meats and delicacies. Perhaps, Wazwan is the most unique and elaborate of all meals in India. It is prepared by the ‘Wazas’, the descendants of the master chefs who landed from Samarkand and parts of Central Asia in the early 15th century.
Many of the delicacies are cooked through the night under the watch of a #‘Vasta Waza’ or head chef, assisted by a retinue of ‘Wazas’. This is Kashmir's most formal meal. It is said that the host must lay out all the food he has at his home before his guest and the guest, in turn, must return the courtesy by doing justice to the meal. The cuisine lavishly uses traditional flavor of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and saffron.
In the Kashmiri weddings and parties, the Wazwan menu comprises the ubiquitous dishes such as #‘Rista’ or minced meat balls are made of finely pounded mutton and done in an aromatic thick gravy; ‘Seekh Kababs’, #‘Tabak Maaz’, or flat pieces of meat cut from the ribs and fried for a crisp crunching texture. The typical #‘Rogan josh’, owes its rich red colour to the handsome use of Kashmiri chillies (mirch), while the #‘Yakhni’, a cream-shade preparation of delicate flavour, is made with curd as a base and the #‘Goshtaba’, invariably the last item to be served in a traditional Wazwan, are meatballs done from pounded #mutton cooked in thick gravy of fresh curd base. The vegetarians’ delight ‘Dum Aloo’ and ‘Chamaan’ are the omnipresent dishes even though the menu is replete with meats.
Kashmiri cooking has evolved through the ages with the happy meeting of two great schools of culinary craftsmanship - Kashmiri ‘Muslim’ and #‘Pundit’. The basic difference between the two culinary styles is the Hindus lean towards ‘hing and curd’ and the Muslims rely on ‘onions and garlic’.
Barring some hotels and a few restaurants in India that promote or cater to regional tastes, Kashmiri Muslim cuisine has remained the staple in Kashmiri homes, both in and out of the Valley. However, professional cooks in Kashmir still continue to thrive even though most of them are facing a shaky future with fine dining on the wane.
The Kashmiri Pundits (Hindus) and Brahmins have been great meat eaters; they prefer goat and the meat is usually cut into fairly large pieces and is chosen from the thighs, breast, neck and ribs. A noticeable part is the use of curd as base in Kashmiri cooking. Leaving aside certain kebabs, it is used in every preparation. Even in vegetarian dishes, it is often added. Ideally, the Kashmiri Pundit cooking was without the use of onions and garlic, but now with an acquired taste for them, these are added in certain recipes.
We relished the 4-course affair done so aesthetically and managed impeccably for a bunch of connoisseurs and expats - both of whom were visibly in awe and admiration for the 'Wazwani' experience.
Can there be a better tradition in the landscape of culinary art?