Curating a wedding banquet is no mean feat, especially when it comes to Kashmiri wazwan. “At least 30 lamb dishes are placed here,” a khansama (cook) once told this reporter at a Kashmiri wedding—a line that has remained etched on my memory forever. And even if one can try half that number, it is impossible to fill in beyond a point.
For the uninitiated, wazwan, a multi-course Kashmiri meal that is usually prepared at weddings and other festive occasions, comprises 36 dishes—rista and kebabs, primarily made of lamb, tabak maaz (ribs of lamb simmered in yogurt till tender, then fried), lahabi kebab (flattened mutton kebabs cooked in yogurt), waza chicken (two halves or two full chicken cooked whole), rogan josh (tender lamb cooked with Kashmiri spices) and mutton yakhni (delicately spiced yogurt mutton curry), among many others. The main course ends with gushtaba, a meatball dish.
And if you want a pure vegetarian affair, not usually part of wazwan, you get a mix of seasonal greens like palak (spinach) called nadru yakhni. It can also be cooked in mutton broth, unless you are a pure vegetarian. These go well with zesty accompaniments like mooli akhrot ki chutney (a sharp radish and walnut chutney), zirish ki chutney (spicy dried black currants and red chilli chutney) as these help in digesting heavy meals.
For critics who might think Kashmiri cuisine is rich, it’s important to note that there is liberal use of mustard oil in saag and nadru, which makes for a healthy meal, while red meat is cooked in spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, which add warmth to curries, and much needed for a winter staple.
Nadru is rich in vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre and is a fat-free vegetable.Red meat is good in iron, if consumed consciously. Overall, a balance of ingredients and oil, if consumed in small proportions, can make Kashmiri food a good cuisine.
Now, if you’re already cosying up to the idea of a warm wazwan, then the ongoing traditional Kashmiri food festival ‘Sair-e-Kashmir’ at The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi could be your destination. The festival has been curated by waza Tariq Ahmed from Srinagar.
“The cuisine is meat-based, and the experience is nothing short of a royal feast. Most meat-based delicacies are staple for Kashmiris and relished during the festivities.There are a few delicacies with seasonal veggies like the tamatar chaman (cottage cheese squares with tomato gravy), chok wangan (eggplant in a tangy yogurt gravy), dum Kashmiri aloo (potatoes cooked in yogurt gravy), nadru yakhni (lotus root with mild aromatic spices in a yogurt gravy), haaq (saag cooked with mustard oil, asafoetida and dried red chillies),” he says.
While Kashmiri Pandits do not cook in onion and garlic but use asafoetida and curd more often to cook mutton or lamb meat, Ahmed tells us how a sumptuous Kashmiri meal is incomplete without the use of dried Kashmiri chillies, jeera, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, saunf, dry cockscomb flower and turmeric. “It is cooked on slow but continuous heat to preserve the original nutrients and the aroma. Since Pandits do not use garlic and onion, there is ample use of dried ginger powder, fennel, asafoetida and dry spices. We also use Kashmiri pearl garlic and local shallots called praan (with a garlicky flavour),” he shares.
The royal feast doesn’t end there. You also have zafrani phirni, a dessert made with rice, milk and saffron, and kahwa, an appetising, aromatic traditional Kashmiri tea with the power of spices, made with cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and cardamom.
The festival is on till February 4, for lunch and dinner, at Seasonal Tastes, The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi