As special as this place is, even more special are its people, culture and without a doubt its extraordinary cuisine, that is the most lavish endowment of this place. If its not obvious of the place being talked about here, then let all the guesses and assumptions be swept away all at once without much adieu, its about the magnanimously beautiful – KASHMIR.
Well known across the globe for its warm hospitality, Kashmir bears a history of having hosted a wide array of diaspora, be it the mighty Mughal emperors from central Asia or the Europeans, aesthetic and spiritual masters from far off lands, Kashmir has a rich heritage in these aspects. All this cultural diffusion tends to have a certain bearing on its traditions and food alike, while most of it resonating with central Asia, dialect being a simple example.
Not delving much into the history of this place and tracking the historical footprints of the cuisine and culture, let’s get straight to the point of interest for all- ‘FOOD’. Having to talk about the food of Kashmir, one must embed a term in their minds – WAZ-WAN. This is not a dish, but is a collective name given to a number of dishes; precisely it is a multi-course meal that is usually served or prepared on special occasions like those of marriages, parties and family functions.
WAZ-WAN which when translated literally means ‘ chefs’ shop’ ( WAZ- meaning a skilled chef and WAN- meaning shop). WAZ-WAN comprises roughly around 13-15 dishes. Here it carries some bad news for strictly vegetarian or vegan folks because WAZ-WAN essentially has all non-veg dishes, mutton being the crucial essence of it.
Ranging from ‘kebabs’ grilled on skewers to ‘rista’ and ‘gosht-aab’ which are round meatballs prepared from minced and marinated mutton. The gravy for ‘rista’ is of a very thick consistency and incredibly spicy, with its outstanding red color, it is a hard one to resist. The spice that goes into the dish blends so perfectly well, that ‘rista’ soaks in the flavour and texture of it leaving an amazing taste on the tongue.
‘Gosht-aab’, again is a meatball, prepared from minced and marinated mutton but has an entirely different taste and gravy to it. The gravy of ‘gosht-aab ’ is one that is highly popular among the common folks and natives of this place. It is called ‘yakhni’ and is prepared with fresh yogurt. The yogurt is boiled and stirred continuously until it reduces to half of the previous amount with cumin seeds and dried mint having an important bearing. The meat balls are also boiled along thus soaking in the milky texture and flavour of the gravy. The gravy of it is one that is relished the most, with its creamy color and a creamy but heavenly taste, it is certainly a delight and definitely something that shouldn’t be missed at any cost. The thickness and the consistency of the gravy is such that while it is being served it literally sets your mouth slobbering, and the fine crystals of dried mint that just flow through the gravy is definitely a feast.
This isn’t it yet, the next up is a dish called ‘ rogan josh’ which again is an oil rich, tremendously spicy curry with mutton that is very soft and tender which when touched easily tears apart. ‘Rogan josh’ stands out for the bright red colored gravy and has a medium level of consistency, not very thick and not very translucent as well. The Kashmiri red chilli that this dish takes in gives it hot spicy flavour and a coloring ingredient that is called ‘mavall’(Cockscombe flower) in the regional language is used for its bright red color giving it a slight sweet texture as well. The highly tender meat and the ‘rogan josh’ curry is one such delicacy that one wouldn’t need a dessert for, as it feels much better to retain the taste on the taste buds.
Yet another one is called ‘tabakh- maaz’ and requires the meat from the ribs of the lamb and the meat is then fried in ‘Ghee’(butter). It is prepared in such a unique fashion that the top part of it is somewhat hard and underneath the hard layer is an extremely soft and delicate layer that could be eaten just with lips and not the teeth. It is usually served as a starter, and yet being simply fried mutton it has a savouring taste. The hard topped layer with a delicate layer underneath is one such unique attribution of it.
‘Aab-gosh’, a curry prepared with dried milk is yet another lip smacking dish, with not much of spice, and is very simple yet amazingly delicious.It is much like a sweet soup with mutton. Again one very popular dish, among the natives.
This was a brief overview of the ‘WAZ-WAN’ with just the most important delicacies of this cuisine. Coming to beverages, Kashmir has its world famous ‘kahwa’ which is a sort of green tea with cinnamon and cardamom being the most essential part of it. When ‘kahwa’ is being prepared, its aroma travels to every corner of the house, announcing its preparation. ‘Kahwa’ is most often savoured with ‘kulcha’ which is a traditional biscuit baked in a traditional oven called ‘tandoor’. It is such a wondrous combo- ‘kahwa and kulcha’ and isn’t something to be missed on. It is a must to be served on the auspicious occasions and is a go-to beverage in common households.
If at all one desires to relish these utterly delicious dishes or the Kashmiri beverages be it the ‘kahwa’ or the Kashmiri salted tea called ‘nun-chai’ which is traditionally served with dry fruits garnished all over this pinkish tea and the kettle used for it is called ‘samovar’ ( a copper kettle, bigger in size than the usual size of the tea kettles); one needs to visit Kashmir to have them because no other place or no other chef other than Kashmiri chef- ‘waza’ could do justice to the taste of these. Everything that belongs to this place is impossible to replicate be it the food, people, culture, or any minute detail of it. Every belonging of Kashmir carries the essence of this place like a body and soul, hence the need to state it again- ‘ have it here or do not have it all’.