As special as this place is, even special are its people, its culture, and without a doubt its extraordinary cuisine; that is the most lavish endowment of this place. If it’s 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. It’s 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 resonates 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 – Wazwan. This is not a dish, but is a collective name given to several dishes; precisely, it is a multi-course meal usually served or prepared on special occasions like marriages, parties, and family functions.
Wazwan which when translated literally means “chefs’ shop” (‘Waz’ meaning a skilled chef and ‘Wan’ meaning shop). Wazwan comprises roughly around 13 to 15 dishes. Here it carries some bad news for strictly vegetarian or vegan folks because Wazwan 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 colour, it is a hard one to resist. The spice that goes into the dish blends so perfectly that the rista soaks in its flavour and texture, 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. The gravy of gosht aab is highly popular among the common folks and natives of this place. It is called yakhni and is prepared with fresh yoghurt. The yoghurt 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 meatballs are also boiled along, thus soaking in the milky texture and flavour of the gravy. The gravy of it is relished the most, with its creamy colour 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 are such that while it is being served, it literally sets your mouth slobbering, and the fine crystals of dried mint that 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-coloured 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 a hot spicy flavour. A colouring ingredient called mawal (dried Cockscomb flower) in the regional language is used for its bright red colour giving it a slight sweet texture as well. The highly tender meat and the rogan josh curry are such delicacies 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 (clarified 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 our lips and not the teeth. It is usually served as a starter, yet simply fried mutton has a savouring taste. The hard-topped layer with a delicate layer underneath is one such unique attribution of it.
Aab-gosht, a curry prepared with dried milk, is yet another lip-smacking dish with not much spice and is very simple yet amazingly delicious. It is much like a sweet soup with mutton. Again one trendy dish among the natives.
This was a brief overview of the Wazwan 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 an 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, 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 must be served on 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 noon-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. Kashmir’s belongings carry 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 at all.’