Have it here or DO NOT have it at all

When one thinks of Kashmiri food, one thinks Wazwan - one of many distinct contributions of Kashmiri culture.


Four people are seated around the 'Trami’ (a large copper plate) to share a meal. Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Muskan Yousuf

As special as this place is, even more special are its people, its culture, and without a doubt, its extraordinary cuisine, which is the most lavish endowment of this place. If it’s not obvious of the place being talked about here, then without much adieu let all the guesses and assumptions be swept away all at once. It’s about the magnanimously beautiful and ethereal – Kashmir.

Well known across the globe for its warm hospitality, Kashmir bears a history of having hosted a wide array of travellers, be it the mighty Mughal emperors from central Asia or the Europeans not forgetting the aesthetic and spiritual masters from far off lands – Kashmir bears a rich heritage in these aspects. All of 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 when literally translated 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 quintessentially consists of all non-vegetarian dishes, mutton being the most important part of it.

Rista- round meatballs prepared with minced meat and fat, and has a sumptuous gravy. Credits: shutterstock

Ranging from kebabs grilled on skewers to rista and gosht aab - round and circular meatballs prepared from minced and marinated mutton, this supremely lavish cuisine has all the flavours and tastes. The gravy for rista is of a very thick consistency and slightly tangy but enjoyably 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 the flavour and texture, leaving an amazing taste on the tongue. It goes first in the sequence of all the delicacies.

Gosht aab again is a round and circular 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 native folks 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 on the dish. The meatballs are also boiled along, thus soaking in the milky texture and flavour of the gravy. The gravy of Gosht aab is relished the most, with its creamy colour and a milky 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. The flavour of mint, yoghurt, cardamom fuse together perfectly giving a rich taste to the gravy and the mutton alike. With a creamy and white hue, this one is a must try and the most special one.

Rogan josh- prepared with Kashmiri red chilli for hot spicy flavour. Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This isn’t it yet, 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 in the regional (dried Cockscomb flower) is used for its bright red colour giving it a minimally 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. Rogan josh takes in every spice in proper amounts, more or less than the optimum quantity can dampen and tamper the taste, texture and flavour of the same.

Tabakh maaz, fried mutton from the ribs and a mouth slobbering starter. Credits: brownmag

Yet another one in this series is called tabakh maaz and it 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 way that the topmost layer of it is somewhat hard and thick and underneath the hard layer is an extremely soft and delicate layer that could be eaten with just the lips and not the teeth. It is usually served as a starter, yet this simply fried mutton has a savouring taste. The hard-topped layer with a delicate layer underneath makes it very unique. Tabakh maaz has no gravy to it but is potentially delicious without having one and both its crunchiness and softness make it a relishing starter.

Aab-gosht, a curry prepared either with dried milk or with proper liquid milk, is yet another lip-smacking item with not much spice and is very simple yet amazingly delicious. It is much like a sweet soup with mutton. The milk along with mutton is simmered together until the curry gets a little thicker in consistency and the mutton soaks in the milk and becomes reasonably tender. Again one of the very trendy dishes among the natives. The Milky white hue of this dish balances the dark red hues of the other ones.

Kashmiri pulao, with aromatic Basmati rice and rich dry fruits. Credits: pixabay

Pulao- Kashmiri Pulao is comparatively a little different from the regular pulaos, as it differs in the composition from the rest. This Pulao has a good proportion of dried fruits like dried apricots, dried dates, cashews, and raisins. These dried fruits are the main and major ingredients of this pulao that is prepared with the famous Basmati rice. The sweet taste of these dried fruits and the salty taste of the rice is a whole new sumptuous meal to gorge on, and makes it unique only to Kashmir.

Methi maaz is also one of the starters and this is prepared with dried fenugreek leaves and the intestine of the lamb. The fenugreek is chopped into very fine pieces and so is done with the intestine and then both are cooked together with the spices but there is no gravy to this one. It is a spicy mixture of finely chopped minute pieces of the intestine and dried fenugreek.

Kahwa, Kashmiri beverage made with saffron, cardamom and is garnished with peeled almonds. Credits: brownmag

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. Saffron is the quintessential ingredient of the Kahwa giving it a soothing light yellow hue. Kahwa is most often savoured with kulcha, a traditional biscuit baked in a traditional oven called tandoor. Kahwa and Kulcha is such a wondrous combo – and isn’t something to be missed. It is a must- serve on all auspicious occasions and is a go-to beverage in all households.

Noon chai, again a Kashmiri tea, pink in colour and salty in taste. Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Kashmiri salted tea called noon-chai, is traditionally served with dry fruits, almonds and pistachios, these being the most used and common ones. This traditional tea is traditionally garnished with these dry fruits all over. The pink hue of this tea comes as a result of constant and continual boiling of noon-chai tea leaves in water, and constant mixing. This pinkish tea is traditionally served in a large copper kettle that has a small chamber underneath the lid and burning coal is kept there so that the tea remains hot and boiling. This kettle is called samovar (a copper kettle, bigger in size than the usual size of the tea kettles). Noon-chai is usually relished with the local and exclusive breads of Kashmir, like Girda, Bakir-khaani, lavasa and many others.

If at all one desires to relish these utterly delicious Kashmiri dishes or the Kashmiri beverages one needs to visit Kashmir to savour them because no other place or no other chef other than Kashmiri chefs– 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 other minute detail. The food of Kashmir is magnificently unique, the flavours, the taste, the combination of spices, the process and the intricate techniques used by the chefs are all a delightful treat. The bakeries of Kashmir are one of those rarest entities that are impossible to find elsewhere. All of these different kinds of bread are prepared in the primitive, traditional oven called tandoor and the taste of fresh and hot baked goods just out of the oven is what everyone craves for. Tandoor leaves a certain essence altogether that makes these baked goods a common craving. These breads are always paired up with Noon-chai and are mostly enjoyed in the evening or even for breakfast sometimes.

Any special occasion in Kashmir, be it a family gathering or a marriage or any other festivity, all these delicacies are a must and they add to the cheerful vibe. Usually, people are not able to have all the delicacies of WAZ-WAN all at once, so they carry it to their homes, in special carry bags (usually provided at all occasions like weddings and other such eves) that they are provided with, that doesn’t spoil the food for a few hours and keeps the food safe. Though the main course of WAZ-WAN consists of all non-vegetarian dishes, it also has a few vegetarian items as well like cottage cheese prepared in thick tomato gravy and has a tangy flavour of a whole new level. Mushrooms are also served in very small quantities that are either served with spinach or without that with a normal gravy.

All these dishes and beverages are a must-try if you plan to visit Kashmir. There might be various restaurants across the world that would have these in their menu but nothing can match the authenticity of the ones prepared in Kashmir. The aura of Kashmir makes the experiences even more soulful and real therefore if you are planning to gorge on all these delectable dishes, do know that nothing can match Kashmir. The belongings of Kashmir 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.’

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