Kashmiri cuisine tends to be very meat dominated, in particular mutton is used in a wide variety of dishes such as the well known Rogan Josh which can be found on Indian menus throughout the world.
Wazwan is a traditional Kashmir multi-course meal. The word Wazwan comes from waz which means a chef with rare culinary skills that have been passed on through generations, and wan which denotes a shop with abundant supply of meats and delicacies.
Hours of cooking and days of planning go into the making and serving of a wazwan and the preparation is considered an art. The pride of Kashmiri cuisine Wazwan is a 36 course weddings banquet is now also served on other special and important occasions. Traditionally 15 to 30 dishes of Wazwan are comprised of meat. Many of the delicacies are cooked all through the night and under the expert supervision of a Vasta Waza or head chef, assisted by an entourage of wazas under him.
Wazwaan is a beautiful blend of the Mughal style with that of the Kashmiri Panditsr. The basic difference between the two schools is the abundant use of heeng (asafetida) and curd amongst the Pandits, and the use of onions and garlic amongst the Mughals. It is interesting to note that the meat for some of the Wazwan items requires being really fresh. Timing is very crucial! More than half an hour cannot elapse between the slaughtering of the goat and the pounding of the meat.
Dishes included in a Wazwan feast
At a typical Wazwan it is observed that guests are grouped into fours for the serving. The meal begins with ritual washing of hands, as a jug and basin are passed among the guests. A large serving dish piled high with heaps of rice, decorated and quartered by four seekh kababs, four pieces of meth maaz, two tabak maaz, (ribs of lamb simmered in yoghurt till tender, then fried,sides of barbecued ribs), and one safed kokur (white chicken), one zafrani kokur (masala chicken), along with other dishes is brought out for the diners. The meal is usually garnished with Kashmiri saffron, salads, Kashmiri pickles and dips.
Some of the most popular dishes served at a typical Wazwan are:
- Rista which are meatballs in fiery red gravy
- Lahabi Kabab which are flattened mutton kababs cooked in yogurt
- Waza Kokur two halves or two full chicken cooked whole
- Rogan Josh, tender lamb cooked with Kashmiri spices
- Yakhni, delicately spiced yogurt curry
- Dum Aloo, potatoes cooked in yogurt gravy
The man meal concludes with the very exclusive Gushtaba which is a velvety textured meatball in white yogurt gravy, a speciality, and one that is never refused. Then finally comes the Phirni a dessert of semolina thickened in milk set in earthenware topped with nuts and silver leaf. Served at the very end is a cup of Kahwa, the green tea flavoured with saffron, cardamom and almonds.
It can be safely concluded that Wazwan is not simply a meal; it is in fact an art that must be experienced at least once to understand and appreciate all the effort that goes into this centuries old tradition.
It is possible to take a Kashmir cooking lesson if you are staying in the region where you can learn some of the component dishes of a typical Wazwan.
Try some simple Kashmir cuisine at home with this easy recipe of Kashmiri Pulao, a popular rice dish in the region.
- 2 cups – Long grain rice (basmati)
- 2 cups – Milk
- 1/2 cup – Cream
- 1 tsp – Sugar
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp – Cumin seeds
- 3 nos – Cloves
- 1 inch – Cinnamon Stick
- 3 – Cardamoms
- 1 No – Bay leaf
- 2 tbsp – Ghee
- 1 cup – Canned chopped mixed fruit (drained)
- 2 nos – Rose petals
- Wash and soak rice for 15-20 minutes.
- Mix milk, cream, sugar, salt. Drain rice, keep aside.
- Heat ghee in a heavy pan, add cumin seeds, cinnamon, bayleaf, cardamoms, cloves.
- Allow to splutter, add rice and fry in ghee for 2 minutes.
- Add milk, cream, mixture.
- Add 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer till cooked.
- Mix in drained fruit very gently, garnish by sprinkling finely broken rose petals.
- Serve hot with a curry or tadka dal.
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