When anyone hears about Kashmir; the very first thought that crosses one’s mind are impressions of ‘Serenity’ and ‘Beauty’. Well, there is more to explore about this mystical place. ‘Wazwan’- a multi-course royal Kashmiri meal-is worth trying once in life. It is been said that Kashmiri cuisine has been evolved over years. Also, major influences of cuisines from Middle East, Persia, Central Asia and Afghanistan adds to the history attached to the evolution of Wazwan.
A proper Kashmiri Wazwan consists of 36 delicacies. On different occasions like wedding and other rituals, Wazwan is regarded as a ‘customary meal’ and Kashmiri weddings are considered incomplete without serving this delectable meal. The idea behind serving this amazing cuisine is to get people together and to have this meal-course is a ‘spiritual experience’ in itself. One of the interesting elements related to Wazwan’s saga is that it is consumed by both Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims, but there is a slight difference in the cooking styles of both communities and they both consider Wazwan as a matter of pride for representing their state.
The preparation of Wazwan is considered an art form by the Vasta Waza (Head-Chef)
Kashmiris have boundless passion for food, right from the process of making it to the way of serving and eating it. ‘Cooking’ and ‘Presentation’, both are important elements of Wazwan. Though cooking Wazwan requires ample amount of efforts, but more than that what matters is its presentation; which is often called ‘Mehman-Nawazi’ in Urdu. Vasta-Waza (Head Chef) and Wazas (Assistant-Chefs) involved in making these exotic delicacies, spend all day cooking it and it takes all evening to present 36 meals in a proper manner. Also, according to the Kashmiri tradition it is said that one member of the family who presents Wazwan to the guests, must supervise the service throughout the completion of full meal.
‘Rogan Josh’ – Tender Lamb cooked in authentic Kashmiri spices and ‘Gushtaba’- velvety textured meatball in white yogurt gravy are two specialties of Wazwan. Because of the usage of unique and distinctive Kashmiri spices like saffron, cardamom, bay leaves, cloves, turmeric and cumin seeds, Wazwan gets a tint of spicy flavor. It is very essential to ensure the quality of spices in order to maintain the right aroma and essence of Wazwan.
Presenting Wazwan is a beautiful process in itself as guests are made to sit on the floor and a traditional ‘Dastarkhwan’ is spread on the floor, on which Wazwan is presented. The meal is then served in large copper silver platter called ‘Tramis’. The process begins by the host, who brings in silver bowl engraved with an attached soap namely ‘Tash’ along with a jug type container filled with water called ‘Nari’ to wash the hands of guests. This gesture in itself carries a huge relevance as it is said that washing hands symbolizes rinsing one’s soul and cleansing all the negative energies from within. Basically, all the food items of Wazwan are mutton-based. One will get surprised by looking at the variety and creative treatment of lamb in multiple ways it is served to the guests. ‘Kahwa’ (Traditional Drink) which is a fine mix of variant spices like saffron, cinnamon and cardamom is served with crushed almonds or walnuts. Usually, Kahwa is presented after the completion of the meal in a sizzling bronze container.
Phirni’ – a milk pudding flavored with Kashmiri saffron, cardamom and lots of dry fruits is served as a dessert completing the meal course.
Next time, whenever you plan a trip to Kashmir, plan it just not for a visual treat but for a ‘Taste-Retreat’.