Numerous poets, sufi fakirs, artists, writers, painters, and emperors have spent their lives describing the picture perfect valleys of Kashmir. Its beauty, however, is beyond the scope of words, books and colours. Gently tucked into the Himalayas, this place is truly a heaven on the Earth. Famous for Pashmina and Jamawar shawls, chinar and deodar trees, Pamposh saffron, red chilies, shikara boats and the unique culinary culture, Kashmir is the crown of India. As Kashmir fell on one of the branches of the Silk Route, there is an obvious Persian influence on the cuisine and lifestyle of people in Kashmir. Persian kings and emperors brought various fruit plantations to Kashmir during their reign. Cherries, Apples, Walnuts, Apricots etc. have traveled from the Middle-east while saffron is believed to have come from Greece.
Kashmiri Rogan Josh
The word ‘Kashmiriyat’ essentially means secularism: a place where Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits could freely practice their faith (once upon a time!!). Kashmiri Pandits, though Brahmins, liberally include meat in their diet; the reason being the harsh cold climate. Ancient Indian scriptures have always praised the seasonal and local diet. And this is a classic example of that ideology. The one famous dish that Kashmiri Pandits are proud of is Rogan Josh. We get to see a spicy and greasy version of this dish in many restaurants in cities. The authentic one, however, is very mild and has a thick, flavourful, yogurt-based sauce. Rogan means Ghee. Josh means cooked over flame. Use of tender mutton, ghee, Kashmiri red chili and yogurt will give you a flavoursome Rogan Josh. Besides this, Nadru (lotus stem), Haaq (greens/ saag using mustard oil), rice, Gucchi mushrooms (morel mushrooms) Rogan Josh, Gucchi Pilaf etc. brighten up the Kashmiri cuisine. The Kashmiri red chili that is often used in most of the preparations, holds only 1500 SHU (scoville heat units). Whereas bhoot jholakia or ghost pepper holds 855,000 SHU!
Wazwan style food
Another important aspect of Kashmiri cuisine is the Wazwan style food. Waza means a cook. Wan means a shop. So, theoretically, Wazwan is a cook’s shop or a creative display of the cook’s talent. Vasta in a Wazwan setting is the head chef. He usually delegates various tasks to his assistants, which forms an intriguing part of the Wazwan display. Wazwan food is served on a platter that is shared amongst 4 people. Usually the platter comes decorated with a bed of rice or pilaf, with some appetizer like snacks. It starts off with lighter and milder dishes, and gradually the richness in texture and spice escalates. Waza pokor, Seekh kebab, Kalia, Aab Ghosht, Rista, Machwangan Korma, Ruwangan, Tabak Maaz etc are the different dishes or ‘courses’ in a Wazwan style setting. The last one to be served is always Gushtaba– meatballs in a spiced yogurt sauce. This also hints the diners about the last course being served and end of the meal. Wazwan typically consists of odd numbered dishes- 11, 15, 17, 21 .. and this can go upto 36. Depending on the status of the family, Wazwan weddings can offer upto 36 varieties of preparations.
Kahwa is a type of green tea available in Kashmir that is brewed with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron. Also known as Mogil Chai (Moghul chai). Another popular and unique tea is the Noon Chai which is pink in colour. Rich, creamy Noon Chai is brewed without any artificial colours. Use of local green tea leaves with baking soda, butter, and milk does the magic. Another peculiarity of this tea is the use of salt. While some add a touch of sugar as per their liking, some others go sugar-free. Salty, buttery chai, sounds very interesting! To go with these soul warming chais, Kashmiris have their own baked goods. Girda, Lavasa, Sheermal, Nan, Khulcha, Bakarkhani are the various types of breads made in a tandoor-like oven using yeast and sometimes sesame seeds. A popular street style snack is the Tujji or Kanti kebabs with one of these breads. Tujji are smaller while Kanti are bigger and usually made from dark meat.
The glory of Kashmiri cuisine is beyond the scope of our blog. Next time you plan to visit this heavenly valley of Kashmir, do not forget to try Rogan Josh, Haaq-Rice, Wazwan style preparations, Tujji/Kanti kebabs and fresh oven baked breads. Take lots of pictures with the Wazwan cooks, the Vasta (head chef), of the food, nature trails and tag us! We would love to know how we inspired your travel plans.