>> Jul 5, 2015
The delectable culinary tradition of Kashmir has made its way from the northern tip of India to the rest of the country, permeating kitchens across the sub-continent. Kashmiri cuisine’s far-reaching influence can even be felt here in the UK, in the offerings provided by some of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants.
Part of the appeal of this vibrant culinary culture is that it draws in a range of different techniques and recipes from other countries. Central Asian, Persian and Afghan influences all play a part in the evolution of Kashmiri cuisine. The end result is an aromatic melting pot of flavoursome and unique food that pulls together the best bits from these different traditions of cooking.
Kashmiri food, like much of the fare favoured by the northern states, is rich and luxurious with an emphasis on thick yoghurt and curds in dishes as well as extensive use of spices like turmeric. There is also an extensive menu of meat dishes as per the traditional Kashmiri lifestyle.
The most important meal in Kashmiri culture is the traditional feast known as wazwan. Consisting of multiple courses, the Kashmiri Muslim population take great care to prepare and serve this meal perfectly at times of celebration. The highest order of wazwan is the formal Royal wazwan which is made up of a whopping 36 courses. Preparations for feasts of this scale are undertaken by a team supervised by a head chef known as vaste waze.
A traditional wazwan will see guests seated in small groups, sharing the banquet from a copper plate called a traem, placed in the centre of the table.
The main dishes of a wazwan
The key elements of a truly authentic wazwan are dishes based around meat – usually lamb or chicken. Generally, guests can expect the traem to be served, piled high with rice. This rice will be accompanied by seekh kebabs – these delicacies are made from spiced, minced meat, threaded onto skewers and cooked in the Tandoor. Additionally, a preparation called methi korma is served which usually consists of chunks of mutton or chicken spiced with fenugreek; lamb ribs, braised to perfection in spiced milk; and chicken cooked in a variety of spiced sauces. Chutneys and cooling curds accompany the meal, presented in miniature, clay pots.
During further courses, the guests can also expect to enjoy tabakh maaz rista, succulent meatballs soaked in a rich, red sauce, as well as gushtaba, meatballs coated in a creamy, spiced yoghurt dressing. A serving of that curry house favourite, rogan josh, is also part of the wazwan repertoire, whilst juicy portions of roasted lamb, marinated in spices and scattered with fresh cilantro, will also make an appearance at the feast. The dishes follow a set pattern and are brought out in a specific order.
Although meats make up the main part of the wazwan, there are a few key vegetable accompaniments in store too. Waza palak provides a little greenery with a leafy spinach and mutton dish, and dum aelva adds some bulk to the meal with chunks of potatoes cooked in a gravy, thickened with yoghurt.