"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoardedgold, it would be a merrier world."
― J.R.R. Tolkien
In literal terms, Wazwan means 'cook-shop' but it actuallyrepresents the lavish, multi-course Kashmiri cuisine. Wazwan has been rightlycalled the 'King of Feasts', 'Royal Feast', 'Grand Meal' and so on. To some,wazwan is a form of art…a culinary heritage…a journey…an experience that wewant to share with others.
This is no secret: Kashmiris have been predominantlynon-vegetarians. And that is why wazwan primarily consists of lamb and chickendishes cooked overnight by a team of junior chefs (waze), overlooked by themaster chef (vaste waze). The richness of taste, texture, color and fragranceof Kashmiri wazwan is unmatched and unparalleled.
Wazwan is also very unique and its uniqueness lies in anumber of things:
— Each dish is made from a single part of sheep or goat andevery part of the animal is used in some way.
— It is cooked in copper vessels, which are coated withnickel, over wood fire.
— Meat is manually cut, pounded, minced, beaten, andflattened to get the flavors out.
— Average cooking time for the entire wazwan is more than 10hours, typically overnight.
— Waza is not paid for the number of dishes, but for thequantity of meat to be cooked.
— The order in which the dishes are served is significantand fixed.
— Traditionally, it is consumed by 4 people on a big copperplatter called traem. Each trami is served about 9-13 pounds (4-6 kilograms) ofmeat, costing about INR 4000-5000 (USD 55-70) each.
— It amounts to about 20,000 calories for meat and chickenserved per trami, about 5000 calories per person.
The rich color and flavor of wazwan is because of theKashmiri red chilies (or special spice mixture called ver), saffron (zafran orkesar) and cockscomb flower (called mouwal), being used in it. This cuisine isrich in protein, iron and vitamin B12, but being high in calorific value, onehas to watch out for the health.
Here is a list of some of the most common and popular wazwandishes out of a total of 36:
• Goshtaba(minced meatballs with yoghurt-based white gravy)
• RoganJosh (meat with red gravy)
• Rista(minced meatballs with red gravy)
• DaanvalKorma (meat with coriander-based gravy)
• HindiRogan Josh (meat with red gravy)
• Kabab(grilled meat on skewers)
• Methi(intestines cooked in fenugreek)
• MachKabab or Lahab Kabab (flattened or pounded red kababs)
• Daniphol(hind leg meat without gravy)
• TamatarPaneer (soft cottage cheese with creamy tomato gravy)
• PalakRista (small meatballs cooked in spinach)
• MarchwanganKorma (meat with red-hot spicy gravy)
• TabakMaaz (crispy fried lamb ribs)
• Haakh(collard greens)
• Charvaen(cooked liver with gravy)
• ZafranKokur (juicy saffron chicken)
• SafedKokur (chicken cooked in white gravy)
• Aab Goshor Dodh Ras (meat with milk-based white gravy)
• BaemChoonth (Queen's apple cooked with gravy)
• Pulav(sweet, brown basmati rice with nuts)
• Dum Aloo(potato balls cooked with creamy yoghurt-based gravy)
• NateYakhni (meat with yoghurt-based white gravy)
• NadurHaakh (lotus stem cooked with spinach)
• NadurYakhni (lotus stem cooked in yoghurt-based gravy)
• AlooBukhara Korma (prunes cooked in gravy)
• Chutneys:onion, walnut, pumpkin, zeresht (red, sour barberry), radish
"People who love toeat are always the best people."
― Julia Child
Kashmir has been ruled and influenced by Chinese, Indian,Central Asian, and Persian civilizations. The history of Kashmir indicatesvarious culinary practices of different settlers that fused into the Kashmiricuisine. The art and secret recipes passed down from generation to generation.However, the origin of Kashmiri Wazwan is not very clear.
According to one theory, it came from medieval Iran (Persia)around the time of Budshah, but then there is very little similarity in ourpresent-day cuisines. Then there's an interesting theory that says wazwanrefers to a 'barber shop' and long back, the barbers would also do match-makingin the Kashmiri society as they had a lot of interaction with people. So overtime, they also expanded to catering cooked food for those weddings. Again,this theory isn't considered credible enough. Some believe that wazwanoriginated in Kashmir itself and it is totally indigenous.
The most authentic and popular theory dates its origin backto the 14-15th century when the Mongol (Uzbekistan) ruler, Timur, invaded Indiain 1348 during the reign of Nasi-ud-din Muhammad of the Tughlaq dynasty. Timurbrought skilled cooks with him from Samarkand (Central Asia) to Kashmir. It isbelieved that the credit for popularizing wazwan goes to the Persian andSanskrit immigrants in Kashmir. The term waze is basically a Sanskrit termwaja, which means 'to cook'. The origin of the term has also been derived froma Persian word, ashpaaz, which means a 'special cook'. Together it led to theterm 'waza'.
The names of the wazwan dishes are influenced by Persian,Turkish, Arabic, and Central Asian cultures. The origin of kabab is credited tothe medieval Arab; Korma originates from Turkey, and other meat dishes fromPersia. Kashmiri spices, on the other hand, are known to have Sanskritinfluence.
The Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) equivalent of wazwan is thesaal. Both cuisines are similar with subtle differences, such as absence ofonions, tomatoes and garlic in the Hindu version and absence of asafetida(hing) in the Muslim version. It is also believed that some of the dishes suchas Rogan Josh, Yakhni and Aab Gosh were contributed by the Kashmiri Punditslong before the arrival of Muslims in the Valley. They are also credited forsome of the vegetarian dishes that became a part of wazwan, such as NadruYakhni, Nadru Haakh, Dum Aloo, etc.
In the old Srinagar city is the neighborhood of Wazapora,where majority of the wazas lived. They even had a Waza Union, headed by aPresident. Some time back there were about 200 of them, but now only a few ofthe famous waza families engage in this profession as others have moved on todifferent fields.
The demand for wazwan is increasing as people have moremoney to spend on food. People serve it on occasions other than just weddings.A new trend is the way wazwan is being served in some modern families inKashmir. Instead of 4 people sitting together to eat on a big trami, all guestsat the same time, now people are serving the cuisine as a buffet where guestscan eat at any time, any dish and quantity they want, sitting on a tableinstead of the floor.
There is a great scope and demand for Kashmiri wazwan in theinternational market. There are many challenges, such as cold storage,long-distance shipment, shelf-life, and hygiene, food safety and other qualityregulations, that need to be tackled to export wazwan. Many businesses sellcanned wazwan, so people are able to buy and eat it outside Kashmir, but someargue that it is not the same as freshly made food. Many restaurants in Indiaoffer it, cooked by modern master chefs, usually with some linkage to Kashmir.A few entrepreneurs outside Kashmir have started wazwan ventures to serve thelarge Kashmiri community as well as international food lovers, such as Mouwaland Uffi's Kitchen in USA. What needs to be seen is the future of wazwan notonly locally, but also globally.
"Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is soendlessly delicious."
― Ruth Reichl
(Naira Yaqoob is Technical Writer & DocumentationSpecialist in California, USA)