BY ROMANA MAJEED
Probably everyone has heard of the word wazwan and knows what it is. Literally speaking waze means cook and wan means shop but wazwan in real is the ultimate banquet in Kashmir which is served on special occasions. It is the ultimate feast in Kashmir that is prepared on important occasions. It is the pinnacle of Kashmiri culinary art. When Timur invaded Hindustan in 1398, he took with him chefs (Waze) from the land of Samarkand (Uzbekistan). These Wazas amalgamated Persian, Turkish, and Afghan skills to create Kashmiri cuisine ‘wazwan’ which at present is the 36 dishes multi-course meal.
This '36-dish multi-course supper' is intended to pamper you in an out-of-this-world experience rather than to satisfy your appetite. When Wazwan is to be served, guests are seated in groups of four and eat off a big copper plate known as the Tream. Hand washing ritual is performed in a portable basin known as the Tash-t-naer also made of copper, which is carried around by attendants.
Next arrives the Tream, smelling ambrosial, piled with rice and topped with ground mutton, a stew made with lamb stomach known as Methi, which divides the rice into four for the four individuals seated around the Tream.
Furthermore, the platter includes two Seekh Kababs (minced meat roasted on skewers over hot coal) two pieces of Tabakh Maaz (glossy lamb ribs cooked in milk and then fried in clarified butter), two pieces of marinated chicken, and one piece of tender mutton known as Daeni phoul.
This is just the beginning of a barrage of non-vegetarian and vegetarian cuisine like Rista, Roganjosh, Marchhwangan Korma, Moachi kabab Aabgosh, Daniwal Korma, Palakh, Ruwangan Chhaman, Gushtaba, Yakhni which has the heart of all the Kashmiris and attracts travellers who want to explore different cultures and their cuisines.
Kashmiri cuisine, with Wazwan being its formal banquet, has unarguably attracted far more attention from the people and visitors than anything else. Wazwan has also been a tool of diplomacy for many Kashmiri leaders at various occasions in easing the tensions and building the relations.
Moreover, as the dish can be served on a plate that is shared by four people, it negates the caste and class problems in society. Thus, Wazwan is considered as the pride of Kashmiri culture and has always fascinated people around the world. Not only is it an ultimate feast but a celebration and an emotion.
In Wazwan, a minimum of 7 dishes are offered, and a maximum of 36 dishes can be served. At such important celebrations, an average of 3 to 4 kg of mutton is normally served to 4 people. The concern now is how can a regular person consume such a hefty amount of food in a single sitting.
The solution that is preserved by the host to reduce food waste is: giving out bags so that people can pack the food they don't have to consume. While they pack the dishes the rice that's left is still thrown away. Furthermore, some hosts do not even provide these bags and some don’t use the bags in the name of the class, thus both non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes with the rice go waste.
In these ceremonies if a person does not take the additional food that is offered to him or her, that food goes waste. Other items including bags, bottles, plastic glasses, plastic knives and spoons, and all other one-time-use plastics add to the waste. The water along with Dahi that are served in plastic containers also add to the waste. This causes a huge negative impact on the environment.
Not to forget about the SOCIAL PRESSURE that comes with serving wazwan at functions, especially marriages. What I mean by social pressure is how people compete against each other wasting lakhs of rupees in serving this feast just to show off or to meet the expectations and so-called standards set by society. Substantial social pressure does exist in Kashmir.
The standard of profligacy, a standard unheard of before, has been set. More than 50,000 girls, a number so colossal in itself, have crossed the socially perceived ‘marriageable’ age in Kashmir and find themselves single due to reasons beyond their control.
One of the most important reasons for these late marriages according to the reports, is because of “unnecessary fashion and trend” set by the society. Thus, making the people suffer especially the ones who aren’t that well off. The standards set by society are not only creating social pressure on people to provide this huge feast during marriages but also have a negative impact on society.
The psychological and social impact that such standards of hosting weddings in Kashmir create on the host has been beautifully depicted in a Coke studio song named “KYA KARIE KORIMOL” by the extremely talented Kashmiri singers Mohammad Muneeb and Noor Mohammad.
The song has a sarcastic approach in pointing out the evils that have been established in the society under the veil of wazwan, it in a light- hearted and humorous manner highlights all the social and economic issues associated with hefty Kashmiri weddings.
The title of the song translates to “What can the father of a girl child do?” (Kya Kari Korimol) which further extends to “naras diya nari mol”, “Should he be trying to extinguish the fire by burning his arms?” Beautifully depicting the anguish of a man who is the father of a girl as marriages in the institution of elitism are a bigger storm to the bride's family. Later in the song appears, “Sarposh Yelee Trami Voth Badalee Hisaaba Vuchh”, “As the lid over the Tream was lifted, across it came a startling affair.”
“Maaz Ha Phatyo Phatyo Bat Katee Vaazas Pruch”, “Mutton delicacies piled up in such layers that the waze needs to be asked if any rice has been served?” Showing how much mutton is used in the preparation of wazwan. The further melody of the song encompasses the capitalistic society where the guests are served with cash: “Ropyan Hund Toor Dayutukh Toth Pareshaan”, “cash is being served in a bowl. The old father looks distressed.”
Then the issue of weddings being a competitive entity of elitist identity is reflected: “Kya Karee Koshur Kya Zamaan Vot”, “As such what can a Kashmiri do! What has the world come to be.” “Ek Ron Maaz Kointal Aik Ron Ze Kointal Ho”, “One cooks a quintal mutton’s feast, another two.”
“Dekha Dekhi Kerikh Kya Karee Koree Mol, “As they compete in pomp and show, what can a bride’s father do.” The song highlights many different issues in Kashmiri society and majorly highlights the issue of food wastage in Wazwan.
The societal pressure that "the bigger the feast, the more well off the family" or "that it's important to serve wazwan according to the new standards set by the so-called society”, has been hard for the people especially the middle class to meet the expectations of the standards created by the society.
It does not stop at extreme expectations on just wazwan but extends to innovations like serving Dahi in plastic containers rather than earthen pots, to not giving out bags to take leftovers home in the belief that it makes the host and the guests elite. People must stop wasting food in the name of standards and wazwan must be preserved in its original form.
This is a social issue and thus can only be tackled by socially reconstructing the idea of elitism. One approach is to promote smaller portion sizes, encourage guests to take only what they can eat and encourage people to pack the food for later consumption.
Additionally, organizers can collaborate with local charities or food banks to donate excess food to those in need. Raising awareness about the issue through campaigns and education can also help change attitudes and behaviours toward food consumption.
Romana Majeed is the student of Food Technology at IUST, Awantipora