Inside Wazwan – Royal Kashmiri 36-Course Multi-Course Meal

Srinagar: When it comes to Hindustani cuisine, Wazwan ranks first. The “36-Course Multi-Course Meal” is not meant to satiate your hunger, but to provide you with an out-of-this-world experience.Also Read – Experience the Beauty of Tulip Garden in Srinagar from March 23 – See Gorgeous Photos

Wazwan is not only learned ancestral knowledge, but the pride of the Valley; it’s a party and an emotion. “Waza” literally means cook and “Wan” means shop; “Wazwan” means to hold a feast in the courtyard of the host. Read also – Damage control? KFC Outlet says ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’, Twitter applauds

Once upon a time, Kashmir was the center of the Silk Road linking Asia to the Mediterranean. Silk merchants passed through this land to do business and this is how Kashmir was introduced to Persian and Russian flavors. In 1398, when Taimoor invaded Hindustan, he brought with him cooks (Waza) from the country of Samarkand (Uzbekistan). And these Wazas amalgamated Persian, Turkish and Afghani techniques to develop Kashmiri cuisine. Also Read – Kashmir travel update: Army plans 3-day snow sports festival to boost tourism

The wazas are obsessive and passionate artists. Meal preparation begins well before sunrise — at 3 a.m. The Wasta Waza (Master Chief) oversees all other Wazas. Authentic Wazwan is made with only mutton – and different dishes call for meat from different organs. The meat is prepared to be cooked within an hour of slaughter to retain its taste. It is chopped with a walnut wood hammer on stone until it loses its stringy appearance. The wazas beat the meat until all the sinews of the mutton are fully dissolved for a creamy consistency.

Unlike most dishes from the Indian subcontinent where flavor is added to food while cooking over flames, Wazwan flavors are added while the dish is not yet cooked – by adding flavored water to preparation or by soaking the preparation in flavored water (osmosis), or by exposing the preparation to flavored smoke.

The flavor blends are not based on spices but on mild herbs and flower essences. The red dye in food comes from flowers like Cockscomb, locally called Mawal. The pre-cooking methods require a great deal of precision, culinary art, patience and enormous love which the Wazas lavish generously on their creations.

Food is cooked on old fruit tree logs using special nickel-plated copper pans. The meat is boiled in salted water and this water is then used as broth for all dishes. Kashmiri shallots (wild onion with a slight garlic tinge, called Praan) and dried whole Kashmiri chili are the souls of Wazwan.

As Wazwan is an experience, the “tehzeeb” (mannerism and manner) of eating the food is deepened. The Dastarkhwan (dining room) is furnished with crisp white linen spread over silky Kashmiri rugs. Guests sit around the sheet in groups of four (Kashmiris eat in small groups from the same plate). An attendant carries an ornamental copper pot in the shape of an hourglass called a Tasht-e-Naer, which contains lukewarm water for washing hands and collecting sewage from guest to guest.

Then, large, heavily engraved copper plates, called Tream, containing the first dishes of the Wazwan sequence – Rice, Mayth-Maz (minced intestines), Seekh Kebab, Tabaq-Maz (ribs) and chicken – are placed in front of the guests. A Sarposh (copper lid) covers the tream, lest the food get cold. The eldest member of the family says the prayer and the customary “Bismillah” before starting the meal.

All dishes are eaten by hand as Kashmiris believe in an intimate relationship with food. We would hardly have eaten the mutton when the next sequence of dishes would be presented. This process continues until 21 different mutton dishes are served. Kashmiris consider it disrespectful to refuse varieties of food or extra help. They can go to great lengths to persuade you, like swearing to die if you refuse an extra serving!

And easily 2 kg of mutton and chicken are served per person, not counting rice, chutneys and curds! The order of the dishes served is such that the chef tries to make room for more food. For example, between two thick mutton dishes, a radish chutney is served to increase the appetite and quickly digest the previous dishes. And it is pertinent to mention that it is easier for Kashmiris to digest all meat due to the high mineral content of Calley water which helps in speeding up the decomposition of food.

Kashmiris are very, very demanding when it comes to the taste of food. Food connoisseurs can easily taste a single piece and name the Waza who cooked it. And that’s why the wazas are reserved months in advance for the ceremonies. Some people schedule their weddings based on the availability of the desired Waza!

Here are some of Wazwan’s mouth-watering dishes:

  • Methi Maaz – Minced mutton tripe curry flavored with Methi (fenugreek leaves, Tream’s first course).
  • Daniwal Korma – Mutton Korma cooked in coriander and ghee with a yogurt-based sauce.
  • Sabz Haakh – Leafy vegetables resembling spinach cooked in mustard oil with chilli, without which Wazwan is incomplete.
  • Rogan Josh – Shoulder meat cooked in Praan paste, mawal flower essence, curd and diluted Kashmiri mirchi essence. Rogan means fat and Josh means cook over high heat.
  • Goshtaba – Meatballs with the texture of cheesecake minced with fat and soaked in mutton broth, with a sauce made from curd, cardamom, dry ginger and fennel.
  • Marchwagun Korma – Hot cold Korma of fiery Kashmir; three-quarters of the chilli used in the whole wazwan is singularly used in this dish!
  • Doon Chetin – Nut Chutney flavored with yogurt and Kashmiri chillies – a Kashmiri staple that will literally take your breath away!
  • Masheid Al Chetin – Chutney made with pumpkin, dates, cardamoms, dried walnuts and honey – to comfort your taste buds!
  • Kashmiri Pulao – Basmati chawal cooked in milk and ghee with saffron and dried fruits and separately roasted kishmish in ghee.
  • Tabakh Maaz – Brilliant ribs cooked in ghee then simmered in yogurt until dry.
  • Aab Gosht – Mildly flavored mutton ribs cooked in a milk sauce with cardamoms and saffron.
  • Amir Khusrow rightly said (perhaps after this meal): “Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast/hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast (If ever there is heaven on earth/It’s here! It’s is here! It’s here!).”

(With IANS entries)