A 36-Course Grand Meal: The Story Behind Kashmiri Wazwan
Kashmir is a polarizing state with a vibrant and troubled past. Thanks to constant strife in the valley and extensive media coverage, the violence and bloodshed of Kashmir has become the topic of conversation in living rooms across the country. There has been a veil cast over the romantic past of Kashmir. And all things beautiful and wonderful about the state of Kashmir have been hidden by the violence and political dialogue. The natural beauty, the kashmiriyat of the people and its resplendent food. Wazwan, the traditional feast of Kashmir, is another victim of that same romanticism that people used to have for the valley. What makes this feast so special? What do the Kashmiri wazwan dishes taste like? We take a closer look.
Hamin Asto, Hamin Asto
At a time the most popular saying about Kashmir was “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast,” which roughly translates to if there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here. And this I’m sure describes the food of Kashmir, especially the lavish wazwan meal. In fact, the last iterations of “hamin asto” are especially accurate as it is perhaps impossible to enjoy a real wazwan meal outside Kashmir. The main reason for that is the fact that you need to have your meal prepared by a waza.
The waza, or the head cook, is the most important person when it comes to preparing a wazwan.
They are a community of male chefs who have been trained to prepare wazwans. In fact, they don’t even cook at home. And for a meal to become a wazwan you need to have a waza cook it for you. And there are no wazas outside of Jammu and Kashmir.
It would be a mistake to consider this feast to be a staple of Kashmiri cuisine. The common man doesn’t have a wazwan on a day to day basis. Wazwans are only prepared to celebrate special ceremonies such as weddings and festivals. The family that wishes to host a wazwan would invite a waza to prepare the meal, and every family, especially the affluent ones, would have a personal family waza. If you need an indication of the importance of the waza, wedding dates in Kashmir are decided on the basis on the availability of their waza.
LIVE: People Reading Now
A Meaty Feast From Paradise
But what does a wazwan contain? Usually the meal contains around 15 items, although that number could just as easily go up to around 36. There is a particular way to enjoy the meal. Guests are seated in a group of four on a dastarkhwan or sheet and they share the meal in a traem which is a plate on which the food is placed. Then the tasht-e-naer is presented which is a basin in which the guests can wash their hands. After the tasht-e-naer is taken away the traem is brought in by the attendants. Traems are copper containers that hold the delicious food served during the wazwan.
Wazwan is a meaty feast. In fact, it is believed to have originated with the idea to use all parts of the sheep in a meal.
Kashmiri Wazwan Dishes
This means that you might want to give it a skip if you’re not fond of red meat. Rishta is one of the famous Kashmiri wazwan dishes. It contains meatballs dipped in an exquisite crimson gravy. Roganjosh is another dish from the wazwan platter, although much more popular than the others. Marchhwangan Korma is a spicy red mutton korma cooked with hot Kashmiri chillies. On the other side of the taste spectrum, you have the Aab Gosht which is a dish of lamb ribs made in a milk-based gravy with a milder taste.
Yakhni is another popular Kashmiri wazwan dish made with a yogurt base. It is prepared in curd along with spices like bay leaves, cloves, cardamoms and fennel seeds. Ghustaba is the grand finale of the Kashmiri wazwan dishes. It contains velvety textured mutton meatballs which are cooked in curd and spices. Ghustaba is similar to Rista, but cooked in an aromatic yogurt-based gravy. These are only some of the Kashmiri wazwan dishes that feature in the elaborate meal.
A wazwan feast is not an everyday affair in Kashmir. People generally enjoy local favourites such as haak-batta (rice and saag) for their daily meals. The features and dishes of a wazwan are a testament to the creative geniuses and rich culinary heritage of the cooks of this beautiful land.