Though I am Delhi Bread and always used to think and feel that Punjabi non-veg. food is the tastiest. As I grew up and started travelling to the other parts of the world and tasted hundred types of cuisine I realized that Kashmiri cuisines is the best so far and would love to maintain that till I taste anything which is better than Kashmiri Cuisines. This was realized during my stay in J&K ,during my posting between 2004 to 07.
Kashmir is very clearly, geographically divided into three parts i.e. Jammu, Ladhakh and Kashmir . All the three regions have different characteristics in terms of religion, dressing up, culture , eating habits, language which results in three different styles of cooking prevail in the state as Kashmiri Pandits, Muslims, Rajput and the Buddhist follow their own traditions and proscriptions in cooking. Kashmiri Pandits refrain from the use of onions and garlic, while Muslims love mostly non-vegetarian varieties and avoid the use of asafoetida (hing) and curds. Variations in recipes can also be observed in the different regions of the state. Cooking pattern as seen in Ladakh differs to that Hindu Dogras. This is also due to change in locally produced crops.
The history of modern Kashmiri cuisine can be traced back to the fifteenth century invasion of India by Timur 1398 and the migration of craftsmen and cooks from Samarkand to the valley of Kashmir. The descendants of these cooks, the Wazas, are the master chefs of Kashmir. The ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir is the royal Wazwan. Of its thirty-six courses, between fifteen and thirty can be preparations of meat alone.Emperor Jehangir is known to have fallen in love with the valley & the food . Synonymous with Kashmir’s scenic beauty is the delectable native cuisine, from fresh fruits, crisp vegetables and expensive dry fruits to the most delicious non-vegetarian food. With dishes like rista yakhn, tabak maaz , modur pulao, chuk czarwan, prepared with hours of tedious preparation, it can be said that each Kashmiri dish is a labour of love. The unique feature of Kashmiri cuisine is that the spices used are boiled rather than fried giving the dishes a unique and distinctive flavor and aroma.
“Kashmiri Cuisine Through The Ages” introduces us to delicacies identified with Muslims and Pandits both. While there is a lot that is common in the Kashmiri Muslim preparations and Pandit cooking, there are some dishes that are unique to both the communities. And that is what makes the Kashmiri cuisine so rich and tempting not only to write about but to also indulge into it. Also, less known is the fact that vegetarian cuisine is no less elaborate – particularly among Pandits with up to 30 different dishes on display on special occasions like marriages.
In wazawn, there are some very important components, but these are not limited to this cuisine. They are also served as regular meals in other functions. However, the major components of wazawn today are seekh kababs, tabak maaz, safed murg, zafrani murg, and curd and chutney. In addition these small meals that are served at the start of the wazawan, there are the important ones as well. These include Rista, Aab Gosht, Rogan Josh, Tabak Maaz, Marchwangan Korma and Gushtaba, which is served at the end of the meal in Kashmiri cuisine. Some mutton dishes are cooked in curd and milk with very limited and special spices added to it. The dishes are tongue tickling, less spicy and with very less oil, called Yakhni- prepared by Hindus in Kashmir. Yakhni and Roganjosh are primarily Hindu originated dishes.
Vegetarian cuisines are equally delicious and tasty. Dum aloo, paneer cooked in milk (again yakhni), haakh Sag, nadroo yakhni (lotus stems in milk), and many other tongue tickling cuisines.
Kashmir has a rich culture and history that greatly influence its cuisine today. It has the advantage of having India and Pakistan on either side. The people over the years have been able to get better ideas of cooking from their neighbors as well, in spite of facing political limitations. With the influence of its neighbors as well as the keenness of those who indulge in Kashmir cuisine, it is no surprise that Kashmiri cuisine has indeed a great variety to offer its people and those who visit the area.
Kashmiri food is richly flavored with spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, etc. With these types of spices, Kashmiri meals may have a simple range or one that consists of 36 parts. This refers to the popular Wazawan banquet that is prepared for big functions like weddings. The spices are special and prepared with great patience and care. Some spices are exclusively used for these preparations and are available only in Kashmir.
The staple diet in Kashmir is rice, which means that there are several dishes that have rice as part of them. Grainy rice is believed to be the best of the varieties here, as the quality of rice influences the outcome of any meal prepared.
In addition to rice being of great importance in Kashmiri meals, other important foods include mutton, chicken and fish. Aside from these meats, vegetables are also very important in Kashmiri cuisine. They are used along with meat to prepare some of the best combinations in Kashmiri cuisine. Some of the popular combinations include fish and lotus root, mutton and turnips, and chicken and spinach.
Aside from these dishes, you also have others, some of which may even be purely vegetarian. Some of the vegetarian dishes that are really popular include: Dum aloo, Nadeir Yakhean (lotus stem cooked in milk), Haakh with Nadeir Ya Vangan ( lotus stem and brinjals) and Nadier Palak.
Non vegetarian remains a major chunk of food – and this all is due to the climatic conditions. Kashmir used to be covered with snow and remain cut off for more than 4 months in winter. During such a long period it was impossible to have vegetation, so option was nothing but non vegetarian dishes,Fish ( Trout fish from Woolar Lake is the best) was always a readily available option. Survival of the fittest was the theory. These Offerings are often put before gods by Hindus to please them or to have permission to start non vegetarian food during winter. The festivals like Shivratri and fish rice (gaad- batt) are some important festivals. In the later on, fish and rice is offered to Gods, and, unbelievably, we have seen, offerings being touched and eaten by ‘gods’. These offerings are kept in locked remote portions of house and surprisingly it remains untouched till next morning, except being touched and a bit being eaten by ‘gods’. Remember , cats and mouse love fish and rice both, but this day it is a big NO ! why, no one has reasons. Yakhni, which is a cream-colored food that is prepared from curd/milk. In the traditional wazawan, Gushtaba is is the last item to be served. These are meatballs formed from mutton, and are cooked up in gravy made from a fresh curd base.
Methodology of preparing dishes are important in Kashmiri Cuisine too, the same rules apply.
Kashmir’s have their own means of preparing foods, and one of their important methods employed includes seasoning and marinating meat.
This is an important step, and the period for marinating and seasoning depends on the type of texture and taste you want your cooked food to develop.The use of spices to season and marinate meats especially is from India.
Also, the introduction of certain spices in the marinating process is important too. The use of herbs is also important in preparation.
When meats such as mutton are marinated or seasoned they produced the best taste for Kashmiri dishes. This method also allows the meat to soften, and sometimes this method is employed to overnight cooking.
WAZAWAN preparation is the formal method, and believed to be one of the best as well. Most of the 36-course meal is cooked after being seasoned and marinated. This is due to the fact that most of the meal contains chicken, mutton and even fish. As an example, one of the portions of this meal includes the RISTA, which means meatballs. These are made of finely pounded mutton. These meatballs are cooked in gravy.
Also, SEEKH KABABS and TABAK MAZ ( Best Snack Item) that are cut from the rib portion and then fried are seasoned too.In addition to the above-mentioned dishes being seasoned and marinated, there are others as well that are treated in the same way. KABABS that are marinated over night may also be served the next day. Their taste improves over night, as the texture and taste of the mutton improve.
In Kashmiri cuisine, this main method cannot be ignored, and if these methods of preparation are not followed, the food produced will not have the same taste.Festive times in Kashmir bring out the best of Kashmiri cuisine. In addition to the crisp vegetables, fresh fruits, and dry fruits, there is a range of delicious non-vegetarian food items.
Meat-based dishes take hours and hours of preparation. Some of them that are cooked in mustard oil or ghee are left to reach their best taste over a very slow fire. While this takes place, fennel, dry ginger, saffron and red chilies are added.
Generally, there are two ways of preparing dishes in Kashmir; the Pandit way and the Muslim way. However, both are interesting and have their own delicious tastes. This is why Kashmiri food has a wide variety to offer, and their methods of cooking have also been widened with experiences from both sides.
At festive times, you will find MUSH KALARI, which is a tribal cottage cheese cake. This is usually fried and served along with green pepper and salt. Another real treat is KARELA YAQNO and HAQ, which are served throughout the year in Kashmir.
HAQ is actually whole greens cooked in clear mustard oil and water too.
RAJMAH SHALGAM, DAM ALOO, and CHUK WANGUN. This range includes some vegetables dishes as well for vegetarians.
Although there aren’t many vegetarians in Kashmir, this explains why meats are so commonly cooked and consumed.
Kashmiri cuisine is truly a delight with its wide range of foods both in Vegetarian & Non vegetarian.
Vegetarian Food Varieties of Kashmir:
1. Kashmiri Dum Aloo (Potato)
2. Haak- Kashmiri Spinach
3. Kashmiri Pulao
4. Zafrani Pulao (Saffron flavoured pulao, Indian recipe)
Wazwan, Wazwaan – Traditional Kashmir Cuisine
Wazwan, a multi-course meal ( 36 – course served on weddings and special occasions.) in the Kashmiri tradition, is treated with great respect. Its preparation is considered an art. Almost all the dishes are meat-based (lamb, chicken, fish). Wazwan is mostly restricted to the Muslims of Kashmir and they regard it as the pride of their culture and identity.
Wazwan is regarded by the Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity. Guests are grouped into fours for the serving of the wazwan. The meal begins with a ritual washing of hands, as a jug and basin called the tash-t-nari are passed among the guests. A large serving dish piled high with heaps of rice, decorated and quartered by four seekh kabab, four pieces of meth maaz, two tabak maaz, sides of barbecued ribs, and one safed Kokur, one zafrani Kokur, along with other dishes. The meal is accompanied by yoghurt garnished with Kashmiri saffron, salads, Kashmiri pickles and dips. Kashmiri Wazwan is generally prepared in marriages and other special functions. The culinary art is learnt through heredity and is rarely passed to outside blood relations. That has made certain waza/cook families very prominent. The wazas remain in great demand during the marriage season (May – October). Bearing in mind that the Wazwan consists of meat, mostly all lamb dishes, as lamb is considered the occasional delicacy, some of the essential Wazwan dishes include but are not limited to:
Kashmiri cuisine has had the earliest influence on Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. Usually, Pandits do not eat meat, however the Pandits of Kashmir have always eaten all meats except beef. Beef is strictly forbidden in Pandit cuisine and in Kashmiri Muslim cuisine, in keeping with the age old Kashmiri tradition known as Kashmiriyat. The Wazwan of Kashmiri Muslims never allows for the usage of Beef. However, the Kashmiris have always been heavy meat eaters(lamb, mutton, goat). The Nilamat Purana records that the Brahmins of Kashmir have always been heavy meat eaters (lamb, mutton). The two most important saints of Kashmir, Lalleshwari and Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali were vegetarians for spiritual reasons. Meat is cooked in Kashmiri Pandit festivals and forms an extremely important part of Kashmiri Pandit identity. Some noted Kashmiri pandit dishes include:
Kashmiris are heavy tea drinkers. The word “noon” in Kashmiri language means Salt. The most popular drink is a pinkish colored salted tea called “Noon Chai” ( Some how I didn’t relish this)It is made with black tea, milk, Salt and Bicarbonate of Soda. The particular color of the tea is a result of its unique method of preparation and the addition of soda. The Kashmiri Pandits more commonly refer to this chai as “Sheer Chai.”
Noon Chai or Sheer Chai is a common breakfast tea in Kashmiri households and is taken with breads like Baqerkhani brought fresh from the Sufi, or bakers. Often, this tea is served in a large Samovars.
At marriage feasts, festivals, and religious places, it is customary to serve Kahwa, or Qahwah (originates from a 14th-century Arab Coffee, which, in turn, was named after an ancient beverage of the Sufis) – a green made with Saffron, spices, and almonds or walnuts. Over 20 varieties of Kahwah are prepared in different households. Some people also put milk in kahwah (half milk + half kahwah). This chai is also known as “Maugal Chai” by some Kashmiri Pandits from the smaller villages of Kashmir.
Tea drinking forms a very important of Kashmiri Pandit cuisine and is often used in place of dessert. Two very important types of tea are Kehwa (Sweet Green tea with Cardammom and almonds) and Sheer Chai (salty pink tea with almonds). Such teas are usually taken with Baked Breads like Kulcha and Katlam.
Kashmiri Pandit cuisine has very few dessert dishes or sweets. More importance is therefore given to the main course and tea and not much to the dessert.
Kashmir valley is famous for its bakery tradition. On the picturesque Dal lake of Kashmir or downtown Srinagar, bakery shops are elaborately laid out. Bakers sell various kinds of breads with a golden brown crusts topped with sesame and poppy seeds. Tsot and tsochvoru is a small round bread topped with poppy and sesame seeds, which is crisp and flaky, Sheermal, baqerkhani (puff pastry), lavas (unleavened bread) and kulcha are popular. Girdas and lavas are served with butter.
Harissa ( My favourite)is a very popular meat preparation made for breakfast, it is slow cooked for many hours, with spices and hand stirred.