WAZWAN THE TRADITIONAL KASHMIRI MEAL
Wazwan is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine. Kashmiries have always been heavy eaters of meat and the preparation of which is considered as an art which is a point of pride in Kashmiri culture. Almost all the dishes are meat based using lamb. It is popular throughout Kashmir especially during Muslim weddings, festivals and family gatherings. Wazwan in keeping with the age of old Kashmiri tradition, much of the cuisine is similar between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. Hours of cooking and days of planning goes into the making and serving of a Wazwan.
Throughout the history like its culture, Kashmir Cuisine has stood high. The actual history of Wazwan dates back to the 14th century when the Mongol invader, Taimur invaded north India during the reign of Mughal emperor.
Wazwan is all day long courtyard scene of activity at a wedding function. Traditionally a party of professional cooks spread themselves out under canopy. The head cook cuts the whole sheep with a set of knives. Nearby a long wood fire is being lighted and an array of pots set on it. Tiny shallot like onion called pran in Kashmiri and pounded and fried along with other spices giving the aroma of Wazwan being cooked.
A task tedious and fatiguing is the pounding of small chunks of meat and lamb fat on stone with heavy wooden mallets. This job is the pivot on which the wazas reputation revolves. This pounded meat goes to make up two of the most popular dishes—– Gushtaba and Rista and neither of them should contain a hint of gristle. Hours later the kitchen has transformed the commonest ingredients into anything between 8 to 36 dishes/courses.
The term WAZ means chef and WAN is the shop with abundance of mutton and vegetable. The tradition and culture has been greatly influenced by history, so is the food and the style of serving and eating. In Kashmir the host should set before the guest all the food he has in-house and the guest must reciprocate this gesture by doing full justice to the meal. These wazas come from a particular community of professional cooks and do nothing round the year. They follow the foot steps of their fore fathers and the tradition continues with their children.
However kashmiri household neither employ wazas for every day cooking nor do they attempt to compete with them in the matter of culinary skills.
Everyday cooking tends to combine meat and vegetables in the same dish. The mutton can be cooked with baby turnips, chicken with spinach and fish with lotus stems.
The WAZA is assisted by a group of assistant who help in cooking and serving. The process of cooking is long, tedious and elaborate and the result is worth the efforts.
Seven dishes are a must for special occasions—tabak maaz, rista(meat balls in red , paprika-saffron,fennel spice gravy), rogan josh, daniwal korma( lamb cooked with yoghurt, spices and onion puree, topped with coriander leaves), aab gosh(lamb chunks cooked with a fennel-based spice ), Seekh kabab and Gushtaba.
The ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir is the Royal Wazwan. Of its thirty-six courses. Between fifteen and twenty can be preparation of meat, cooked over night under the supervision of a Master Chef called VASTE WAZE.
The meal is a ritual in itself, Guests are seated in groups of four on floor. A jug and basin called ( TASH T NARI) is passed around by the assistants for washing hands since fingers are used to eat the food. The food comes on a large copper plate called TRAEM. The traem comes heaped with rice (being the staple food of kashmiris), quartered by four seek kabab and contains four pieces of methi maz (Mutton flavoured with spices and dried fenugreek) two tabak maaz one chicken with white sauce and one chicken in saffron sauce. Then the courses- dishes come one by one and are served by junior cooks and attendants. Yoghurt and chutney are served separately in earthenware pots. The vegetables play a secondary role in Wazwan. Most of the dishes are meat based but the best part is that each dish has its own distinctive flavor and textures. Muj kale are strips of raddish which are also served and helps in digestion for such a heavy meal. Yoghurt is served in earthenware cups. Doon ctutney and muj chutney
Tabakmaz (twice cooked lamb ribs, initially boiled with ground spices and milk, then browned in butter).
Yakhni is tender meat pieces cooked in white gravy
Marchwangan korma is fiery red chilly gravy with meat.
Aab gasht—Lamb chunks cooked in cardamom flavoured milk.
Rista is the meat balls cooked in saffron based red gravy.
Gushtaba (meat balls cooked in spicy yoghurt gravy) is the most favorite of the dishes and is finale to the main course.
Besides methi maz, lahabi kabab, waza kokur, dhani phol, yakhini, rista palak, kebab, rogan josh, daniwal korma and some vegetables preparation like tomato paneer, dum aloo, haaq are served course wise. All these secret recipes that only waza can make and with skills.
The meal is followed by a sweet dish called Firni (SAGO PUDDING) served in earthenware pots. The finale is KEHWA the green tea spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and almonds which makes you fresh again, leaving in your mouth the taste you will never forget.