Those who know Kashmiri food are spoilt for any other. And those who don't, well, it's time to introduce yourself to this royal cuisine. JW Marriott Mumbai helped recently...
By: Karishma Suri
Posted on: February 12, 2014
When you think heaven, the almost immediate image of golden gates and dancing angels comes to mind. But what if you were to search for heaven on Earth? While few would exclaim that Switzerland fits the bill, many would say Kashmir. The surreal land of beauty is an actual heaven. Having been there, I can definitely promote the fact that this Indian beauty is everything picturesque and magnificent.
Good food is the key for happiness for everyone. And when two heavens come together, one can expect nothing less than brilliance! The history of Kashmiri cuisine can be traced back several hundred years to the invasion of India and the migration of merchants, craftsmen and cooks to the Kashmiri valley. The descendants of these cooks, the Wazas, are now regarded as the master chefs of Kashmiri cuisine. This January, JW Marriott Mumbai welcomed the expert duo Chef Fayaz Ahmad and Mohammed Abbas Bhat from the lush valleys of Kashmir to host the Wazwan - Kashmiri Food Festival, and this is when we caught up with them to learn about a cuisine that is rare and precious.
A flavourful journey
The philosophy of these talented chefs is to deliver an authentic Kashmiri dining experience, laying emphasis on different spices and flavours. The master chefs prepared dishes infused with the richness of cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and other organic ingredients from the valley.
Promising a journey like never before, the food festival served staples like Rogan Josh (lamb cooked in spicy red gravy),Yakhni (lamb shanks cooked in curd based gravy) and Tabakh Maaz (fried rack of lamb also known as Qabargah), while also making sure that vegetarians didn’t feel left out with dishes such as Lyodur Tschaman (cottage cheese cooked in creamy turmeric based gravy), Dum Oluv (whole potatoes cooked in spicy red gravy) and Marcha-Wangan Korma (chilli eggplant korma). The feast included Modur Pulaav, sweet rice, usually had as a dessert.
Food, that tells a million stories
Chef Abbas Bhat, Executive Chef at RK Sarovar Portico, visiting chef at Wazwan, Kashmiri Food Festival at JW Marriott Hotel Mumbai, is so passionate about Kashmiri food that you cannot help but share his passion. "What influences me to cook is my passion. I feel a sense of accomplishment when people taste my food and enjoy it," he said. But at the same time, he is a fan of Lebanese cuisine and barbeque or grilled food, which makes for his quota of comfort food.
Education about this cuisine is essential and thankfully, more restaurants across India are now concentrating on Kashmiri cuisine as people get aware about different cuisines in India. Canned and processed Kashmiri food is also garnering a lot of importance. So, how about a Wazwan now?
Chef Abbas Bhat further explained that Wazwan is a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition, which was originated by the Mughals residing in Kashmir. Since the food complemented the climatic conditions, Kashmiris decided to continue the tradition of Wazwan. The traditional number of courses for the wazwan is 36 and is traditionally prepared by a vasta waza, or head chef, with the assistance of a court of wazas, or chefs. Wazwan is regarded by Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity, and hence is generally prepared in marriages and other special functions. The wazas remain in great demand during the traditional marriage season in Kashmir, which is usually May to October.
The cuisine and the core
Ingredients make up the cuisine as does the style of cooking and other mannerisms that become unique to it. Praaan, a kind of Kashmiri onion, used only in Kashmiri cuisine, ginger powder, sauf and Marwal (a rose available in Kashmir, the petals of which are crushed into a powder) are used heavily in Kashmiri cuisine. Using these ingredients, Chef Abbas Bhat and his brilliant team put together a sneak peak into Kashmiri cuisine and its highlights.
Being unique in its own way, a counter was added at Lotus Cafe at JW Marriott Mumbai to take their regular diners to a journey through Kashmir. Being a vegetarian, I was quite unsure of how fellow vegetarians would take to the limited options. But to give them credit, Chef Abbas Bhat tried to create a healthy mix between the number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. However, since Kashmiri food predominantly constitutes of a lot of meat, non-vegetarians definitely have more options to choose from. This cuisine also constitutes a lot of spices, and while some may find the food a little ' too hot', some may love the spices bringing their taste buds alive!
The feedback to this ‘new’ cuisine has been great. "The response has been phenomenal so far as guests keep telling me that the food is very traditional and authentic. Some in-house guests have been coming regularly to try the different courses/varieties of Wazwan as well," he said. Need we say more?