“Kashmiri Wazwan is not just a regional meal but a perfect example of the Kashmiri culture and tradition which forms the face of Kashmiri hospitality.”
Food may not have a universal language, but it surely is a universal topic and it isn’t wrong to say that food unites us all across the table and around the world, is what came to my mind as I sat patiently devouring the delicious Kashmiri delicacies laid in front of me, in Abdul Majeed’s restaurant in Downtown, Srinagar which included the best vegetarian as well as non vegetarian preparations. Abdul Majeed really knew how to pamper his guests with his hospitality. Owner of a famous Kashmiri restaurant in downtown Srinagar, Abdul Majeed is a cheerful personality with a well groomed white beard and a stout figure. His demeanor exudes years of experience in the art of preparing and serving delicious meals. His knowledge with regards to Kashmiri cuisine and its preparation is unmatched. Abdul Majeed smartly conveys, “Waza apne hunar ya kabiliyat se nahi, apne dil-e-rooh se Wazwan banata hai.” (The waza (cook) doesn’t prepare the Wazwan from his skills and capabilities but he pours his heart and soul into it). Abdul Majeed does have the singular ability to make a conversation interesting by converting the entire dining experience into an enriching knowhow of Kashmiri culture, its core values and the significance of wazwan, in giving Kashmir its own unique identity.
Opened in 2006, The Song of India is the only Indian restaurant to receive a Michelin star in Southeast Asia and it took 10 long years to bag the Michelin star. Popular specialties of the ‘Song of India’ are – Wazwan style lamb chops, traditional Indian kulfi, fish cooked in mustard sauce, etc.Article titled Indian Michelin Star Restaurants That Are Creating Frenzy Abroad | Triptaptoe
Evolution of Wazwan Receipe
So, what is the history of this mouth watering cuisine ? Well the emergence of Wazwan can be traced back to the early times in fifteenth century when Timur-e-Lang invaded India. Timur was accompanied by around 1700 skilled woodcarvers, architects, weavers, calligraphers and cooks from Samarkand to the valley of Kashmir. These cooks were well traveled and accompanied Timur on his various campaigns, during which they adopted and experimented with local cuisines which resulted in a fine blend of Uzbeki and local food. The descendants of these cooks are believed to be the present day Wazas who are Kashmir’s own master chefs.
While the Wazwan maybe a blend of Uzbeki/ Central Asian and local cuisines, but the word Wazwan has an inherent Indianess with a Sanskrit prefix and a Kashmiri suffix. The literal meaning of “Wazwan” is “Bazaar of cooks” which is indeed quite relevant as the entire scenario at Abdul Majeed’s place does make the term appropriate with raging fire in the chuhlas, piles of mutton, chicken, vegetables, loads of spices and gigantic cooking vessels with posse of cooks eager to churn out one delicacy after another, leaves the viewer dumbfounded.
The Kashmiri cuisine was subsequently influenced by the cuisines of North India, Central Asia as well as Persia. Mughal emperors have also had a great impact on Kashmiri cuisine with their interests in the cooking of meat dishes and different varieties of pulao. Emperor Jehangir and Shahjehan had made Kashmir their summer getaway and made it a place of relaxing, enjoying as well as relishing the choicest of delicacies and it is here that the Kashmiri Wazwan got further blended with the Mughal cuisines and took the final form as it is known today.
Kashmiri Wazwan is not just a meal, it is a ceremony in itself. It takes days of planning and preparations, followed by hours of cooking before these exquisite delicacies are brought to the table. The dining area in Abdul Majeed’s restaurant is always filled with guests and yet there is silence as everyone is busy eating and relishing their meals. The entire procedure of a Wazwan is very intriguing. All the guests are seated in a group of four around a huge metal plate which is called a Tarami. When everyone has been served with their respective taramis, one of the elder breaks the silence by announcing “Bismillah” which declares the feast open.
Traditional Servings in Kashmir
The dimension of a tarami is at least one and a half feet width and the rice is heaped up to six inches with delicacies spread on the rice to include, seekh kebab, methi maaz, tabak maaz and dum kakur, giving everyone their own independent corners among the plate to dig and eat. As the guests are busy in their own taramis, an attendant comes with a huge cauldron and long handled ladles to pour out another mutton dish which is generally “rista” for the guests. The serving of dish is also as per order wherein the eldest is served first and the rest of the gathering is addressed subsequently. Rista is then followed by Rogan Josh, daniwal korma, tsaman, aabgash, bumtsoonith khanji, martsawanyan korma, alubukhara maaz or any other seasonal vegetable or goshtaba. The entire proceedings continue until almost twenty one different mutton/ non veg dishes are offered on the plate. The meal does not end here, the dessert puts the final icing on the cake. During summer months, firnee is served whereas halwa is preferred in the winters.
Wazwan Connects Kashmiriyat
Flaunting the various sections of his remarkable restaurant, Abdul Majeed shares that, “As Kashmir is a leading producer and exporter of saffron, we are fond of using saffron in our meals. It is a good flavoring agent and further makes the food more aromatic.” This was quite evident as saffron was a key ingredient in both Wazwan and desserts alike in his restaurant. Other than saffron, Kashmiris extensively use ghee for the preparation. “Our flavours can take you places in Kashmir which you’ve not even heard of”, adds Abdul Majeed, humorously. The Waza clans with expertise in exquisite cooking have rightly gained popularity in the valley. It is imperative to note that even months before the actual start of the wedding season, people start hunting for the best Waza(cook) and they start queuing up outside the houses of the best in the business. Such is the importance of food, the way it is prepared, its quality and presentation in the Kashmiri society that, it is a common practice to postpone weddings if the best and the favorite waza is not available. The period between 2012 and 2016 was extremely good for tourism. Millions of tourists visited Kashmir and like others, the Abdul Majeed’s restaurant was always over flowing with tourist of all creeds, colour and religious faiths. They all had one faith and language and that was of gastronomy and one had to see the expression of complete satisfaction on the face of Abdul Majeed when he served the guests to the best of his hospitality.
Food Culture Binds Global Community
The Wazwan not only connects us all, but it truly brings out the best in all. It breaks the boundaries of communities and through the exquisite and special cooking the communities mesh, friendships and discipline are strengthened and individualism is diminished. The food crosses all boundaries allowing people & communities to interact, grow and bond together. For centuries the cuisines of Kashmir kept the communities from different faiths bonded by a common thread and Wazwan even today brings so much of joy, common talking point and curiosity among people not only in Kashmir but across India and that is the strength and power of the palate to unite everyone. The Kashmiri cuisine especially the Wazwan is surely bringing people together during these testing times in Kashmir. This Kashmiri cuisine is topping charts at best international restaurants today.