A Delightful Wazwan Straight From Srinagar !

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Kashmir for me is a place shrouded in mystery. Never having visited this jewel my curiosity level for everything Kashmiri is high. Having heard tales of their warm friendly people and stunning natural beauty Kashmir has always been on my wish list of places to visit. So when I receive an invitation to experience a Wazwan meal cooked by a chef from Srinagar at Masala Bay at The Taj Lands End hotel in Mumbai, I could hardly refuse!

I have never experienced Kashmiri cuisine except for the usual suspect on every Indian menu the ‘Rogan josh’ but that hardly counts. The idea of eating a traditional wazwan meal has me very excited and when the dinner is with a mix of interesting food lovers I know this will be a special night.

 

I am ushered into a discreet private dining area in the restaurant where our dinner was hosted. Since this was a private chef’s table with selected guests ( foodies) and chef Anirudha Roy Executive Chef Taj Lands End,I was most thrilled to finally have met my favourite food blogger Kalyan Karmaker A.K.A Finely Chopped, but a pity I was at the other end of the table so we couldn’t chat much. Also a pleasure meeting food writer and blogger Shirin A.K.A Foodchants as I’ve read her blog a lot as well.  Chef Roy and the Taj staff hosted a beautiful meal with lots of interesting facts and tips about Kashmir and their food. Interestingly enough Chef Roy has never been to Kashmir but probably has more knowledge than people living in the valley themselves!

 

A beautifully decorated table and the menu in sight I realised this was the start of a decadent meal!
A typical wazwan meal is how Kashmiri’s eat a meal. The wazwan traditionally consists of about 36 dishes but thankfully this meal has been scaled back. Of course, for the tiny taster even this meal was a feast but the entire experience and learning more about Kashmiri cuisine is something I will cherish.With a sweet addictive saffron infused peach flavoured mock tail my wazwan journey begins.

Peach Mocktail

To start with we are served a Kashmiri Shorba which is a delicious but mildly spiced lamb broth. I’m told they use lamb trotters to make the soup as well so almost like a paya soup.I’m not entirely sure if a soup is part of a wazwan meal but I’m grateful for the inclusion because it was delightful.

Kashmiri Shorba

The firm, moist and perfectly spiced Kashmiri Sheek Kebab was a pleasure to eat specially for a sheek kebab loving person like me. Strangely in Kashmiri food they do not use any garlic or onion while preparing their meat dishes. So I find myself guzzling kebab after kebab in pure wonderment because they just use local spices and not a drop of garlic or onion which is usually found to help flavour the meat.
Kashmiri Sheekh Kebab
The vegetarian option which were paneer tikkas were soft and by far the best paneer tikkas I have eaten ( I dislike paneer generally so stay away from it most of the time)

Paneer Tikka ( On the right side)

The circular kebabs made of lotus stem was one of my favourite items on the menu. At first I couldn’t quite understand what I was tasting and the kebab is full of crunch but for a person who enjoys meat in their kebab I thought this meatless Lotus stem perfected kebab was genius !
Lotus Stem Kebab

The traditional Rista , which also signifies the begining of the wazwan, is a pounded meat ball almost dumpling like cooked in a Kashmiri gravy. And as Kalyan rightly mentioned, when you cut into it, it almost has a luncheon meat type texture.

Rista

The Murgh Dhaniwal Korma which is a tender chicken cooked in coriander flavoured gravy was surprisingly not heavy at all ( I thought it would be from the looks of it) and was mopped up with a deliciously made Kashmiri Zaffrani Naan which was stuffed with lots of garlic and saffron.

Murgh Dhaniwal Korma

Kashmiri Zaffrani Naan

How can any Kashmiri meal not have the ever popular and ( in my opinion) much over hyped ‘Rogan Josh’. I’ve never really  been a fan of Rogan Josh but the one served to me at this incredible meal was unlike any Rogan Josh ever eaten. Flavourful and the meat so tender that as cliched as it might sound it really did melt in your mouth. If I ever do get a chance to visit Kashmir I have a feeling  Rogan Josh will be consumed in great quantity!

Rogan Josh

Rajma is a staple in Northern India and a delight to see as part of the Wazwan meal however a bit surprising as well. I suppose along with the meat some vegetables or lentils must also be consumed and I’m not complaining as I can live on Rajma for a long time. These rajma beans however were slightly different. Flown in from Kashmir specially for this dinner (along with a lot of other ingredients specially the meat) the Kashmir grown rajma grains are much smaller in size and this dish was again a perfect fit in this lavish meal.

The Rajma

The Kashmiri Gucchi Pulao was long thin grains of rice flavoured with saffron and bits of morel (type of mushroom). Some diners on the table had eaten a morel inspired biryani before and didn’t seem to see the big deal about it but this being my first morel inspired Indian rice dish ( have eaten plenty morel risottos) I thought it was fantastic. Then again that was the consencious around the table and Chef Roy let us in on a little secret that most people prepare the rice and the morel separately and then just mix the two. In this case the rice grains before being cooked are stored with the morel so the grain soaks up the flavour before being cooked its self. Of course this is extremely time consuming and probably not commercially possible so they don’t do it anymore. What a pity because it really is an art to manage to get flavours so perfectly mixed.

Kashmiri Gucchi Pulao

The Gucchi Pualo is a treat but I’m told that this isn’t the traditional rice grown in Kashmir. In fact the rice is sticky and is smaller in size. A lesser known fact is that despite twhat people think in the north they are roti eaters and in the south there are rice eaters, Kashmiri’s are predominantly rice eaters. In fact during a wedding or a special occasion before their main ceremonies only close knit family members are invited for a special meal and only then is rice served. Such is the importance given to this staple ingredient in Kashmir.
So when you hear about how special and different Kashmiri rice is you can’t turn down the opportunity to try some despite being full. The rice was tried along with a Gaard Curry which was a boneless fish (Kashmiri River Trout) cooked in a spectacular spicy gravy.

Kashmiri Local Sticky Rice With Fish Gravy
The famed ‘ Gustaba’ which is meatballs cooked in a mild yogurt curry had similar textured meatballs as the rista but a vastly different taste. Interestingly Chef Roy tells us that there is a long and tedious procudure for preparing their meat where the meat is pounded till it turns from red to white colour and then made into balls.  I’m told that when they serve the Gustaba during the wazwan it signifies the end of the meal. It is always the last dish to be served before dessert.

Gustaba

Dessert was a soft Sooji Halwa which distinctly reminded me of a simple rawa dish my granny use to make at home. This rich dense dessert really reminds you of comfort food made at home.

Sooji Halwa

 I suppose after a meal like that it is impossible to bounce up so to help get rid of the sluggishness and help digest the meal some Kashmiri Kavha tea was served.Interestingly enough this is one of those teas that doesn’t actually have any tea in it !

Kashmiri Kahva Tea
I suppose the polite and demure staff helped enhance my experience and when Chef Seva Singh came out to meet us the entire tabe got up spontaneously to give him a standing applause for an outstanding meal. Chef Seva might be humble and even a tad bit shy but his talent for Kashmiri food is not un noticed as he has cooked for people like Anil Ambani, Amir Khan and of course Mr Ratan Tata among many others.

Chef Anirudha Roy (left) and Chef Sewa Singh (right)
I had an early morning flight the next day and had to race home finish packing and a quick nap before I left for the airport so I needed to be home soon. However, I didn’t feel like leaving early at any point because along with this incredibly royal meal I enjoyed the company. Good food and good conversation is always a great combination. As this was my peek into what Kashmiri food is about my main observation is that it is flavourful but subtle. No spice or ingredient is really ‘in your face’ and that it’s so much more than just meat. In fact, some wonderful vegetarian dishes were prepared for our herbivorous  friends. And of course if we talk about meats then what a wonderful way to flavour meat and present it.
I can only imagine having a Wazwan meal in the valley where it must be so much more than a meal. It seems almost like a ceremony or a ritual, as if to give reverence to their food and that sentiment I love.

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. Kashmir came calling through the Taj
    They had a meal fit for a maharaj
    In such august company
    Food’s like a symphony
    Sigh! For most of us wazwan is only a mirage!

  2. Hi… came across your blog while searching for info on Kashmiri cusine. Your write up made my mouth water and left me wondering if you have heard of Poush the Kashmiri cuisine restaurant in Andheri & Thane? They are coming up in Kurla Phoenix Mall soon. Would love to read your take on them too :D….. Ruchi.

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