THE XXXVI ENTRÉE7 min read

An avid foodie? Someone who wouldn’t mind non veg for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Then wazwan is your one stop. So catch the next flight and head to the Switzerland of India, the spectacular valley of Srinagar and walk in a wedding or celebration. I promise you that the natives will be more than happy to serve you. 

The Vale of Kashmir has been attracting people from different corners of the world not only for its charm, beauty and tranquillity but also for its mouth-watering, delicious and spicy dishes and cuisines. The hidden secret lies in the variety of hot spices like cardamom, ginger, fennel seeds, cinnamon, black cumin and so on. They are popular because of their appealing flavour, texture, and palatability characteristics. They form an inextricable part of Kashmiri culture. The names of the dishes and their bountiful, spice-rich sauces tell us a long history of influences. The infusion of tradition and culture lead to a beautiful amalgamation of dishes. The methods of cooking are borrowed and mixed Iranian, Afghan and Central Asian practices.

Wazwan (Kashmiri: وازِوان) is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered as an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity. Almost all the dishes are meat-based using lamb or chicken with a few vegetarian dishes. Recently, Wazwan is also served internationally at Kashmiri food festivals and reunions.

From wedding celebrations to memorials commemorating the 40th day after a family member’s death, the wazwan feast forms an integral part of family gatherings in Kashmir and leaves a person mouth-watered if sniffed from a distance. The credit for popularizing wazwan dishes goes to Persian and Sanskrit immigrants. The word wazwan is derived from two words, ‘Waze’ means a Cook and ‘Wan’ means a place where the cook cooks. The origin of the term has also been derived from a Persian word, ashpaaz, which means a special cook proficient in making soups, and with the passage of time the term became “Waza”.

Wazwan is an art and is learnt through heredity only. It is rarely passed on to other persons outside the clan. It is an integral part of the Kashmiri culture and heritage. The availability of the Waza determines the marriage schedule of weddings. 

A week or two before the function or ceremony chief cook is hired to discuss the quantity and quality of rice, meat, spices, chicken, vegetables and other items of cookery. The whole wazwan is cooked on wuri, firewood stove-train, in large and small copper cauldrons, locally called Daeg and Degchi. 

It consists of thirty-six meals, fifteen preparations of meat are cooked overnight under the guidance of a head chef called Vast Waza who is assisted by other cooks. The basic prerequisite of a wazwan is that freshly slaughtered meat is used for its preparation. It also contains a lot of dry fruits and spices which are freshly homemade. The red colour is usually derived from either the Kashmiri chillies or Cockscomb flower called Mawal.

The feast is so opulent that each platter customarily gets piled with 8 to 13 pounds of meat and can take more than two hours to eat. Waste is out of the question. Many wazwans end with doggy bags and guests angling to take away more of their favourite dishes.

The process of serving begins with washing hands of guests by providing water to them by a copper jug and a basin, called Tash Naer.  After that, Dastarkhan, Table Cloth  is spread on the floor which serves as a sanitary surface for food and groups of four people sit around it. A sizeable circular dish, traem, with a mound of rice with different varieties of wazwan on it is served to each group.

Then, Waze takes rounds with copper cauldrons and a ladle to serve the additional dishes one by one. Meanwhile alongside, salad, curd, water and soft drinks, and pulao are served. Along with these dishes curd, pickle and chutney made of walnut, onion, pumpkin, radish etc. are served in small pots. 

They say variety is the seasoning of life. Some of the main dishes of this extravaganza spread are:

•      Rista 

These are meatballs served in fiery red gravy. Each Traem consists of 4 Ristas one for each person. They  are made by boneless meat which is smoothened on a wooden mallet and often have meat fat which is added while the meat is smoothened. The perfection requires extraordinary skill 

•      Lahabi kabab or Moachi kabab 

Succulent skewered lamb kebabs which are flattened, given diamond-shaped and cooked in spices and yoghurt. 

•      Waza kokur (two halves or two full chicken cooked whole)

•      Daeni phoul (mutton dish)

•      Doudha ras (mutton cooked in sweet milk gravy)

•      Rogan josh 

Lamb which is marinated at least 2 hours before is cooked in oil and Kashmiri spices, the colour of the dish comes from Kashmiri Red Chillies added to it. 

•      Methi Korma

It is a sort of stew usually made with lamb stomach and flavored with methi or fenugreek leaves which adds a lovely unique flavor. This flavored gravy is very famous amongst Kashmiris and part of the extensive meat cuisine of the region. .

•      Tabak maaz 

It is a glossy meat made of lamb ribs that are cooked twice and then simmered in yogurt with spices till tender. It’s then fried thoroughly and served in dry form.  The richness of the dish is apparent with the ingredient list, it tastes absolutely fabulous and the aroma pulls you towards another bite.    

•      Daniwal korma (a mutton curry with coriander)

•      Waza palak (green spinach cooked into a silky consistency with small mutton balls known as paliki  riste)

•      Aab gosht (lamb cooked in milk curry)

A sacral area of the vertebral column of lamb or mutton is cooked in milk with saffron, cardamoms and without other spices.

•      Marchwangan korma (an extremely spicy lamb dish)

•      Kabab (minced meat roasted on skewers over hot coals)

•      Gushtaba (a velvety textured meatball in white yoghurt gravy)

It is the finishing dish made of minced mutton balls which are made in yogurt and spices. It is similar to Rista but less spicy and it’s aroma resembles yakhni. Gustaba is like Rista made from pounded meat emulsion. 

•      Yakh’n 

This dish can be prepared with lamb or lotus stem. It is a spiced yogurt based dish cooked without chilies. Bay leaves, cloves, cardamoms are the prime flavors to the dish. The mutton is cut in the form of chunks of about.5-6 cm which is pre-cooked in boiling water for 20 mins before adding the gravy of yogurt.

•      Ruwangan chhaman (cheese squares with tomato gravy)

It is cheese cooked in tomato sauce along with spices. Cheese is called Chamman in Kashmiri.

•      Dum selva (potatoes cooked in yoghurt gravy)

•      Dum aloo

•      Gand Aanchaar (chopped onions mixed with chillies, salt, yoghurt and spices)

•      Muji chetin or Mooli akhrot chutney (a sharp radish and walnut chutney)

•      Phirni 

The wazwan ends with this creamy delicacy, it is a milk pudding thickened with semolina or ground rice, flavoured with cardamom and optionally saffron, set in individual bowls with slivered nuts and silver leaf

Ufff, it ends finally. I’m already drooling at the thought of all of it. You surely won’t be able to walk back home after all that eating.

Let me know, what was your favourite pick from the 36 entree, mine stays Yakni  ; )

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