Kashmiri Wazwan || Kashmiri Culinary Tradition that has evolved into an Artform

 I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but I wasn't aware of Kashmiri Wazwan before our trip (my first-ever) trip to Kashmir this year. However once you land in Srinagar and visit any tourist destination, billboards inscribed with "Kashmiri Wazwan" keep popping up in your line of sight. So we were naturally curious.   After landing in the morning and then roaming around for half a day, we decided we were hungry and went into a small dhaba-like shop that was also serving Kashmiri Wazwan. It was then that we discovered that Wazwan was an elaborate, traditional meal with several meat-based dishes and rice.   We were in a dhaba, so we did not really get to experience the traditional way of cooking, serving, or eating wazwan, but a research on the internet and a conversation with our taxi driver did make it apparent that wazwan is not just about food, it is also about the pride Kashmiri's take in this tradition.   Our driver was delighted when we asked him about Kashmiri Wazwan. He informed us that households hire specialized chefs to prepare Wazwan for special occasions, and it is never a single-day affair. It lasts for at least a couple of days.


I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but I wasn't aware of Kashmiri Wazwan before our trip (my first-ever) trip to Kashmir this year. However once you land in Srinagar and visit any tourist destination, billboards inscribed with "Kashmiri Wazwan" keep popping up in your line of sight. So we were naturally curious. 

After landing in the morning and then roaming around for half a day, we decided we were hungry and went into a small dhaba-like shop that was also serving Kashmiri Wazwan. It was then that we discovered that Wazwan was an elaborate, traditional meal with several meat-based dishes and rice. 

We were in a dhaba, so we did not really get to experience the traditional way of cooking, serving, or eating wazwan, but a research on the internet and a conversation with our taxi driver did make it apparent that wazwan is not just about food, it is also about the pride Kashmiri's take in this tradition. 

Our driver was delighted when we asked him about Kashmiri Wazwan. He informed us that households hire specialized chefs to prepare Wazwan for special occasions, and it is never a single-day affair. It lasts for at least a couple of days. 

Waza means chef and Wasta Waza means "Head chef". Traditionally the process of preparing Wazwan starts at 3AM and Wasta Waza supervises the work of all Wazas, as they beat the meat for hours. Rather than adding the flavours to these dishes during cooking, the flavours are infused during marination, by soaking the meat in flavoured water or smoke and by adding mild herbs etc. Spices are hardly ever used. Natural colors such as the ones from cockscomb (mawal) flowers are used. 

The dishes are cooked in large copper vessels over open fire using wood from fruit trees. It takes a long time to cook and the process goes on for hours. There are about 36 meat dishes and some vegetarian dishes that are prepared. Dessert is usually cool phirni. 

Following are some of the dishes in wazwan(we have tried first 6 in this list):
Rista - meatballs in red gravy
Rogan josh - tender lamb cooked with Kashmiri spices
Tabak maaz - ribs of lamb simmered in yogurt till tender, then fried
Seekh kabab - minced lamb meat roasted on skewers over hot coals
Gushtaba - a velvety textured meatball in white yogurt gravy
Gande aanchaar - chopped onions mixed with chilies, salt, yogurt and spices
Lahabi kabab or Moachi kabab - flattened mutton kababs cooked in yogurt
Waza kokur - two halves or two full chicken cooked whole
Daeni phoul - mutton dish
Doudha ras - mutton cooked in sweet milk gravy
Tseer-e-Gushtab - soft meatball with apricot inside cooked with yogurt.
Daniwal korma - a mutton curry with coriander
Waza palak - green spinach cooked with small mutton balls known as paliki riste
Aab gosh - lamb cooked in milk curry
Marchwangan korma - an extremely spicy lamb dish
Yakh'n - delicately spiced yogurt curry
Ruwangan chhaman - paneer squares with tomato gravy
Dum aelva - potatoes cooked in yogurt gravy
Muji chetin or mooli akhrot chutney - radish and walnut chutney
Phirni - a milk pudding thickened with semolina or ground rice, flavored with cardamom and saffron 

There is also an elaborate 'tehzeeb' associated with eating wazwan. The dining hall's floor is adorned in Kashmiri carpets and covered with while sheets around which guests sit in groups of four. First an attendant carries Tasht-e-Naer (Copper pot filled with water to wash hands) to each guest. And wazwan is served in a large copper plate known as Traem. Four guests share a Traem and eat with their hands as a mark of love and togetherness. 

When we visited Kashmir, it was the first time we were trying wazwan, and while many dishes immediately appealed to us, others we feel would have been an acquired taste. May be we should try wazwan at a few more places before we form an opinion about the entire experience.   

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