Sheikh Imran Bashir
New Delhi: Kashmir may be a political hotspot but its signature wazwan cuisine – a spread of at least 40, mostly spicy, non-vegetarian dishes – can make any bitterness dissipate and leave you licking your fingers.
Kashmiri wazas (chefs) at the restaurant at Delhi-6 are offering all the traditional wazwan dishes, a day in restaurant start with Kashmiri Nun-chai (Salt Tea) and with Qahwa – Kashmiri tea flavoured with cardamom, cinnamon and almonds, coloured with saffron.
“You can make a whole restaurant smell fresh with Qahwa,” said a guest in Kashmir Zaiqa restaurant which has recently started at Jami Masjid in Delhi.
Strictly speaking, Qahwa is not wazwan. But what follows is.
As an appetizer you can have tabak maaz, a crispy lamb rib deep fried in ghee with powdered aniseeds, dry ginger powder, turmeric, asafoetida powder, powdered cinnamon, cloves and salt.
Or else have Kokkar Kanti – deep roasted chicken barbeque.
Bilal Ellahi, who are the owner of Kashmiri Zaiqa restaurant, has brought spices from his home state, including dry cockscomb flower, shallot and many kinds of chilies.
Bilal has inherited the art of cooking wazwan from his father who was a known chef in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Kashmir is otherwise known for its deep, gorgeous lakes, arts and crafts and, of course, the lovely wazwan.”
Another diner quips, “Get us some Rista or Gushtaba.”
And sure enough it surfaces. Rista – lamb meatballs cooked in red sauce; and Gushtaba – a similar dish cooked in yogurt.
“Delicious is the word. Isn`t it? Now I know why Nehru (India`s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru) and his family were in love with Kashmir,” says Shamim Ahmad, a local residence of Delhi who has been quietly savouring the food.
A Kashmiri fable has it that it was Gushtaba that compelled Nehru to let accede Kashmir to India.
For anybody looking to clear his sinuses, wazwan is a cure, Bilal told Agence India Press.
“A dish called Marchwangan korma, consisting of pieces of lamb cooked with tamarind and hot red pepper Kashmiri sauce definitely helps,” he asserts.
Wazwan will not disappoint vegetarians either. There is the Ruwagan Chaman, or cheese cooked in tomato puree; Haakh – collard greens cooked in mild spices; and Dum Aloo.
A Kashmiri will certainly miss the traditional setting where guests are seated on the floor in groups of four and share a meal in large copper plates called the Trami.
The meal usually begins by invoking the name of Allah and a ritual washing of hands in a portable basin called Tasht Nari, which is taken around by attendants. Chefs, dressed in white, bring each wazwan dish. This is what lends wazwan its true Kashmiri flavor, said Bilal.
Those on the lookout for more affordable and authentic wazwan in the Indian capital can try visiting Kashmir Zaiqa.
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