4th July 2017 will be a memorable day in my life. As I share all the reasons, let me tell you that one of the primary reason was that I was pushed to the edge of a cliff to a write this post. Like many other posts, this has also been pending for a long time.
When in Kashmir, you cannot ignore the mountains, you cannot ignore Dal Lake, Kahwa and you cannot miss Wazwan. Waz means the cook and wan means the shop and Wazwan is the ultimate multi course meal with predominantly meat and lamb dishes and the number of items may vary from 15 to 36. Day 1 when we reached Kashmir, we requested our cab driver and Guide Mansoor Bhai to take us for Wazwan and we landed up at Mughal Durbar in Srinagar. This is located at Residency Road and you may find 2 Mughal Durbar – each claiming to be the authentic one. Mansoor Bhai insisted that the one on the first floor was the original one and hence we walked up the stairs for our grand meal. The origin of Wazwan remains disputed as it can be from Iran or from Central Asia but the similarities are far less, leaving the Wazwan a style of cooking of its own. It will be great though to land up with an authentic kashmiri Wazwan recipe.
Kashmiri Wazwan is not meant for the weak heart or who are on meat restrictions. It is meant for the people of the valley, this meal is rich with excessive protein and only suited for cold weather. There are few dishes from the Wazwan which have become popular over the years and they get served in restaurants as stand alone dishes like Rogan Josh, Rishta, Gustava and Yakhni.
As its a community eating and a mainstay of the Kashmiri marriages, we were often told in all the places by the locals that whatever is available in restaurants is no where near the authentic Kashmiri Wazwan made in the local marriages. The food is mostly cooked overnight. It is a community eating where each copper plate is shared by 4 people laid on a dastarkhan. A documentary on some food channel explained the cooking process and since then, it has been my dream/ our dream to attend a Kashmiri wedding and enjoy this feast.
After our meal was complete, with no wish or capability to walk, we waddled like penguins to the ante room where there is a set up for the traditional wazwan. It is given for large bookings and special occasions. The seating is on the floor with mattresses and rich linen. The utensils are all copper. It has got ticked in my bucket list. There are almost all restaurants which offer Wazwan but there are few who care about the quality and other than Mughal Durbar, there is Ahdoos also. However, I must say that Ahdoos is more refined and the taste of the food is a bit toned down missing the rustic nature.
It is almost 18 months since we had our experience of Kasmiri wazwan and have been longing for taste of this food. The names and tastes of tabak maaz, methi mas, rogan josh, rishta, gustava have popped up in various forum and we, as if we own the dishes, stood for them, gone overboard in explaining about them and like long lost lovers, have expressed how much we miss them.
Madhushree continues with what happened next.
When our good friend Hina called us for a Kashmiri food festival at Hyatt, there was no way we could have turned it down (no matter what). The meal started with Kahwa. Although I must point out that Kahwa never tastes the same anywhere other than in Kashmir. Perhaps it has got to do with the water over there as well as the beautiful weather. We had even brought back a few bottles of kahwa with us from Kashmir and we could never do justice at home. Letting that aside, soon we were tempted with juicy and robust waza seekh kebabs made with mutton which were tossed in a sauce of mutton stock and other spices. The fragrance of the ghee was strongly coming off and every mouthful was a bliss. We were not typically served like a wazwan but most of the essential dishes were served on to our plates. Both Anindya and I were floored by the tabak maaz. It was perfectly tender ribs of lamb deep fried in ghee, had all the essential meaty flavours and couldn’t have been executed any better. We tried tomato paneer, rajma (which is a Kashmiri staple), Kashmiri dum aloo (very delicately spiced and had authentic taste, unlike several other places) amongst the vegetarian ones. Each one was as good as it should have been. We were told that Chef Uttam has also sourced Kashmiri Haak, a variety of saag found only in Kashmir, from the valley and it is a specialty of the region. In fact, most of the essential ingredients used have been sourced from Kashmir, like saffron and guchhi (Kashmiri wild morels).
We had mutton pulao and guchhi biryani in the staples. Even though guchhi has a very strong aroma which may not be pleasing to many, this biryani did not have guchhi over powering it. There were strings of fried onion and guchhi in every mouthful of saffron laden long grains of basmati rice and all the individual flavours bound together beautifully into one. I was looking forward to the gushtaba and somehow it did not meet my expectation of what I had tasted in the valley. The high point amongst all of these were the Kashmiri naans which were soft buttery and sprinkled with nuts, making it quite exotic. In fact, it could be had just on its own.
For dessert, we had khubani kulfi (the names explains it all) but I must say that the sweetness was just right and the texture was smooth as silk. We also had suftas (bowl of dry fruits steeped in syrup)- a super rich dish from all the dry fruits and the effect was deeply aromatic. Definitely one cannot finish off a bowl by oneself.
Other than the ones above, the menu has a variety of other dishes like nadru seekh kabab, mutton yakhni, nadru yakhni, Kashmiri pulao, chaman biryani, tandoori trout, rogan josh, rista and many more. There is also the option of a vegetarian as well as a non vegetarian wazwan thali which has enough number of dishes to satiate your soul.
This festival is on till the 15th of August and comes to Rs. 5000 for 2 persons inclusive of taxes approximately.
And finally, if we had not gone for this food festival at The Hyatt, Anindya perhaps would have procrastinated further about writing on our experience at Mughal Durbar, Srinagar.Mugh
Anindya writes – Thats one of the reason but as promised in the beginning this 4th August 2017 remains special to me and for many music lovers, as this day is not only the birthday of Kishore Kumar, one of the greatest singer India ever had but also I was lucky enough to attend a concert in Kolkata celebrating the legendary singers birthda. The show was special because for the first time on stage Kumar Sanu and Abhijeet sang together. It was 5 hour show and courtsey Hina, me and Dipjoy another music crazy friend of mine, could get an entry. When we left, for the next 30 mins we travelled back together awestruck. From Wazwan to Kishore Kumar, this post will also remain very special. Thanks Hina.