‘You can’t feed a lion grass, or would you?’: A Kashmiri chef responds

Wazwan Photo Credit: Marryam H Reshii.

You can’t force omnivores to be carnivores, or vice-versa. The cultural food or general culinary habits of a particular people are developed as per the place’s weather, belief of people, or no belief at all, significant cultural events, and seasonal availability of ingredients.

This is how every cuisine came into existence, and this is how Koshur wazwaan came into existence, there is no other science to understand this, unless one has a bogus and bigot meter to measure, review, revise or curse it.

Kashmiri Wazwaan is one of the most exciting and lavishing cuisines in the world. Wazwaan is a not just a series of dishes, which can extend to more than 20 in a single dining, but it is also the way it’s served, the series and sequencing of the contrasting sweet, not so sweet, and spicy dishes, it is the rich culture of service involved.

From the hand washing in a rich copper Tash-Naari, to the neutralising radishes between dishes, to the copper cutlery and dooyn tsettin, all the way to the firriin, it’s all a package deal.

This is probably the only cuisine in the world where if you remove one authentic step or ingredient, you will end up ruining the whole dining experience.

The cuisine is influenced by meat dishes naturally, the requirement of protein intake being high due to the cold weather. Specially grown local fresh beef, lamb and mutton, and selection of the finest livestock by the chef, the Waaza, is an important step in how the final product will taste like.

Again, this influence comes from local rich culture and weather. People of Kashmir cherish meat so much that it becomes nearly impossible to find meat (beef/lamb) in local markets after noon in Kashmir.

[Photo Credit: Marryam H Reshii.]

Interestingly, this meat culture exists in Kashmir across religion and beliefs.

Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus (yes, the Pandit Brahmins too), everyone cherishes meat. And food is something which can’t be forced on someone, unless you are born in some unfortunate place where you might end up getting lynched for your food habits. But that is not the case in Kashmir.

We also have a very rich and fancy variety of vegetarian dishes as well, which are part and parcel of wazwaan.

Vegetarian dishes made out of ingredients like Nadur (stem of lotus that grows in muddy waters of the dal), Haakh (collard greens), local spinich, locally grown potatoes, tangy apricot dishes, quince apples, etc, are just incredible.

Another very important factor in Wazwaan is the experience, and the social and cultural significance. Four people sit together on a platter, the traami, beyond their caste, creed, and social standing. They share food, and dignity.

As journalist Muzamil Jaleel writes, “when the Wazwaan and the custom of eating together was introduced, it was a statement against the harsh and rigorous caste and class divide. It was, and it is, a leveller.”

“Think how revolutionary eating from a single plate, with hands, and standing together (shoulder to shoulder) to pray, was in an era, ‘when even the shadow of 85% of population was considered a form of ritual pollution’,” he writes quoting a friend.

“The tradition of Wazwan is a statement against that untouchability, that repressive social norm. It is this concept of social justice that was at the core of the message of Khankah and Chrar.”

However, like every other signature Kashmiri product, like saffron, like pashmina, and carpets, walnuts, apples, wazwan too faces cultural aggression and is also at the verge of being ruined by external factors, obviously with the help of locals.

Like Iranian or Spanish saffron was sold as Kashmiri saffron, and something similar is happening with pashmina, carpets and other handicrafts, Kashmiri dishes too are facing slaughter in different kitchens outside Kashmir.

For example, the Rogan Josh.

The actual Rogan colour comes from cockscomb which gives it not only its bright colour but a distinct flavour too. This is exactly opposite to what kitchens other than the Kashmiri ones do, adding synthetic colours, which not only ruins flavour but puts ones health at risk too.

This is a prime example how everything which is Kashmiri signature is being ruined. But our own people from Kashmir have played an important role in doing this.


Anayat Rahman is a Professor of Cullinary in University of Prince Murgin, Madinah. He has served as an inflight chef for Etihad Airways, and identifies as a proud Kashmiri. 


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