The Aromas from the Valley

By Sharmila Chand

Kashmir is not only known for its breathtaking scenery but also for its mouthwatering cuisine. Kashmiri cuisine stands apart in its taste as well as in its presentation.

Spices like cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and saffron are essential elements of Kashmiri cuisine. Dry fruits are also used extensively in different Kashmiri dishes, especially in preparing curries.

The liberal use of spices infuses warmth and flavour to Kashmiri curries. There is a kind of pungency in the taste due to the use of mustard oil. Also desi ghee is liberally used in preparing dishes from the valley. In Kashmir, curries have curd as one of their primary ingredients. Curd is also used as a marinade for kebabs in Kashmir, which adds lot of depth in the flavours.

What makes many Kashmiri dishes distinctive is the fragrance of spices like saffron and anise. The famous Kashmiri red chillies are less pungent than the regular ones but they have the potential to perk up many a regular dish.

Elaborate Wazwan

One of the highpoints of Kashmiri cuisine is a multi-course elaborate dining extravaganza called Wazwan. It is said to have as many as thirty-six courses comprising both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The non-vegetarian items are usually prepared from fish, chicken and lamb.

The Head Chef supervises the entire preparation and is called vasta waza who is assisted by a team of Chefs called wazas. The term Wazwan is derived from two words, waz meaning cook or cooking and wan meaning shop in Kashmiri language. Some wazas carry forward their family tradition of cooking Wazwan.

The meal starts with the ritual of Tash-t-naer that is washing of hands of the guests with the attendants taking around a jug and a basin. The Wazwan platter is supposed to have seven mandatory dishes.

 Tabakhmaaz or Qabargaah — Barbecued lamb ribs prepared with milk, butter and ground spices.

Rista — A spicy gravy preparation of meat balls where the ingredients of the gravy include fennel, saffron and paprika.

Damiwal Korma — A preparation of lamb roasted with spices, onion puree and yogurt and garnished with coriander leaves. 

Rogan Josh — One of the signature dishes of Kashmiri cuisine, it is a lamb gravy, ingredients of which include asafoetida, Kashmiri chilies, yogurt, ginger and bay leaves. 

Goshtaba — A preparation of meatballs in spicy yogurt gravy.

Marchhwangan Korma — A preparation of chicken thigh or leg pieces that is cooked with a spicy onion sauce.   

Aab Gosh —A chunk of lamb prepared with thickened milk, cardamom and fennel-based spice mixture.

Besides these seven delightful dishes, Yakhni, a mild dish of yoghurt-based mutton gravy, predominantly seasoned with cardamom seeds, bay leaves and cloves, which is savoured with rice; Shab Deg, which is prepared out of meat and turnip simmered overnight; Dum Olav or Dum Aloo, a luscious potato dish prepared using yogurt, fennel, different hot spices and ginger powder; and a purely vegetarian dish called Lyodur Tschaman made out of cottage cheese that is prepared in creamy gravy based on turmeric, are some of the other culinary highlights of Kashmiri cuisine.

Traditional Breads of Kashmir

The scenic valley is renowned for a number of traditional bakery products. One can find at least one traditional bakery shop, which is known as as Kaandar or Kandur in every colony or locality of Kashmir.

Bakery shops across Kashmir have different kinds of breads for different seasons. They have golden brown crusts and are topped with sesame and poppy seeds.

Two popular breads of Kashmir, which are flaky and crisp and topped with sesame and poppy seeds are Tsochvoru and Tsot. They are small in size and round in shape. Other popular  breads from Kashmir include kulcha, which are small, round, dry, hard and crumbly breads that are embellished with a peanut in the upper middle part; lavasa or lawaas, a large, thin, unleavened flat bread made with maida which can be either crispy or soft; sheermal or krippe, a dry crumbly bread generally served with kehwa; and roth, a huge bread of around 1 m in length and 2 ½ m in width, which is more like a Kashmiri dry fruit cake.

A Kashmiri Bakerkhani is very special and is generally eaten hot, as a breakfast item. It is a spiced, thick, roundish flat-bread having almost a biscuit like texture that is crisp with a hard crust; layered and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Teas from Kashmir

Kashmiri tea has an exclusive touch to it. Kashmir  has two types of teas namely noon chai or sheer chai, and kahwa. The former is the most popular beverage of the Kashmiris who drink tea heavily.

The noon chai where noon means salt in Kashmiri language, is made of black tea, salt, milk and bicarbonate of soda. The tea gets its pink colour from the distinct style of its preparation and of course due to the use of soda. This tea with breads is a part of the breakfast of many Kashmiri households.   

Kahwa, a popular drink of Kashmir, is a green tea prepared with different spices, walnuts or almonds, and saffron. There are more than twenty varieties of kahwa. It is customary to serve this tea at religious places, festivals and at marriages.

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