These posts are part of a fabulous series on “Foods of Pakistan” from my friend Bilal Umer. Thank you for sharing your culture with us!
“I wrote about Pakistani places in my last episode in February 2012. Food focuses the culture and weather of the region. Here I decided to write about the rich food of Pakistan in different cities. This is also a gift for Emma Lovelly to enjoy untouched Pakistani food. ” – Bilal Umer
Kashmiri cuisine (Kashmiri: کشور خیون; Kashur khyon, Urdu: کشمیری کھانا Kashmiri khaana) is based on the ancient tradition of this area. The Rigveda mentions the meat eating traditions of this area.The ancient epic of Kashmir, namely the Nilmatapurana informs us that Kashmiris were heavy meat eaters. This habit persists in today’s Kashmir.
The most notable ingredient in today’s Kashmir cuisine is mutton, of which there are over 30 varieties. Also to be noted are Balti curries, popular in the United Kingdom for their exotic tastes, that have spread from the Baltistan region of Pakistani Administered Kashmir.
Wazwan, a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition, is treated with great respect. Its preparation is considered an art. Almost all the dishes are meat-based (lamb, chicken, fish).Beef is generally not prepared in the Srinagar region,but is popular among the other districts. It is considered a sacrilege to serve any dishes based around pulses or lentils during this feast. The traditional number of courses for the wazwan is thirty-six, though there can be fewer. The preparation is traditionally done by a vasta waza, or head chef, with the assistance of a court of wazas, or chefs.
Wazwan is regarded by the Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity. Guests are grouped into fours for the serving of the wazwan. The meal begins with a ritual washing of hands, as a jug and basin called the tash-t-nari are passed among the guests. A large serving dish piled high with heaps of rice, decorated and quartered by four seekh kababs, four pieces of meth maaz, two tabak maaz, sides of barbecued ribs, and one safed kokur, one zafrani kokur, along with other dishes. The meal is accompanied by yoghurt garnished with Kashmiri saffron, salads, Kashmiri pickles and dips. Kashmiri Wazwan is generally prepared in marriages and other special functions. The culinary art is learnt through heredity and is rarely passed to outside blood relations. That has made certain waza/cook families very prominent. The wazas remain in great demand during the marriage season (May – October). The essential Wazwan dishes include:
- Safed kokur or zafraan kokur
- Meth maaze
- Rogan josh
- Dhani phul
- Aloo bukhaar: chutney made with fresh plums, onions, sugar, lime juice and spices
- Gaade kufta
- Tabak maaz: Fried lamb ribs
- Daniwal korma: lamb in a yogurt-based gravy
- Aab gosht: Lamb curry cooked in milk
- Marcha-wangan korma
- Sheekh kabab: spicy ground lamb on skewers
- Gushtaab: Chopped lamb with spices cooked in oil, milk and curds
- maach kebab
Noon Chai/Sheer Chai
Kashmiris are heavy tea drinkers. The word “noon” in Kashmiri language means Salt. The most popular drink is a pinkish colored salted tea called “noon chai.”It is made with green tea, milk, salt and bicarbonate of soda. The particular color of the tea is a result of its unique method of preparation and the addition of soda. The Kashmiri Pandits more commonly refer to this chai as “Sheer Chai.”
At marriage feasts, festivals, and religious places, it is customary to serve Kahwah, or Qahwah (originates from a 14th century Arab coffee, which, in turn, was named after an ancient beverage of the Sufis) – a green tea made with saffron, spices, and almonds or walnuts. Over 20 varieties of Kahwah are prepared in different households. Some people also put milk in kahwah (half milk + half kahwah). This chai is also known as “Maugal Chai” by some Kashmiri Pandits from the smaller villages of Kashmir.
Muhammad Bilal Umer