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An elaborate Kashmiri feast...

Kashmir Club offers an array of delicious Kashmiri vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes authentically prepared by wazas from the Valley, reports SUMITRA SENAPATY. One need only say `Bismillah' and let the feast begin... .


IMAGINE KASHMIR, its tall Chinar trees, beautiful country and fresh rosy faces! When you think of Kashmiri cuisine, make a beeline for the Kashmir Club at New Delhi's Hotel Ashok.

Apart from lovely fresh fruits, crisp vegetables and expensive dry fruits, Kashmiri cuisine offers some of the most delicious non-vegetarian items. Meat preparations are quite a novelty in Kashmir - hours and hours of tedious preparations cooked in mustard oil or ghee over a slow fire, slowly incorporating dry ginger, fennel, saffron and red chillies.

Food in Kashmir is prepared either in the Kashmiri Pandit style or the Muslim Wazwan style. While the former uses a lot of aromatic spices, the latter emphasises ginger, garlic and onions. The Kashmir Club's kitchen is divided into two separate entities, so both styles are prepared by the `wazas' who have come all the way from Kashmir. The word `waza' means chef, a master of culinary arts and Wazwan, the feast for Kings.

You start with Mush Kalari, a tribal cottage cheese cake shallow fried and served with hot green pepper and salt, and then it is time to try the finger-licking Tabak Maaz - tender lamb spare ribs cooked in milk and shallow fried to a crisp golden brown. Rainbow Trout mentioned on the menu is not yet available, so we settle for Karela Yakni and Haq, the soul food of Kashmir that is eaten 365 days a year. Haq - whole greens cooked in clear mustard oil and lots of water - is simply made but is differently delicious. But the ever-popular Gushtaba is the final dish, the `full-stop' to a meal. Mutton is pounded for hours on end to get the right consistency, made into balls and then cooked in a delicately flavoured yoghurt sauce over slow fire. Back breaking, no doubt. No wonder only Kashmiris can prepare genuine Kashmiri food!

Kashmir Club's menu is pretty elaborate, specially the non-vegetarian section - Rista, Kalia, Alu Bukhara Korma, Waza Chicken and some Kashmiri Kababs. Dam Aloo, Rajmah Shalgam and Schuk Wangun - brinjals - along with two to three cottage cheese preparations are some of the specials for vegetarians. Saffron is sometimes used in the pulaos and sweets; and walnuts, almonds and raisins are also added to the curries. The accompaniments are also thoughtfully prepared by the `wazas' - onion, mint, walnut, radish and black grape chutneys.

An assortment of breads has been made available in Kashmir Club, but Kashmiri food is best eaten with rice. Keep space for the Kehwa though, the Kashmiri green tea flavoured with almonds and saffron.

Kashmir Club was earlier only open for lunch, primarily a buffet affair. Now, the restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner with a new rotating a la carte menu, serving fine wines as well. Just as in the Valley, your host says `Bismillah' and the feast begins.

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