The valley's flavour
Kashmir's most formal meal involves hours of cooking and days of planning.
LET US say this festival at the Taj Gateway is to clear all misconceptions about Kashmiri food. I'm told that unlike what most people assume from Kashmiri pulao, everything doesn't have raisins and saffron.
This festival introduces us to the famed wazwan, Kashmir's most formal meal, involving hours of cooking and days of planning. A waza (chief cook) has been brought all the way from Srinagar no one has to tell me that because as soon as he walks in the door, I can imagine lakes, houseboats, blue skies, snow and the smell of hyacinth. For generations, the men in his family have been wazas and he has now mastered the art.
The most authentic wazwan cuisine is said to have more Muslim influences and thus a substantial part of it is non-vegetarian. But to cater to the vegetarian palate, the waza has included some Kashmiri Pandit specialties like dum aaloo, chaman, and korma sag (made from the Dal Lake vegetable known as lak). He also tosses cooked lotus stem with palak a light, right-from-the-lake sort of dish. The waza explains how everyday, they look at livestock and decide which meat would be good for the meal, ("We even check what grass the animal eats!"). Once the meat is chosen, it is placed on a stone and pounded with wooden batons till it becomes a smooth paste. Spiced with cardamom flakes, and salt, it is cooked in yoghurt sauce and served as the wonderful gushtaba. Since this is quite a tame dish, there is rogan josh (which owes its rich red colour to the use of petals of a flower called mawal. It is the spiciest dish on offer, but the waza tells me he has only used red chilli water, as is done traditionally.
Apart from the rogan josh, another spicy looking item is the yakhni, which is a rich red because of the generous use of Kashmiri chillies.
All this can be eaten with Kasmiri naan or rice flavoured with saunf. The festival is on at the Taj Gateway till December 12. For reservations, call 56604545.
- Wallet factor: Rs. 500 upwards per person.
- Ambience: Classy
- Service: Could be better
- Speciality: Gushtaba
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