Think Kashmir and verdant valleys, snowcapped peaks, gurgling streams, beautiful orchards, serene lakes and gliding shikaras come to mind. Often called ‘Paradise on Earth’, Kashmir offers some drool-worthy sights and Instagrammable landscapes.
A traveller’s delight, the valley is also a foodie’s mecca. Despite the constant trouble and unrest in the form of political conflict, curfews and so on that has kept the region in news for all the wrong reasons, the pastoral land of Kashmir has kept alive its culture and cuisine. Apple and peach orchards, saffron cultivation, Kashmiri chillies, aromatic teas and other spices make it one of the most popular gastronomic destinations for food connoisseurs.
In an attempt to bring authentic flavours from the valley, Marriott Suites Pune has invited Chef Riaz, a celebrated Waza (a traditional Kashmiri masterchef), to serve authentic Wazwan (a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine). This special menu curated by Riaz includes authentic preparations like Aab Gosht (meat in thick milk gravy), Kashmiri Pulao (rice preparation where rice is cooked and loaded with dry fruits), Gushtaba (minced mutton balls cooked in curd and spices), Rogan Josh (an aromatic lamb or goat meat dish), Waz Kokkar, Maz Yakhni (mutton balls infused with cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves and other Kashmiri flavours and balanced out in a thick yoghurt-based gravy) and much more.
The festival, which continues at Sen5es, Marriott Suites Pune, till July 14, promises to serve its patrons an unforgettable handcrafted feast that is rich in fragrant spices and rich ingredients and meats. Apart from these mouthwatering dishes, the festival also offers Kahwa (a classic aromatic Kashmiri tea).
When asked how the cuisine of Kashmir has evolved over the centuries, Riaz says that due to the influence of various invaders that came into the region, many delicious recipes came into existence.
Kashmir, predominantly, is a meat-eating region and red meat is not just a delicacy but a necessity. Being an extremely cold place, red meat is consumed to keep the body warm. Riaz says that indigenous spices also constitute an important part of the cuisine giving it a variety of aromatic flavours.
He says, “Saffron, cinnamon, green and black cardamom, cumin seeds, whole peppercorns, cloves, mint, saunth (dry ginger) etc are an integral part of our cooking. Our food has to have amazing aromas and flavours.”
Kashimiris also love to savour rice and whether they live in villages or in urban areas, rice is one food item, they simply can’t do without. “Although we eat meat daily, rice and Rajma and Kashmiri Achar is consumed on alternate days. As much as meat, we love to eat pulses and vegetables,” he adds.
Meat consumption is more among Kashmiri Muslims we’d like to think, but Riaz points out that Kashmiri Pandits too eat a lot of non-vegetarian items. “We share a lot of similarities when it comes to our culture and food habits. Except for the fact that we follow different religions, it is difficult to differentiate between a Kashmiri Muslim and a Kashmiri Pandit,” says Riaz.
Kashmiris also use a lot of lotus stem in their cooking. Talking about the same, he says, “Nadru Yakhni is a Kashmiri dish made with lotus stem cooked in yoghurt. Lotus roots/ stem is very popular in Kashmiri cuisine. Called Nandru or Kamal Kakdi, lotus stem is used as an alternative for meat in most vegetarian dishes.”
Desserts too are unique in the Valley. Yak milk is an important ingredient when making desserts like Phirni and Kashmiri apples too are used for making desserts and also non-vegetarian and savoury dishes, he informs.