Kashmiri Cuisine comes from the valley of Kashmir, the crown state of India that lies in the lap of the Himalayas. Kashmiri Cuisine is highly influenced by ancient Indian food cuisines, culinary styles of Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia. During Taimur / Timur invasion in fifteenth century to India, the chefs from samarkand (city in uzbekistan) arrived to this Kashmir valley and settled here influencing the cuisine vastly. The descendants of these cooks (wazas) are the master chefs of Kashmir Cuisine. Their culinary art is learnt through heredity and is rarely passed outside the blood relations. This has made certain waza/cook families very prominent and they remain in great demand during the marriages season for their skills in the cuisine.
Kashmiri Cuisine has rice as its staple food but meat in various forms has been an all time favorite by all communities. Kohlrabi (german turnip / turnip cabbage), black mushrooms, pumpkins and lotus stem are widely used in Kashmiri Cuisine due to their abundant resources available in Kashmir valley. Spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and fennel which are generally considered hot are used widely in Kashmiri Cuisines, while garlic and onion are not much popular here. Also this cuisine makes ample use of turmeric and yogurt for most of its dishes. Kashmir is one of the largest producer of saffron and hence its influence is huge in this cuisine along with liberal usage of dry fruits. Ghee and mustard oil are the base for almost all the dishes in this cuisine. Kashmiri Cuisine is also famous for its bakery (qandur / kaandar / kandur) products where many kinds of breaks are often served with topping’s of poppy seeds and sesame seeds.
Scarcity of food is a well known fact in Kashmir, especially during the harsh winters. Even today, women of the family are found involved before winters in drying vegetables and preserving fruits for the season ahead. Winter season cooking brings the smoky flavors and textures of dried turnips, eggplants and zucchini along with dried fish or black beans in a medley of preparations. This season also offers sweet and sour taste of dried apples, plums and apricots. Summer season cooking consists of a variety of dishes prepared with fresh and green leafy vegetables that grow in abundance in the soil of Kashmir. This is either cooked separately or in combination with a variety of meats such as lamb, duck, chicken or fish.
A few popular dishes in Kashmiri Cuisine are:
- wazwan is regarded by the Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity. In wazwan all the dishes are meat-based as it is considered a sin to serve any dishes based on pulses or lentils during the feast. The traditional number of courses for the wazwan is thirty-six but can be fewer in many cases. The preparation of wazwan is traditionally done by a vasta waza (head chef), with the assistance of wazas (chefs). In wazwan serving, guests are grouped into fours and the meal begins with a ritual of washing hands using a jug and basin called as the tash-t-nari which is passed among all the guests. A large metal plate called as trami is piled up high with lots of rice, decorated and quartered by four portions of many kinds of meat and other dishes is served to the guests in groups. The meal is accompanied by yogurt, garnished with kashmiri saffron, salads, pickles and dips. Seven dishes are a must for this wazwan – rista, rogan josh, tabak maaz, daniwal korma, aab gosht, marchwangan korma and gushtaba
- noon chai This noon chai is a pinkish colored salted tea, also called as sheer chai or kashmiri chai where noon refers to salt in kashmiri language. This is made with black tea, milk, salt and soda resulting in a pinkish color also called as namkeen chai. Traditionally this has been a breakfast tea along with bakerkhani and is served in big samovars (heating container)
- kahwah / qahwah / maugal chai refers to a green tea made with saffron, spices, cardamom, cinnamon, almonds and walnuts. It is served specially in marriages, festivals and religious gatherings. There are more than 20 varieties of preparations for this kahwah and some households also include milk as an ingredient in making this tea
- shab deg refers to a dish made with turnip and meat and left to simmer whole night
- dum olav / dun aloo refers to curry dish made with potato, fennel, yogurt, ginger powder and hot spices
- mujh gaad refers to a dish made of radish along with variety of fish
- rogan josh refers to a lamb based dish cooked in a gravy seasoned with huge amounts of kashmiri chilli powder, ginger, asafoetida and bay leaves. Here due to the absence of onions, yogurt is used as a thickener, to reduce the heat and marinate the spices in the gravy
- yakhni refers to a yogurt based gravy dish with mutton without turmeric and chilli powder. The dish is flavored with bay leaves, cloves and cardamom seeds. Yakhni is a mild dish eaten with rice and often accompanied with a more spicy side dish
- harissa is a popular meat dish made for breakfast. It is slow cooked for many hours with spices and hand stirred continuously
- lavas / lawaas refers to a thin flat bread made with maida which can be either crispy or soft
- bakerkhani refers to a round, spiced, thick , flat bread which almost has a biscuit like texture that is crisp with a hard crust, layered and is sprinkled with sesame seeds
- sheermal refers to a dry crumbly bread generally served with kahwah
- roth refers to a large size bread full of dry fruits
- dastarkhaans refers to the cloth spread on the floor on which the meal is served