The history of modern Kashmiri cuisine can be traced back to the invasion of India by Timur in the 15th century. This resulted in the migration to the Kashmir Valley from Samarkand of about 2,000 persons some of whom were skilled woodcarvers, weavers, architects, calligraphers and cooks. Descendants of those cooks, the Wazas, are the master chefs of Kashmir.
The Wazwan is a formal banquet in Kashmir, generally prepared at marriages and other special functions. This culinary art is well-guarded and is kept within the family. Of its 36 courses, between 15 and 30 are non-vegetarian preparations, cooked overnight by the master chef or the Vasta Waza, and his retinue of wazas. Guests are seated in groups of four and share the meal out of a large metal plate called the trami.
The meal begins with a ritual washing of guests’ hands in a basin called the tash-t-nari, which is taken around by attendants. Then the tramis arrive, heaped with rice, quartered by four Seekh Kababs and containing four pieces of Methi Korma, one Tabak Maaz, one Safed Murg, one Zafrani Murg, and the first few courses. Curd and chutney are served separately in small earthen pots.
As each trami is completed, it is removed, and a new one brought in until the dinner has run its course. Seven dishes are a must for these occasions — Rista, Rogan Josh, Tabak Maaz, Daniwal Korma, Aab Gosht, Marchwangan Korma and Gushtaba. The meal ends with the Gushtaba.
Kashmir’s cuisine is as distinct as its unique blend of people and culture. It has been influenced by the cultural practices of several generations of Kashmiri Pandits who lived here since thousands of years. It was also influenced by the unique style of cooking introduced by the Muslim settlers from Persia and Afghanistan.
The traditional cooking style of Kashmiri Pandits has some differences when compared with the Kashmiri Muslim style. The Pandits prefer to use turmeric, curd, asafoetida and mustard oil giving a cold shoulder to garlic, onions and tomatoes.
Kashmir is naturally gifted with the most fragrant, colourful and flavoring spices like saffron, Kashmiri red chillies, cockscomb, etc. The Mughal legacy introduced saffron, dry fruits, Kashmiri red chillies, butter and clarified butter, and garlic and tomatoes to Kashmiri cuisine.
Like Turkish, Persian and Afghani cuisine, lamb meat preparations became a relished food in Kashmiri cuisine. Some mutton dishes are cooked in curd and milk with very limited and special spices added to it. The dishes are tongue tickling, less spicy and with very less oil. Yakhni and Rogan Josh are primarily Hindu-originated dishes.
Vegetarian cuisines are equally delicious and tasty such as Dum aloo, Chaman (paneer cooked in milk), Haakh (spinach), Nadroo yakhni (lotus stems in milk) and many others.
The staple diet in Kashmir is rice. Aside from mutton, chicken and fish, vegetables also play an important in the cuisine. Some combinations are fish-lotus root, mutton-turnips and chicken-spinach.