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The Delicacies Of Kashmir – Rich Food With A Rich History

Kashmir is called the paradise on earth! So what do you eat in paradise? The answer is a feast or what locals call a ‘wazwan’! A feast fit for the immortals and to take your taste buds on a journey to remember! A lot of meat, a lot of rice and fluffy bread and greens! Kashmiris start their day with nun-cha (salty tea) with bread and rice, meat and greens for lunch and dinner. During our weeklong stay in Kashmir, we sampled a number of authentic and traditional Kashmiri cuisines packed with flavour, aroma and taste. A lot of these form part of the wazwaan, which is cooked under the watchful eye of the waza (head chef) and served during weddings or other functions. These are our pick of 15 foods and drinks that we would recommend if you are visiting Kashmir.

Lamb and Fish Tujj over blazing charcoal

Lamb Tujj with Lavasa bread and assortment of dips

1. Tujj

Tujj is one of the most popular Kashmiri street food. Tujj in Kashmiri means ‘stick’ and therefore comes from the use of metal skewers or sticks loaded with marinated pieces of lamb, chicken or fish, which are then barbecued rapidly over blazing charcoal. This gives the meat that unmissable smoky flavour! The tujj is then served with thin Kashmiri bread called lavasa and a few types of dips (chutney) made from yogurt, mint, coriander, green chillies, onion, radish, carrot and cucumber. Best place to eat tujj in Srinagar is at Khayam chok area and in tujj slots on the boulevard of Dal lake.

The spicy curry and the dense yet soft meatball of Rista

2. Rista

A traditional Kashmiri meat dish which is an essential part of Wazwaan. Rista is a spicy meatball curry traditionally made from lean mutton or lamb meat. Preparing the meatballs for rista is a painstaking and labourious process where small pieces of lean meat are pounded for long time to turn it into smooth paste by breaking down the meat fibre. The fat of the meat also gets added into the meat during the process of pounding and enhances the softness. The meat paste is then turned into small balls and added into the boiling spicy curry which is made with friend onion paste, Kashmiri chilly powder, saffron and meat stock. Once boiled sufficiently the meat balls turn light, fluffy and bouncy and a texture that melts in your mouth. Though rista is served mainly with rice, it pairs well with tava rotias well.

Gustava - Meatballs dipped in rich creamy and tangy gravy

3. Gushtaba

Gushtaba is a Kashmiri meat dish where the meatballs are cooked in creamy and tangy yoghurt gravy. An integral part of Kashmiri wazwaan, gushbata is served as the finishing dish in wazwaan by the waza. Also known as the dish of Kings in Kashmir, this dish is said to have influences from Persia and central Asia, especially the gravy which is made from cardamom, clove, onions, yogurt and lamb stock and has a light soupy consistency. Similar to rista, the meatballs for gushtaba are prepared from ponding the lean meat with fat and spices (fennel and cumin) into a smooth paste and turned into balls which are then boiled in the gravy. Gustaba is traditionally served with both rice and tava roti in wazwaan.

Rogan Josh - The most popular and well known Kashmiri dish

4. Rogan Josh

This signature Kashmiri mutton dish originates from Persia and was introduced by the Mughals in India. This dish established its place in every Kashmiri kitchen and became an integral part of wazwan. Translating from the Persian word Rogan which means ‘oil’ and Josh which means ‘hit’, Rogan Josh is a slow cooked, flavourful, and slightly sweet mutton curry. The flavour of the curry comes from the use of a number of spices such as black and green cardamoms, cloves, cumin, Kashmiri chilly powder, fennel etc. Traditionally there are two versions of this dish based on the ingredients used – one comes from Kashmiri Muslims and the other from Kashmiri Pandits. In the Muslim version of the rogan josh, onion and garlic are used and dried cockscomb flower (mawal) is used for colouring, whereas in the Pandit version, asafoetida replaces the use of onion and garlic and the rich colour comes from the use of a dried herb called ratan jot.

Yakhli - An integral part of Kashmiri kitchen

5. Yakhni

Believed to have originated from the Persian meat stew called Yahni, this comforting and tangy yogurt based mutton curry is an integral part of the Kashmiri kitchen. The flavour in this dish comes from the use of whole spices such as cloves, cardamoms, black peppercorns, fennel seeds etc. The whole spices and mutton on bone are simmered in a mixture of yogurt and water till the creamy consistence of the curry is achieved. It is served with rice and is perfect if you want a non-tomato based curry.

One of teh Starting dish of Wazwan - Tabak Maaz

6. Tabak Maaz (Fried Lamb Ribs)

One of the components of wazwan, tabak maaz is mainly served as a starting dish of the wazwan. This traditional Kashmiri dish is prepared from mutton ribs. The ribs are first cooked in a broth of salt, turmeric and whole spices such as black and green cardamom, clove, fennel, bay leaf, cumin seeds and few others. The ribs are then fried in ghee (clarified butter) until crispyoutside and has a gorgeous golden hue.

Part of Wazwan or even served as starter in Kashmiri cuisine - Seekh Kebab

7. Seekh Kebab

This mouth-watering, juicy and soft grilled skewered minced meat is mainly served as the starter in Kashmiri cuisine and as part of Wazwan. In Kashmiri wazwan the seekh kebabs are made from small pieces of boneless mutton along with some fat where the meat is finely minced with spices such as Kashmiri chilli, cumin and cinnamon powder and crushed dried mint. The meat is then slowly cooked over charcoal in skewers until golden brown. This method of cooking allows the meat to hold the moisture and keeps it juicy. Apart from waswan these delicately flavoured seekh kebabs are also served as starters paired with lavasa bread and accompanied by various chutney dips.

Haak - a simple and staple food in every Kashmiri kitchen

8. Haak

Haak which simply means greens in Kashmiri is often called as poor man’s food because of the use of leaves of vegetables which are otherwise discarded. It is a staple food in every Kashmiri kitchen. A variety of green leaves are used to prepare haak like collard green, radish green, turnip green, kale and few others. The most commonly used leaf is collard greens which is grown in almost the entire region of Kashmir. Based on the type of the leaf used, haak can be referred to as:

  • Haak: Collard green

  • Monji Haak: Kohlrabi or cabbage turnip green

  • Mujj Haak: Radish turnip green

Haak is a simple dish which is prepared by cooking the leaves in mustard oil along with dried red chillies and asafoetida. In every Kashmiri home, at the start of a meal haak is served with rice.

The influence of Tibetan cuisine in modern day Kashmir - Shapale

9. Shapale or Sha Phaley

Shapale of Sha Phaley is a Tibetan dish that came to Kashmir with the Tibetan migrants. It’s a popular dish now and is mainly served for dinner or lunch. Shapale is made with minced meat stuffed in flour dough and deep fried till golden brown. Traditionally the meat used in shapale is from yak, however now a days in restaurants shapale stuffing can be made with beef, lamb or vegetables. Shapale is often served with a bowl of warm vegetable or meatbroth.

Everyday snack for any Kashmiri with a cup of tea - Bakarkhani

10. Bakarkhani

Bakarkhani is a sweet, layered flatbread which is mainly eaten as snacks with tea. The top and bottom layer of bakarkhani tends to be crispy and the inner layers are soft and fluffy. Whole wheat flour and plain flour are combined to prepare this flatbread and then kneaded with ghee (clarified butter), sugar and yogurt. The dough is then rolled and shallow fried in ghee creating a wonderful golden layered flatbread.

In a Kashmiri house no breakfast is complete without a piece of this - Girda

11. Girda and Nun Cha (Salty Tea)

Called by various names as Girda or Tchot or Czot or Roti is the Kashmiri breakfast flatbread. A typical Kashmiri breakfast is incomplete without a bite of freshly made girda sourced from the local kandur (bread baker). Made in underground clay oven from fermented dough, the bread maker leaves the impression of his fingertips on girda. This fluffy and soft bread has crusty brown top and white bottom which is served with butter and nun cha (salty tea) for breakfast. This is slightly pink in colour and as the name suggests salt is added instead of sugar. It takes some time to get used to, but savouriness goes really well with the warm soft bread!

Czochworu - Kashmiri donut

12. Czochworu or Chochwor

Also known as Kashmiri donut, Czochworu or Chochwor is a soft and dense round shaped bread which is mainly eaten with tea or nun chai (salt tea) in the late afternoon or evening. Though we found this bread more similar to bagel than donut in texture and appearance. The bread gets a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds on top and poppy seeds on the bottom while baking which enhances its flavour and is best eaten fresh and warm.

The integral part of Kashmiri culture - Khawa

13. Kashmiri Traditional Tea Khawa

No visit to Kashmir valley is complete without sipping a cup of Khawa. This Kashmiri tea is a fragrant mild tea which is flavoured and infused with saffron and whole spices such as cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and served with a garnish of chopped dry fruits such as almond or cashew nuts and sprinkled with dried rose petals. Traditionally khawa is prepared in a brass kettle called samovar. The name of this rejuvenating and refreshing tea is derived from the Arabic word ‘gahwah’ meaning aromatic beverage. Every cup of khawa is an amazing combination of taste and aroma which one can smell, sip and bite at the same time.

Halwa puri - a common evening snack in many Kashmiri household

14. Halwa Puri

This is a popular street food which can be found outside almost all dargahs (Shrine) in Kashmir. We tried this a couple of times during our stay in Kashmir and on both occasions from a shop outside a dargah. Undoubtedly the puri (fried flatbread) in this dish is the biggest puri we have seen. It is made from flour dough and deep fried in oil or ghee. The halwa is sweet and made from oats, milk, ghee, nuts and raisins and is orange in colour due to the use of saffron and or food colour. When used saffron gives a nice aroma to this dish. The sweet halwa is served together with the savoury puri and its best eaten hot – a small piece of puri with a bit of the sweet halwah.

Fruit shake with softy - Thick, sweet and a flavourful dessert

15. Fruit Shake with Softy

This is not just another fruit shake, it is a thick shake made from different fruits like mangoes, strawberries, bananas etc blended with ice-cream and topped with another generous dollop of vanilla ice cream. You can find these at Ice-cream parlours around Lal Chowk area - we loved the mango fruit shake!

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