Haris Ahmad Handoo, Greater Kashimir Wazwan is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity. Almost all the dishes are meat-based using lamb or chicken with few vegetarian dishes. It is popular throughout the Kashmir. Moreover, Wazwan is also served internationally at Kashmiri food festivals and reunions. Not that there is a restriction on having wazwan in any part of the year. People can relish this gastronomic delight any day and any time of the year. But wazwan does have a season of its own, the normal marriage season commencing April and lasting till October. This is when binge wazwan eating becomes a routine with at least 3 to 4 wazwan feasts a month. Although people find ways to have it in off-season too, at family get-togethers and other celebrations.
Come new season in early April when people look forward to the first wazwan feast of the year. There is this yearning to have it and relish it. There is abundance of it on the copper plate, the trami, but having it in moderation to tickle your taste buds is the way to go so that you don’t get bored of eating it again and again the whole season. In these times of busy schedules and work pressure, the feasts at the weddings relieve the stress and people not only enjoy good food but friends and relatives share nice camaraderie. Wazwan is a unique cuisine, exquisite. You can’t churn it out in every part of the world. It has to be geographically indicated, literally and metaphorically – Kashmir specific. It’s not spicy, bitter or sweet. It is all in moderation, every ingredient in right proportion. The taste is divine and awesome. This gourmet food might well turn out to be on the Heaven’s menu as well. It goes without saying that the normal seven-course meal is the be-all and end- all of all wazwan feasting. The traditional seven-course meal should stay and less should get wasted. The add-ons depict extravagance and well-meaning people do not take kindly to wastage of food. Even though wazwan invitations bring with it burdens as well, financial and logistical, but we as a society have taken it in our stride and in the end the wazwan feast is the winner, the leveller between rich and poor which gives an overwhelming and fulfilling experience to the hosts and guests alike. Kashmiri wazwan implies purity. The master chef wants all ingredients to be pure and of highest quality from spices to mutton. However, the nuanced taste of wazwan preparation varies from chef to chef. The quantity to be prepared matters as well and if the guest list is too long, the quality of taste may get diluted. Besides, over the years, quite a few bad influences seem to upend the rich wazwan tradition. The thorough-bred wazas are gradually giving up this calling and workforce getting inducted who are just strangers to the trade. Equally disparaging to the essence of wazwan is the use of polythene disposable stuff that is ruining the feast as such. These days even the famed Gushtaba is allowed to be served, rather dropped, in a plastic bowl which is hardly food grade and is injurious to health. It would normally land on a mound of freshly served rice with spoonfuls of yakhni at the base of the Trami. The moot point is that we ought to serve it in traditional copper-ware with curd in terra-cotta bowls. Wazwan tradition In the Kashmiri language, waz means ‘cook’ or ‘cooking’ and wan means ‘shop’. The ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir is the royal wazwan. Of its thirty-six courses, between fifteen and thirty can be preparations of meat, cooked overnight under the supervision of a master chef called a vastewaze. Guests are seated in groups of four and share the meal out of a large copper platter called the traem. For Kashmiri Muslims, the meal begins with invoking the name of Allah, for Kashmiri Hindus the name of Lord Shiva and a ritual washing of hands in a basin called the Tash-t-naer, which is taken around by attendants. Then the traem arrive, heaped with rice, quartered by two seekh kababs and contains four pieces of methi korma (chicken or mutton flavored with a spice mixture containing dried fenugreek (methi) leaves), two tabakmaaz (twice-cooked lamb ribs, initially braised with ground spices and milk, then browned in butter), one safedkokur (chicken with white sauce), one zafrankokur (chicken with saffron sauce), and the first few courses. Yogurt and chutney are served separately in small earthen pots. Up to about 20 items are served thereafter by waza (the junior cook). Seven dishes are a must for these occasions — tabakhmaaz, rista (meatballs in a red, paprika-saffron-fennel spice gravy colored with dyer’s alkanet), rogan josh, daniwal korma (lamb roasted with yoghurt, spices and onion puree, topped with coriander leaves), aab gosh (lamb chunks cooked with a fennel-based spice mixture, cardamom and partially evaporated milk), marchhwangan korma (chicken legs/thighs cooked in a spicy browned-onion sauce) and gushtaba (meatballs cooked in a spicy yoghurt gravy). The main course usually ends with gushtaba. The Gushtaba is a large meatball which signals the end of the main course. After that, desserts are served. In winters, the dessert can be a hot sweet dish and in summers, it is usually something cold.