After a wonderful dinner of mutton curry and rice at Aru Valley we had a miserable luck with food the day after. As soon as we reached Sonamarg market, we saw the hotels and eateries advertising their Wazwan fare. Realising we will not be able to savour all of 36 dishes at one go or even locate 36 dishes we decided to take stock of at least one dish in every tourist spot. After a series of informal conversations with locals we decided to head towards Hotel Himalaya for our lunch of rice and Mutton Rogan Josh. A plateful of rice was enough for 4. While walking down the Sonamarg market we spotted ovens with handis coated with mud. As soon as we approached near the handi the owner scooped out a hearty size of minced ball in yoghurt based gravy. We decided to dig into a bowl of goshtaba. Halfway through our Goshtaba arrived two skewers which smelt of freshly prepared mutton sheekh kebabs. We gave in to our temptation and retired to our rest house with leftovers from our lunch (Rogan Josh and Rice).
As we reached Srinagar and patiently waited in the queue for our Gondola ( the famous Gondola ride in Gulmarg) tickets we decided to prepare a check list of the items we had to taste from the Wazwan fare. Under the guidance of people at Tourist Transit Centre Srinagar, we drew up the following list
- Tabak Maas
- Aab Gosht
- Nadru Yakhni
After drawing up this rather minimal list we headed towards Mughal Durbar on the Residency Road. It is located in the heart of the city and you can easily find your way to this fantastic place. For those interested in the legacy of the place you could visit (http://www.mughal-darbar.com/about.asp). As we browsed through the menu, we were told that Nadru Yakhni was not available and we were disappointed. We settled for the remaining four. As the dishes arrived we realised we had more than we could eat. Tabak Maas is a dish prepared from Lamb Breast. As one of the authors put it, “It’s deep-fried and so crispy outside and tender inside that you can even chew on the bones”( http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article3304066.ece). Next arrived Aab Gosht ( a milk based mutton curry). The flavours of freshly roasted cinnamon and cardamom were an added incentive. Then followed the famed Goshtaba and Rista. Goshtaba is freshly pounded meat kneaded into balls and cooked gently in yoghurt based gravy and when it is cooked in a red fiery gravy it is called Rista.
Though we could not taste the 36 dishes of the famous Wazwan fare, the five dishes we tasted during our five day stay left us wanting for more. Wazwan is an art and a communal meal. The way the communal meal has made its way into restaurants and eateries is significant in the way the portions have not been reduced to cater to a fine dining clientele. Keeping with the communal essence of the “eating of the Wazwan” rice across places is served so that four people can get together to eat Wazwan. Though traditionally a large plate called “Tarami” is used for serving the rice and first few courses ( as told to us by various people during our stay) the restaurants have adapted this in the huge portion of rice serving. Usually one plate of rice is sufficient to serve 4 people.
Wazwan is central to Kashmiri cuisine and as one of the bloggers (http://inlovewithfood.blogspot.in/2007/09/wazwan-heart-and-soul-of-kashmiri.html) in her entry on Wazwan food illustrates that Wazwan is an art as the word Waz denotes the head chef who is skilled at the art of cooking and usually passes on the skill from one generation to another. The word “ wan” on the other implies, a shop for meat. In other words, Wazwan is a celebration of feast of 36 dishes prepared by skilled chefs under the head chef.
Though we got to taste a few from the 36 dishes, we hope that in our life time we will have a chance to taste the remaining 31 dishes.