"Agar iss Jahaan mein kahin Jannat hai...Toh woh yehi hai yehi hai yehi hain...." .......
"If there is paradise anywhere on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here."..Those were the translated lines of a renowned hindi poet! It's tough to summarise the beauty of Kashmir in words!
A scenic land of tranquil beauty,this land gives you a sense of peace and solace. It is breathtakingly beautiful and blessed with amazing natural beauty, lovely waterfalls, snow capped mountain peaks, lush green surrounding, fruit laden orchards, green meadows with blossoming flowers.
The fertile land grows a bountiful of fruits and nuts: apple, cherry, peach, pear, plum, almond, walnut and pine nuts namely. Its the home for the most royal of all spices,known for its colour and delicate flavour-The Saffron! I had a chance to visit the saffron field near Pampore and watch the pure backbreaking labour expended in extracting this delicate spice from the flowers.No wonder, saffron or Kashmiri Kesar,earns its name to be the most expensive spice!
Taking about the kashmiri cusine, the first thing that comes to the mind is saffron,renowned for its subtle, refined flavours, followed by Nadaru or Lotus Stem and Meat ( Mutton precisely)
Keen and curious to taste and learn about the Kashmiri Wazwaan, I finally grabbed a chance to taste some of the dishes from the menu at Pahalgam. Its impossible for us urban ites to try and devour each item of the mostly meat based Wazwan...Our digestive system is unaccustomed to heavy meats, especially with the Mumbai weather and lifestyle!
Wazwan is a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition,which is prepared during the weddings and other special functions. Its preparation is considered an art. It a true gastronomic delight as it showcases the versatility of spices like saffron, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, Kashmiri chilli etc.
Almost all the dishes are meat-based (lamb, chicken, fish) though vegetarian spread made of potatoes, nadru and haak are also included.
The Kashmiri Rista (meatballs with curd gravy), seekh kababs, tabak maz (spicy ribs), rogan josh (fiery mutton curry ), chaman (fresh cottage cheese) and dum aloo (mildly flavoured potatoes) can easily give a tough competition to the firangi counterparts in terms of flavour and meat texture The kashmiri Spinach known as Haak which is different from our regular spinach in terms of flavour and the lotus stems also known as the nadru are an integral part of kashmiri wazwan.
The Gostaba-spicy mutton balls,are extremely juicy and flavourful, whereas the Rista is a creamy and tangy curd based gravy which is always served towards the end of the meal. The tenderness and juiceness of the mutton in all the recipes comes from the pounding of the meat with spices, that blend seamlessly with the meat, giving it the signature taste and texture. That explained the secret of those luscious Seekh Kebabs across Kashmir!
A hot piping cup of local tea is a must have, especially post a heavy scrumptious meal. And when you get the taste of the local tea The Kahwa", you might, never love your regular chai at home! It might sound a hyperbole, or perhaps its the effect of the weather and the food! But indeed the taste of this wonderful concoction is just something that cannot be caged in words, it and entire experience or a dance of all the senses..! The kesar flavoured Kahwa is brewed with cinnamon, kesar, elaichi and green tea and served with almond slivers. And trust me, a sip of Kahwa and you would never miss your caffeine kick!
Speaking of street food, the Kebabs at Dal Lake just opposite the Nishat Garden are a must try! Truly mouthwatering and roasted on open charcoal grill, the flavour and tender texture of these seekhs is simply unique and wholesome. We had chicken seekh kababs which were served smothered with green chutney and on a bed of onions and wrapped up in a kulcha. Just perfect for a chilly evening on the Dal Lake. The beautiful sunset at Dal Lake is an added bonus.
Bakeries are also any integral part of Kashmiri cuisine. There are a lot of bakeries around Srinagar. I was dying for a visit to a local bakery and try some of their local breads and biscuits! The "Bake Way Bakery" at Srinagar, was just what I had asked for! I was amazed at the sheer variety and autenticity of the breads they had to offer. Some had really vierd shapes though! A suburban Mumbaikar like me was accustomed to watching routine Pav,slice breads or at the most french loafs so the scene just mesmerised the foodie in me! We sampled some of the melt in the mouth biscuits and I for once wanted to take the entire bakery back to Mumbai! I managed to take some portion of it though, with those biscuits and cookies, my home was a mini bakery for a few weeks after we returned!
Kashmir was a gastronimic roller coaster ride! I loved every bit of the adventure. Be it those meaty Kebabs, the wazwan spreads, those fresh baked goodies or the soothing Kahwa, I'm taking a bit of Kashmir with me back home! And i'm very sure I shall be returning back for more!