As you all know my name is Wazwan which is served in Kashmir on special occasions, like on marriage ceremonies, on engagement ceremonies, on special functions and now also have the dubious distinction of being served in mourning ceremonies which is known as ‘Czoorim batta’. I myself am uncomfortable with being served on mourning ceremonies as I don’t at all fit in gloomy scenarios but tragically that is not in my hand. I am called ‘The Kings Feast’ and many modifications have been done to me which I don’t at all like but I being robust and rigid don’t at all let people make any modifications to the seven main dishes though there have been additions which change from time to time. Instead of humans, many times machines have taken over for purpose of grinding and mincing the meat but true to my rigidity, men are still needed to pound me. You should see the synchronized pounding (thud thud sound) with wooden Thor Hammer on a butcher block when scores of white clad and white capped junior Wazas sitting on ‘Wagu’ or ‘Patij’ (both are Kashmiri Floor Mats laid on the ground) and smoking the traditional ‘Jajeer’ or Hubble Bubble giving you that longing of festivity. My origin is dubious, some say I am from Iran, some say I am from Central Asia and some say I am indigenous also. When I am being cooked, people always talk about my origin but still no one is able to reach the conclusion from where I have originated but one thing is clear that in old times I was feast of nobility not of commoners like the present times. I am mostly made of lamb in Srinagar with some vegetables thrown in just for sake of it. Kashmiris have always taken me for granted with regard to time but have given me much love when it comes to making me with fresh slaughtered lamb and superb quality of spices and more than sufficient Ghee (Clarified Butter). The amount of ghee which is added to me is something which will put Haryanvis and Rajasthanis, the notorious ghee eaters cornered in a dark room. I am telling you all a secret as my collective conscience compels me to say it that the Wazwan is not the magic of Waza making me the thing I am but it is the perfect blend of open fireplace of wood, copper pots, fresh lamb meat, ghee and spices. Go figure out, this is my secret but hush hush…….don’t tell the Waza or annoy him in any way because it is in his hands that you have placed the responsibility of the feast. If the Wazas asks for Tea, give them as early as possible; don’t make them wait as their temper is directly proportional to how bad they will make the Wazwan. Well I don’t want to be called as being regionally biased but Srinagar and North Kashmir Wazas cook me better than South Kashmir ones, just taste me in Kamraz(North), Yamraz(Central) and Maraz(South) regions, you will notice it yourself.
My foremost complaint with Kashmiris is that they have linked as well as cursed me with unpunctuality. You know how it feels after how much money, time and oily sweat of Waza is put in me and yet I am not served on time? It feels as that beautiful ornament clad bride into whom none is interested for a second look because everyone is hungry and ready to pounce on me. I being the Kings Feast have the luck of being garnished on copper platter perhaps the only time Kashmiris feel presentation of food is important. The Waza puts rice on the big copper plate known as ‘trami’ and puts the required mandatory starters for 4 people equally spaced. One elderly uncle, mostly a mamaji who takes the position on plastic chair near the waza puts napkin on the trami for it to look more decent (that napkin is also used to wipe hands at end of Wazwan). It doesn’t end there, they put a ‘Sarposh’( a copper covering) on me so that I remain covered till it reaches the white Dastarkhwan which is laid where guests are sitting. The white color of Dastarkhwan reminds me of the shroud in end I have to face which is the reality of life. In between the Wazas place and the sitting place of guests which is either a big hall situated mostly on the third storey of house (the only time when it is used apart from some sad demise of a family member) or a tent which either crewel clad or white house type. I have an exceptional relationship with the hall of the house as Kashmiris live to earn for these two things specifically. The hall otherwise remains mostly shut for rest of the time. OK, enough of hall and tent, I was going to say about how I reach the hall or tent from Wazas place as it is unique in itself as it may signify a political statement, I reach through human chains! I am being made political for no reason; this is how mischievous Kashmiri mind works! Also to increase publicity maximum photo ops happen during the kursi clad mamaji putting the fancy napkins on me till the human chain ends at the guests sitting place. As you know Wazwan is mostly associated with marriages which are uniting families together but I have an evil side too, I can break the families and friends. In this busy world when none has time to meet the FnF, it is only the occasions of marriage and some unfortunate death apart from the two Eids that FnF see each other and interact. As I am put on Dastarkhwan, helter-skelter takes place and I make sure only four of a group come and sit around me making others disperse and those who disperse into some random tramis sense a grudge but the show continues. If the trami is put along the sides of room/tent, then by convention the elder two sit along the sides and the younger two sit opposite showing values of Kashmiri culture. I forgot to tell you that during starters and napkin placing on tramis at the Wazas fireplace, another activity occurs at the sitting place and that is the laborious hands washing with Taesh-Naer where the young men are given the job of making the hands wash of guests. Guys when the hands are washed before the meal it is very easy but after meals it becomes tedious after me being devoured especially by women. I don’t know what it is with women when having me, they wash hands as if they will never be clean in future making the guy pouring the warm water bursting in anger but he keeps calm as the woman out of nowhere shows affection as the young boy may be some distant cousin’s son! This is a unique torture method, seriously!
OK guys let’s get started but who will start! When the trami reaches 80% of people, all eyes begin to roll as question is asked to oneself that who is going to start and somehow somebody starts and rest follow them and their begins the cherished Bismillah! Now I am delegating the talk to my constituents who actually make me and they will speak now for themselves.
Rice – I am rice, the staple food of Kashmiris, the thing which fills the Kashmiri tummies on routine days and even if how much junk food or bread a Kashmiri eats in day, until he eats the rice on dinner, he will be considered starved or ‘faqai’. Go figure yourself. Now coming to my role in Wazwan, I am the one which fills the trami and I being the medium through which people taste the curry otherwise I am not that much of a delicacy in Wazwan but I am useful in being drawn as boundary for the persons sitting in the trami so that the other person by not any chance encroaches in other territory and if the boundary begins to become weak, more rice is put to make it strong. There is a cliché; I am more eaten by women than men not out of love for me but out of love for family at home as most women carry the cooked meat delicacy in packets to their homes so that the family at home enjoys it. I am time to time being served during the course so that the trami never remains empty till the end whether it is change of gear from red curry to white curry or vice versa, I am being put by the service guys and mostly the elder guy in trami adds me to the four territories. I have a grudge too; no one puts me in the packets provided by host unlike my counterparts.
Meethi – I am a misnomer now, I am actually Meethi Maaz with traces of meeth (fenugreek) only found. I am made up of pieces of stomach, intestines in ghee and I have the distinction of being the first dish to be tasted with rice opening the gate of stomach valves. I am equally distributed and spaced on four sides of trami, in fact I am aligned such that all four people are adjusted and placed comfortably while eating me.
Chicken – I don’t at all know why I am in Wazwan and if you have to pick the odd man out in Wazwan, it should be me. In the whole meat world, I am considered a healthier option than lamb/mutton but thanks to Wazwan in which I am stir fried in ghee that I end up having around 900 calories for a person’s single serving, the highest compared to any other dish in Wazwan has for one person per serving. In fact I laugh at myself as well as those people who eat me thinking that their fight against high calories will be compensated by eating me more and other dishes less; I just am the devil for those who think that i am a blessing. Coming to taste I am the blandest one that is why I am the odd one out. However, nowadays few have started to marinate me in better way making me much presentable to eat but the other Wazas still think that I am waste of time so I should not be tinkered. I may be one or two on a trami depending on the host.
Kabab – I am minced mutton made by wrapping me around Seekh so I am a seekh kabab with two long pieces placed diagonally and the two persons cut the kebab with hand equally with precision so that all four persons in trami get it. Thanks to ghee, I get calorified high unfortunately compared to kabab you get in simple as well as posh restaurants. I don’t know why but people take interest in how much salt has been added and true to a Kashmiris character, some guest whispers in other ones ear that i have more or less salt. But irony is that in spite of complaining of my salt they keep on relishing it but still complain. Human nature!
Tabakmaaz – Hand upon my fatty heart, I am the most eyed dish. I am the tastiest as I am made of rib cage of lamb and deep fried in ghee. You should see me that how I party in hot ghee as it oozes into me with heat from below just to make me crispier. The real problem with me is not even about my making in ghee, it is about how to divide me between the two persons. As there are two pieces of me, one piece has to be divided between two persons. The two individuals in order to be divided between them pull me towards each other when I am hot, it appears as if my sins were not enough pardoned in hot ghee that I have to be tortured by pulling. I being stretchable compels the individuals do some work and burn fingers till I get divided between them. Rarely do I get divided equally, well fortunate are the ones who get my crispier layer wholly but that is fate! And unfortunate ones who get only the rib bones with meat attached as they have to single out the rib bones and throw them away.
Daniphol – I am single piece cortical bone having sweet taste, many times I am not even touched and many times due to my small size, I am touched in the middle course. Often I get a religious touch that I was the most favorite meat of Beloved Prophet Peace Be Upon Him and I take pride in that. Just saying that if an elderly gets by any chance in your trami then he will say that he used to eat Wazwan twice in a day when he was younger and the current generation doesn’t have the capacity to eat much. Really! I don’t know why Kashmiris repeat the same thing again and again like a broken record. It is the poor young fellows who have to listen to this dialogue only!
Rista – I am the one from where main course starts, pounded with wooden hammer of Thor as described earlier along with Gushtaba, my other fairer brother. I am made into small balls with each person getting one ball. My problem is when i am put on trami, I have to squeeze my way as it is congested due to the starters and sometimes luckily I get straight into persons eating territory when Waza puts all 4 of me into trami.
Rogan josh – I am the most widely celebrated and famous dish all over the world comprising of four meat pieces given to each person along with curry having all sorts of spices. Rogan means ‘oil’ and josh means ‘fire’, that is how I got my name.
Pulao – I am pulao, made from rice, meat juice and dry fruits. I stand alone as instead of meat, I am only rice. I am served mid-way parachuted in boxes now. Earlier I was directly put on plate but thanks to modernity that I am now compressed into a silver foil box. The degradation of presentation is something I am angry about. If I had some meat pieces in me like the biryani of other regions, I would have been treated better definitely.
Chutney and others – Well of many kinds served on a disposable or copper platter, like pumpkin chutney (sweet or salty), Cucumber chutney, Zirish chutney (berry + red chilly powder), Walnut chutney (walnut + curd), Onion chutney(sliced onions in vinegar and red chilly powder), Salad(having no presentation) and mixed pickle. After the Waza makes these things and puts them in Sarposh, the art of putting them in a platter is assigned to the man who is in charge of store-room and he calls up young ones to help him in setting up of platter. Mind it before going to the guests we are relished by those who set me on platter, mostly picking up a radish or carrot or cucumber piece and dipping in chutney and tasting the combination. I am made in equal number as the number of tramis which is expected to be served. Mostly alongside the platter a medium sized basket is also made in which accessories like water bottle, packed curd, cold drinks, towels, knives and spoons and packet containing paper soap, wet tissue and sweet fennel mouth freshener is put. Coming to wet tissue, it is the most useful thing which has been added to Wazwan over years where the guest wipes his hands with it and those who are late due to Wazwan being served late can go out without waiting for Taesh-Naer. The most useless thing on platter are pineapple slices, why it is put and what purpose does it serve, no one has been able to answer it properly.
Palak – Well the only green you will find literally in Wazwan but that too has little baby ristas. Being the only green thing, it is always eaten by everyone out of love.
AabGosht – I am something which makes the population divided. Some hate me as if I have stolen something from their bored lives and some love me that they would do anything to get more and more of my curry made of milk. May be haters hate me because i am sweet in taste, whatever; I am prepared of milk powder and tail part of lamb and scapular portion. Till recently the scapular bone having a triangular shape was used to cut Gushtaba and it was the best thing but it is now abandoned and the cutting work is done by knives.
Tamattar Czamman – Earlier I was made in tomato and cheese slab, now it is tomato puree and cheese slab. To laugh or weep, I don’t know as I am satisfied till the guest loves the cheese. It may seem I may be vegetarian but somehow the big spoons of Wazwan are interchanged while making the various dishes of Wazwan so to expect I may not have a hint of non-veg aroma and flavor is a little bit too much.
Mirchi Korma – I am the penultimate dish and have the maximum red chilli powder among the dishes and true to word, I am red fiery in color but you should also be careful, sometimes the head Waza in order to have redness in me puts coloring agent without telling the host. I am made up of small pieces of mutton and people often love to find the cartilage pieces so that truk-truk sound happens in mouth. By the way the Wazas prefer to take their dinner with me, check it out.
Gushtaba – I am the famous Gushtaba, some call me full stop, some fat bomb. I am made up of the same material as rista but boiled in curd known as yakhnee. I am unnecessarily dragged into something as being mostly fatty just because I am white but as I said rista is also of same material but no one points fingers at it. Both I and rista have one-third portion of fat and rest is lean meat. In fact a person per serving who eats me gets less number calories compared to kabab or chicken in Wazwan. Being served last, people often wait to see me and to eat some dip me in cold curd as if being boiled in hot curd was not enough. Guys my texture is something like sausage as a foreign guest once said. After eating me, the most senior or religious of the guests draws his both hands forwards as in Dua and says Alhamdulillah! That is the end and immediately every one stops eating though drinking water is allowed, so unique it is. Kashmiri things! And the tramis are pulled out of guest room, the white dastarkhwan, a shroud for me is turned yellow because of the leftover bones and meat. And then the hand cleaning process starts.
This is my actual story which no one actually says and I am being realistic here. I am now canned also for the people who can’t come to Kashmir to taste it so that you can enjoy wherever you are in world. Also buffet system has been in style for sometime but the essence of Kashmir culture is lost somewhere, may be at that time, we just sob silently that time is not the only thing, our unique culture is. Hope you get to enjoy me often in your life with no doctor’s warnings about me.