In the olden times, almost every Kashmiri home in the plains had a professional Kashmiri cook in residence, who were the masters of their art. Pure ghee and mustard oil was used freely and every mealtime was an event in itself. Gradually and with time, the ladies of the household learnt the art under the specialized training of these culinary masters and became as proficient as their 'gurus'. As the living costs increased with time, the era of the super cooks came to an end. However, their art has not all lost.
One can frequently taste the delicacies mastered by the chefs at
Kashmiri weddings. Kashmiri cuisine that evolved in the Valley several
centuries ago acquired some of the scrumptious elements of the Mughal
art of cooking and yet has retained a distinct personality of its own.
There were two great schools of culinary craftsmanship in Kashmir,
namely those of Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. The basic
difference between the two schools was that the abundant use of heeng
(asafetida) and curd among the Hindus and the open-handed use of onions
and garlics among the Muslims.
Hindu Brahmins or Kashmiri Pandits are not averse to eating
meat and are rather voracious meat eaters. However, they prefer goat and
that too a young one. The meat is generally chosen from the legs, neck,
breast, ribs and shoulders and cut into large pieces. No vegetarian or
non-vegetarian dish, except certain kababs, is cooked without curd. The
Kashmiris often cook their food by heating it on two sides, from both
top and bottom for that distinctive taste. The charcoal fire was their
solution in the earlier days but oven serves as a good substitute these
Originally, Kashmiri Pandits avoided onions and garlics but now many of
them have acquired a taste for them and include them in certain recipes
as optional. Though the basic principles of cooking are largely similar
in almost all homes, certain Pandit families have adopted minor changes
in both ingredients and methods. The most important of the retained
traits are the liberal use of aromatic spices and the avoidance of onion
and garlic in some homes. Kabargah, Kofta, Dum Alu, Methi Chaman and
Firni are some of the delicacies of the region known for their sheer
flavor and richness.
Kashmiri Muslims offer another gold mine of gourmet though
except for the few restaurants and regional stalls in the country, this
art is near extinction. Largely confined to Kashmiri homes in and out of
the Valley, the professional cooks and masters of the art are known as
'wazas'. These people claim to be the descendants of the master chefs
who migrated from Samarkand and parts of Central Asia at the beginning
of the fifteenth century and were a vital part of the entourage that
came to Kashmir during the reign of Timur (or Tamarlane).
In the earlier days, the traditional Kashmiri Muslim banquet known as
Wazwan, a feast fit for kings, which was perhaps the most unique and
elaborate royal spread of meat and delicacies compared to the other
parts of India. Comprising of thirty-six courses, fifteen to thirty
dishes of Wazwan are varieties of meat. Many of the delicacies are
cooked through the entire night under the expert supervision of a Vasta
Waza or head chef, assisted by an entourage of wazas under him.
Kashmir's most formal meal, Wazwan is not only a ritual but also a
ceremony. Traditionally, no spoons, forks or knives are used for eating
food. Eaten with fingers, getting invited to a Wazwan is a rare luxury
that one can enjoy these days.
Kashmir is known for its multi-ethnic society which has resulted in to a rich food & cuisine.