We all know that the only Paradise existing on earth is our own Kashmir and its a place full of natural scenic beauties. The scenic beauty of Kashmir is further enhanced by food flavours of the state, which truly are an amazing gastronomical affair for a foodie like me.
Kashmiri cuisine with its exotic seasonings and ingredients is divided into two parts – Wazwan and Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, the key difference between the two being that Kashmiri Pandit food does not contain onion and garlic.
Yes, that’s the only difference as there are lots of meat preparations in a Kashmiri Pandit menu too. Though they are Brahmins (one of the few Brahmin communities in India who are non-vegetarians- the others being Bengali and Goan Brahmins) they eat meat (only lamb and fish). On the same hand it’s quite surprising that their cuisine does not use onion, garlic, tomatoes, chicken, eggs etc.
Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is one-of-a-kind cuisine and is not as easily available as Wazwan. In fact, the cuisine has been secretly guarded and has never been showcased to people outside the community.
The cuisine is a blend of many cultures with a unique identity of its own which incorporates aspects of Awadhi cooking and uses lots of ghee. Some of the main ingredients of the cuisine are Kashmiri chilli powder, aniseed (sauf powder), saffron, asafoetida (hing), dry ginger powder, pure ghee or mustard oil and hung curd and most of the preparations are cooked using the slow simmering technique; it often takes five to six hours for a single dish.
Kashmiri food has always attracted me and I guess I have been lucky to have tasted the delicacies during my 4 trips made to the valley in the past. But this Pandit cuisine was kind of new to me, and I considered myself fortunate enough to indulge into the mastery cuisines at Café on 3, Hotel Holiday Inn, Mayur Vihar during the recently held Koushur Saal (Feast in Kashmiri) where they showcased the delectable delicacies in the special “Kashmiri Pandit” menu curated by Mrs Rajni Jinsi, a home chef.
As I went around surveying the food counters, my first stop was the live counter with an extensive spread offering a dish like Kabargah, a signature dish of flattened lamb ribs deep fried among others.
I am a pure veggie, and the Kabargah was a NO NO dish for my plates, but the appearance and the way it was cooked made me curious. So I checked up with the chef and found that it is a popular dish, also called Tabakh Maaz, and is a preparation of succulent lamb spare ribs braised in milk with turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom and shallow-fried to perfection. It is served with a sprinkle of Amchur or Chaat Masala and Radish Raita.
Well, that was for information, and now I experienced the first “Taste of Kashmir” with Modur Polav; sweet Rice Pilaf with dry fruits and Walnut chutney. This is a traditional Kashmiri Pandit cuisine and for me this was the king dish of the evening. I think I ended up asking for 4 refills of this exotic pilaf.
The other dishes that I enjoyed eating from the live counters were Hokh Oluv (dry cooked new potatoes with spices), Khecheri (green moong lentil porridge), Mongu Vor (Green Lentil patty), Nadru Churma (Fried Lotus Stems) served with Radish chutney.
Coming to the mains counter I found a lot of dishes, namely, Sunth (green apple and eggplant cooked in kashmiri spices), Haak, and Dama Oluv in the veggies section, and Majh Gardh (fresh river fish curry with radish), Murg Shaim (minced chicken loaf in youhurt curry), and Mutton Rogan Josh in the non veggie section.
All these dishes were accompanied with a variety of Kashmiri breads like, Sheermal, Girda, Lawasae, Tillwurr, Katlam, Ghee Roti, and Kulchae.
Dum Aluv (also known as Dum Aloo) is one of the most widely recognised vegetarian Kashmiri Pandit dishes which is quite different from its hot and spicy Punjabi cousin and I loved the vibrant, and earthy flavours.
Like always, they had a huge dessert counter, and to add on the Kashmir fragrance they had added Shahi Tukda, Phirni, Shufta – Exotic dessert of dry fruits, honey and saffron) during the festival.
But it still was not The End. I was waiting for Kahwah; Kashmiri green tea made with saffron, spices, and almonds or walnuts. Kahwah is also known as Maugal Chai in the pandit community. Pandits are very fond of tea, and the drink other varieties too, namely Noon (salty) Chai, or Sheer Chai; made of black tea, salt, milk and bicarbonate of soda.
Well that was the end of my culinary Kashimiri journey this time and I made the chef promise me to treat me with more in near future.