Growing up in South India, going out to eat Kashmiri food usually meant tucking into rotis and a generous helping of mutton rogan josh, with some dum aloo to go with it.
The rogan josh was recreated at home on special occasions, albeit with a few extra pinches of red chilli powder to appeal better to our palettes which have been spoilt with spice.
For these reasons, it was surprising that the buffet spread at the 'Kashmiri Wazwan Nights' hosted at The Square, Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre didn’t have that one dish that played ambassador of Kashmiri cuisine to us.
“You missed rogan josh by a day,” explains Chef M. Rehman, who has come all the way from Lucknow to give Hyderabad a taste of authentic Kashmiri fare, adding “In order to showcase the diverse cuisine of the region and do justice to all the dishes, we have created ten unique menus for the ten days of the festival.”
Most of Rehman’s culinary knowledge comes from learning from traditional cooks of various regions. “I am a traditional chef, not a professional chef,” reveals the MBA graduate who decided to follow his passion for cooking ten years ago and hasn’t looked back ever since. His speciality lies in Kashmiri, Mughlai, Awadhi, Rampuri and Hyderabadi cuisines, all of which, he says, are linked by the common thread of Mughlai influence.
“This kind of rich cuisine was first introduced by the Mughals and then adapted according to the ingredients available in various regions and their climactic conditions. Hence, Kashmiri food has a lot of lamb, dairy and aromatic spices,” he explains.
The Wazwan spread begins with starters like Paneer ke pasande, Arvi Kebab and Maaz Shammi. Vegetarians will be happy with a wide array of choices. Paneer or tsaman as the kashmiris call it is a common ingredient, explains Rehman.
While Paneer ke Pasande is a dry preparation of cottage cheese with yellow chilli, cinnamon and other aromatic spices, the buffet also includes Gobi tsaman or paneer cooked in gravy of ground cauliflower and also a paneer based kheer for dessert.
The crunchy Arvi kebab is made from colocasia and tastes exquisite with the beetroot chutney. Yoghurt, another dairy product, is also used as a base for most Kashmiri curries. “It helps to tenderise the meat and also works to absorb flavours. Using yoghurt the Kay kashmiri’s do requires a lot of experience in the kitchen,” he explains.
To ensure authenticity, Rehman is assisted by two traditional Kashmiri chefs – Rayaz Ahmed War and Hameed War.
The festival offers a welcome break from the usual naan and tandoori roti with fresh Kashmiri breads. The smell of baking bread wafting in the air is sure to make you reach out for the saffron flavoured zaffrani sheermal, naan-e-tanak or the Kashmiri naan. The Kashmiri sarson ka saag, Dal e malika, prepared with red dal infused with clove and simmered in ghee go well with the breads.
The buffet also had its fair share of fish dishes, gadh sarson peelimirch and gadh yakhani or fish simmered in yoghurt gravy. The richest dish of the day, according to Rehman, was Methi Maaz, a delicious dish of lamb. The maaz dum palav, was a good replacement of the Hyderabadi biryani, usually a staple in all buffets in the city. If you are lucky you will find Tabak maaz, fried lamb ribs and Rista, lamb meatballs cooked in simmered gravy, both of which are considered Kashmiri delicacies. From the soup, a Tamatar hara dhanya shorba to the dessert Kashmiri sheer kurma, the dishes kept to the mild, fragrant quality that Wazwan cuisine is known for.
How does one maintain authenticity and appeal to the local tastes of the people? “While the idea is to expose people to a different cuisine, working with a five star group means catering to many different palates so you find that a few dishes have been improvised. However, the primary ingredients and technique remains the same,” explains Rehman. Kashmiri carpets and traditional Kashmiri attire worn by the restaurant staff enhance the evening’s experience.