Food

Slow food, Kashmiri style

An important stop on the ancient silk route, Kashmir has been best known throughout history for growing the most expensive spice in the world — saffron and of course the multi-course dishes that make up the legendary wazwan.

Despite Mumbai boasting a fairly large community of Kashmiris, the state’s cusine has been pretty inaccessible to us. City food lovers now have the chance to experience this rich cuisine at the ‘Unsavoured Kashmir’ pop-up curated by Sanjay Raina of Mealability - The Flavor of Kashmir ongoing at Mustard. I caught up with Raina over a preview tasting of his menu. Born in Mumbai, Raina is a celebrated stage performer and pop singer. Along the way he’s became an ambassador of his culinary culture. Today he is synonymous with authentic Kashmiri cuisine.

Regional focus

With the Unsavoured Kashmir menu, Mustard has kickstarted its Unsavoured series of pop-ups featuring regional cuisine from around India. Punam Singh, one of the eatery’s owners says, “We have an unwavering commitment to showcasing culture via cuisine at Mustard. We aim to present regional culture on a platter and bring to Mumbai, aspects of various cuisines that might surprise even the most diehard foodie.”

We sit down to an assortment of bowls. Drawing my attention to a bowl of glistening rice studded with dry fruit and raisins Raina says, “This is meetha pulao, in the Kashmiri Pandit community, it is considered auspicious to start the meal with it.” I taste the ghee drenched grains of finest Basmati and I am carried away on a saffron-scented wave of flavour. I look through the beautifully put together menu. It has the story of Kashmiri cuisine on one side and the selection of dishes on the other featuring everything from the classics to lesser-known dishes and street food options.

Starters and more

Kashmiri cuisine doesn’t traditionally have starters, but Raina has repurposed a few traditional dishes into smaller ones to begin with. Nadir Maunj or lotus root cutlets is a street food offering and we eat these paired with a subtly pungent Muji Chetin (chutney) and a robustly spicy Pyaaz Chetin redolent of mustard oil. There also Tujji, typically skewers of spiced mutton or chicken that Raina has interchanged with mushrooms. Succulent meat options follow: Mucch, a soft, subtly spiced mincemeat kebab usually served as a gravy dish is served dry. The piece de resistance of the starters is Tabak Maaz. Usually part of the main course these are lamb ribs twice cooked — first slowly in milk and spices, then equally slowly in ghee — until crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside. A perfect start to our meal.

Showstoppers

We move to the main course while discussing Kashmiri cuisine, which has evolved over centuries into a happy marriage of spices, meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit. It has two branches, that of the Kashmiri Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims. The root dishes are common, but the cuisines are distinct based on certain ingredients. “Asafoetida, fennel powder, chilli are common, but Kashmiri Pandit cuisine — which is incidentally one of the few in India that eats meat — uses no onion, tomatoes, and garlic. Muslims on the other hand use garlic, and onion, generously,” shares Raina. For the festival, Raina is showcasing both, because that is real ‘Kashmiri cuisine’ in his opinion.

“The food gets its flavours and textures from the spices being slow cooked with ingredients till they let out their inherent juices and fats and meld together. Like the Dum Aloo,” Raina continues, offering me the dish. “Kashmiri Dum Aloo is not authentic unless it has slowly cooked in spices and absorbed all the flavours.” The mains also showcase Nadir Yakhin — lotus root in yogurt gravy, one of Kashmir’s best known dishes. There is also, the legendary Haak or collard greens, a staple dish in the valley rarely seen outside. They are being flown in especially for this festival and are served sautéed in mustard oil and flavoured with the Kashmiri ver tikki masala.

Layered cooking

“If you close your eyes and visualise Kashmir, you will see a relaxed, slow-paced life which pleases you. The cuisine is very similar to that. It takes a lot of time, there are small little details in each dish and almost every dish goes through multiple processes and requires more than one form of cooking. It is both laborious and rewarding,” says a smiling Raina. Case in point being the Goshtaab and Riste, two dishes that feature meatballs. These are rarely found outside the valley because their unique texture is enormously challenging. The sheep has to be freshly slaughtered and the meat pounded before rigor mortis sets. Then there’s Maaz Kaliye, tender mutton cooked in turmeric and cardamom, a lovely Rogan Josh and Mujj Gaad a dish of deep fried fish and raddish.

The meal comes to an end on a sweet note with Kaung Phirin, a semolina pudding redolent with saffron and Shufte, a dry fruit and paneer concoction in saffron scented honey. I finish with one last cup of Kahwa a heady preparation of green tea with strands of saffron and almond slivers. My stomach feels as if it’s in heaven.

The Unsavoured Kashmir festival is ongoing at Mustard Restaurant, Atria Mall until December 5

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 10:49:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/slow-food-kashmiri-style/article25655703.ece

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