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It has been a very long time since last visited the state of Jammu & Kashmir, nestled in the heart of the Himalayas, but it left an impression. Shikaras (large houseboats) on Dal Lake, sumptuous meats, perfect apples, an aristocratic valley so picturesque it felt like paradise. In fact, if I remember my history correctly, when the Mughal Emperor Jahangir first saw Kashmir he said “Agar firdaus bar ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto” (If there is a paradise on Earth, it is here, it is here, it is here).
Kashmiris are primarily meat eaters. There are two main types of cuisines, that of the Kashmiri Muslims and that of the Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus). The Kashmiri Muslim “Wazawaan” an elaborate ritualistic meal for special guests is nothing short of spectacular. It can have thirty or more courses of specially prepared Rogan Josh, Kormas (meats cooked in cream based sauces), Ristas (meatballs), and vegetables. Mouth watering desserts generally made of dairy products follow and the meal is then topped off with the “kawah” a green tea transformed into a magical portion with just the right amount of saffron, cardamoms and almonds. The meals are prepared by the Wazas – the master chefs of Kashmir. They are the descendants of Mughal rulers who come here in the early 15th century. The Kashmiri Hindus eat meat and this sets them apart from the Brahmins of the rest of India.
Kashmiri dishes are very rich, reminiscent of their lavish history with the rich Mughal rulers. Nuts, fruits, saffron, meats are used a lot in the preparation of the food. One very unique ingredient in Kashmiri cooking is the use of Mawal - dry cockscomb flowers. Another unusual spice mixture, in the form of small flat discs, is Ver or Vari. It is prepared in a manner unique to each household and is used in small amounts to season dishes.