Wazwan - Gastro Obscura


This Kashmiri feast features 36 dishes and takes more than two hours to eat.

From wedding celebrations to memorials commemorating the 40th day after a family member’s death, the wazwan feast forms an integral part of family gatherings in Kashmir. And while it is an inextricable part of Kashmiri culture, the dishes’ names and their bountiful, spice-rich sauces tell of a long history of Persian, Arabic, and Central Asian influences.

What makes a wazwan truly special is that the Kashmiri feast can be put together only by a master chef known as a wusta waza. And with more than three dozen dishes, many of which feature mutton (sheep or lamb), having a professional is essential.  The wusta waza leads a team of men who tenderize, cut, spice, and blend the meat before cooking the dishes in large copper cauldrons. Hardwoods from fruit trees provide fuel for the fires that burn beneath the pots, which rest upon low bricks.

While the meat and sauces bubble away, family members (men are separated from women) gather in groups of four around wide, tin-coated copper plates called tramis. Using long ladles, wazas, or sometimes male family members, serve dish after dish onto these large platters. From ghee-fried ribs (tabak maz) to minced mutton balls (rista) to lamb shoulder cooked in milk and spices (aab gosht), the feast has no shortage of flavor. A particular favorite is the Kashmiri specialty rogan josh, a thick red stew of braised mutton and gravy made with spices such as ginger, garlic, fiery red chiles, cloves, and cinnamon.

The meal is served upon heaps of rice and accompanied by yogurt garnished with Kashmiri saffron and pickles. It ends with kahwa, a traditional, aromatic Kashmiri tea flavored with cardamom and topped with almonds. In fact, the feast is so opulent that each platter customarily gets piled with 8 to 13 pounds of meat and can take more than two hours to eat.

Waste is out of the question. Many wazwans end with doggy bags and guests angling to take away more of their favorite dishes. But for those not on the guest list, Kashmir does have a few restaurants and food stalls that serve typical wazwan fare. No matter how much you waz-want to indulge, one might recommend starting with a fraction and working your way up to all 36 dishes.


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