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Kashmiri cuisine (Kashmiri: कॉशुर खयॊन / کأشُر کھٮ۪ن; Kashur khyon) is based on the ancient traditions of the north east Asian Kashmir area. The Rigveda mentions the meat eating traditions of this area while the ancient Kashmiri epic, the Nilamat Purana, records that Kashmiris were heavy meat eaters, a habit that persists to this day.
Kashmiri cuisine was the earliest influence on Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. Although Pandits do not normally eat meat, those in Kashmir have always eaten all meat except beef, which is strictly forbidden in Pandit cuisine. In Kashmiri Muslim cuisine on the other hand beef is allowed. In keeping with the age old Kashmiri tradition known as Kashmiriyat, much of the cuisine is similar between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. The wazwans of Kashmiri Muslims had a strong emphasis on goat. Therefore, the Kashmiris have always been heavy consumers of lamb, mutton and goat. The epic Nilamat Purana records that the Brahmins of Kashmir have always been heavy eaters of lamb and mutton.
The two most important saints of Kashmir, Lalleshwari and Sheikh Noor-ud-din Wali were actually vegetarians for spiritual reasons. Meat is cooked in Kashmiri festivals and forms an extremely important part of Kashmiri identity. Some noted Kashmiri dishes include:
- Dum Olav
- Gogji Raazma
- Lyodur Tschaman
- Matschgand, lamb meatballs in a gravy tempered with red chillies
- Modur Pulaav
- Monji Haak/Gogji Haak
- Mujh Gaad, a dish of radishes with a choice of fish.
- Nadir Yakhin
- Qeleeya, a delicate preparation of lamb, cooked in a milk based gravy incorporating bay leaves and turmeric.
- Rogan Josh, a lamb based dish, cooked in a gravy seasoned with liberal amounts of Kashmiri chillies (in the form a dry powder), ginger (also powdered), asafoetida and bay leaves among other ingredients. Due to the absence of onions, yoghurt is used as a thickener, and also to reduce the heat and marry the spices in the gravy. This dish is the most commonly cooked dish using lamb meat in Kashmiri cuisine.
- Syun Pulaav
- Tschok Wangan
- Yakhni, a yoghurt based mutton gravy, which excludes the use of turmeric and chilli powders in its preparation. The dish is primarily flavoured with bay leaves, cloves and cardamom seeds. This is a mild dish considered subtle in taste and eaten with rice often accompanied with a more spicy side-dish.
Tea drinking forms a very important of Kashmiri cuisine and is often used in place of dessert. Two important types of tea are Kehwa (sweet green tea with cardamom and almonds) and Sheer Chai (also known as Namkeen Chai, Kashmiri Chai, or Ghulab Chai) (salty pink tea with almonds). Such teas are usually taken with baked breads such as Kulcha, Katlam, or Bakarkhani.
Kashmiri cuisine has very few dessert dishes or sweets. More importance is therefore given to the main course and tea and not to the dessert.
The Kashmir Valley is noted for its bakery tradition. On the picturesque Dal Lake in Kashmir or in downtown Srinagar, bakery shops are elaborately laid out. Bakers sell various kinds of breads with a golden brown crusts topped with sesame and poppy seeds. tsot and tsochvoru are small round breads topped with poppy and sesame seeds, which are crisp and flaky, sheermal, baqerkhani (puff pastry), lavas (unleavened bread) and kulcha are also popular. Girdas and lavas are served with butter.
Harissa is a popular meat preparation made for breakfast, it is slow cooked for many hours, with spices and hand stirred.
A Wazwan is a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition and treated with great respect. Its preparation is considered an art. Almost all the dishes are meat-based (lamb, chicken, fish, and rarely beef). Beef is generally not prepared in the Srinagar region, but is popular in other districts. It is considered a sacrilege to serve any dishes based around pulses or lentils during this feast. The traditional number of courses for the wazwan is thirty-six, though there can be fewer. The preparation is traditionally done by a vasta waza, or head chef, with the assistance of a court of wazas, or chefs.
Wazwan is regarded by the Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity. Guests are grouped into fours for the serving of the wazwan. The meal begins with a ritual washing of hands, as a jug and basin called the tash-t-nari is passed among the guests. A large serving dish piled high with heaps of rice, decorated and quartered by four seekh kabab, four pieces of meth maaz, two tabak maaz, sides of barbecued ribs, and one safed kokur, one zafrani kokur, along with other dishes. The meal is accompanied by yoghurt garnished with Kashmiri saffron, salads, Kashmiri pickles and dips. Kashmiri Wazwan is generally prepared in marriages and other special functions. The culinary art is learnt through heredity and is rarely passed to outside blood relations. That has made certain waza/cook families very prominent. The wazas remain in great demand during the marriage season from May-October.
Kashmiri Chai, Noon Chai, or Sheer Chai
Kashmiris are heavy tea drinkers. The word "noon" in Kashmiri language means salt. The most popular drink is a pinkish colored salted tea called "noon chai." It is made with black tea, milk, salt and bicarbonate of soda. The particular color of the tea is a result of its unique method of preparation and the addition of soda. The Kashmiri Pandits more commonly refer to this chai as "Sheer Chai." The Kashmiri Muslims refer to it as "Noon Chai" or "Namkeen Chai" both meaning salty tea.
At marriage feasts, festivals, and religious places, it is customary to serve kahwah (originating from a 14th-century Arab coffee, which, in turn, was named after an ancient beverage of the Sufis) - a green tea made with saffron, spices, and almonds or walnuts. Over 20 varieties of Kahwah are prepared in different households. Some people also put milk in kahwah (half milk and half kahwah). This chai is also known as "Maugal Chai" by some Kashmiri Pandits from the smaller villages of Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims refer to it as Kahwah or Qahwah.
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