I was invited to sample the food at the ongoing A Taste of Kashmir ~ Daawat e Wazwaan (a traditional multi-course meal of Kashmiri cuisine) at the Trident in Hitech City, Hyderabad. My last memories of Kashmir are from my trip with my family in the 80′s. I was too young to remember what I ate, but I do have some beautiful memories of staying on a houseboat on the Dal Lake and thinking what a magical and charmed life it would be to go to school on a shikara. We trekked up Gulmarg and came down the slopes on makeshift sleds, not bothering about how dangerous they could be, played in the icy cold waters of Pahalgam and I wear the multicoloured beads my mother bought for me on that trip even now. Such is the magic of Kashmir.
The tables at Kanak, the Indian restaurant at The Trident, had these little shikaras as part of the decor, which was both thoughtful and so significant of the cuisine that was being celebrated.
A selection of chutneys was brought to the table, of which the Doon Chetin – Walnut chutney was the most unique ~ hung yogurt with salt and dried mint & pieces of coarsely powdered walnut. The flavour of the walnut is surprising and makes for an excellent dip.
The Wazwaan Platter began with the Kokkar Kanti ~ succulent cubes of chicken, marinated with Kashmiri spices and tossed with onions and tomato. Succulent and tender, with just the right hint of spice, this had to be a good start to a meal.
I love lotus stem in any form, it is one of the most widely used ingredients in Kashmiri cuisine, fried, dried, pickled and curried, this is a versatile ingredient. Batter fried marinated Lotus stem or Nadir Manji was served next. The spicy batter a nice contrast to the crunch of fresh lotus stem.
Batter coated and fried florets of both broccoli and cauliflower that was finished off in the tandoor was next. Wasn’t my favourite dish of the day, however the black cumin (one of the main spices used in Kashmiri food) gives it a nice flavour.
The Tabak Maaz ~ Double cooked lamb chops, simmered in a gravy, spiced with Kashmiri spices and shallow fried till crispy had to be the heart stopping dish amongst the starters. Tender fatty succulent pieces of lamb chops, bone in with a hint of cinnamon, bay leaves and cardamom was simply divine. The only way to enjoy this dish, is to eat with your hands and not care about who else is watching.
Just as I was reluctant to let go of the lingering flavour of the Tabak Maaz, the main course was served. A plate laden with multiple little bowls, each one containing a curry was laid before me.
Chef Khan Mohammad Rafiq, the soft spoken (and handsome!) Chief Waza (Chef) who is bringing this food festival to Hyderabad with his team of six cooks, spoke about his love for the food of his state and how his family has been in the business for the last 6 generations. He spoke of the spices they use, what they bring with them – turmeric, kashmiri cumin, pran – a type of kashmiri leek and what they source locally. Of the significance of slow cooking the gravies till the oil floats to the top and the hand pounding of meat to the desired consistency for certain dishes, some of which take over 6 hours to make.
He spoke with passion about preserving Kashmiri cuisine, about the ‘fursat’ (Leisure) that is missing today to enjoy a meal and that the simplest of ingredients can cook up the most ‘lazeez’ (delicious) dishes if they are made with the attention they need. He insists the food be eaten hot and that photographs and everything else could wait.
From the left of the bowl ~ Rajmah, Nadur Gadh, Dhanwali Korma, Hind Roganjosh, Rista and Phool Gobhi Yakkhan served with a Khmeeri Roti
The Rajmah, simmered with black cardamom till soft, just melts in the mouth. It is unlike any other rajmah dish one may have had. The variety of rajma is the small beaned Kashmiri Rajma which in my opinion packs more flavour.
Nadur Gadh ~ Chunks of fried fish, simmered in a gravy with lotus stems. This was a very different sort of fish curry where the flavour black cardamom, black cumin and turmeric was dominant. This is a curry best enjoyed with plain steamed rice.
The Dhanwal Korma, which is chicken simmered in a yogurt based gravy flavoured liberally with saffron and fresh coriander leaves. The gravy is so flavoursome, that it needs a full bowl of rice / roti to be enjoyed with. I enjoyed this dish and it took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting a chicken dish to win me over. Kashmiri cuisine, is dominated by the use of lamb meat.
The Hind Roganjosh was ofcourse the star of this meal. Fiery gravy of Kashmiri red chillies, black cardamom, cumin and saffron, onion and a surprising element of cocks comb, which gives it a deep rich red colour and a very unique flavour. Simmered for hours, until the meat simply falls off the bone, this is Kashmir’s most loved and well known mutton dish. I can safely say that anything with the same name that I may have eaten before, simply pales in comparison. The Roganjosh is a dish that makes this entire meal worth every calorie! Eating this in silence is the only thing I would recommend.
A dumpling of hand pounded lamb meat, in a red gravy ~ Rista was up next. The prominent flavours again as in most of the dishes comes from saffron, black and green cardamom, Kashmiri turmeric and chillies. The flavour of the spices are all there, minus the pungency and heat of chillies. It is a good way to be introduced to the subtle flavours of Indian spices. The texture of the kofta is so soft despite no use of any binders, just lightly flavoured lamb meat, pounded to perfection.
The subtle Phool Gobhi Yakkhan was very tasty, almost elegant. The yogurt gravy is simmered to with cardamom and black cumin and makes for a delightful dish for the vegetarians.
The Kashouri Palow ~ A Kashmiri rice dish with golden fried onion, cashews and raisins is a light yet well flavoured pulav. The khmeeri roti ~ a yeasted flat bread made in the tandoor was a good way to sample the meal, although left to myself I would have eaten everything with Batha ~ plain basmati rice, cooked on dum.
I had no business to put another spoon of food into my mouth, but who can resist the lure of dessert? Kesar Firni ~ saffron flavoured semolina pudding. This was mildly sweet and so thick, it was evident the milk had been simmered for hours till it thickened as per the Waza’s (chef) satisfaction.
We rounded off the meal with a hot cup of Kahwa ~ Green tea leaves, simmered with saffron, cinnamon & cardamom, poured from a beautiful silver Samovar. I wished I could sit there and savour the flavours for a couple of hours.
What remained after the meal are the flavours – the unmistakeably liberal use of saffron (for which Kashmir is very famous), black cumin and cardamom. Each dish is slow cooked till the maximum flavour has been extracted, this is not a meal that can be prepared in a hurry or eaten on the go. One has to have the patience to put the brakes on a rushed pace of things, to sit down and savour a Kashmiri Wazwaan.
Chef Rafiq is in Hyderabad till the 25th of February to serve this wonderfully rich cuisine. He hopes to make Kashmiri cuisine more sought after than it already is.
Do not miss going to Kanak, at the Trident in Hyderabad. They are open only for dinner with both A la Carte and a specially put together Wazwaan Platter on offer.
A Taste of Kashmir (Kashmir Food Festival) at Kanak, The Trident, Hitech City, Hyderabad
Recommendations: Tabak Maaz (appetizer – non veg) and Nadir Mand (appetizer – veg)
(Main course – veg) ~ Phool Gobhi Yakkhan & Rajmah
(Main course – non veg) ~ Hind Roganjosh, Dhanwal Korma & Rista
Price per person (excluding tax): INR 1875 (without alcohol) for the Wazwaan platter
Hours: 7.30 pm to midnight.
Location: Hitech City, Hyderabad
Credit Card Accepted: Yes
Valet Parking: Available
Telephone: 91 40 6623 2323