How much do you know about Kashmiri food? If you have been to Kashmir, I am sure you would have eaten its popular multi-course meal, Wazwan. It is not just a cuisine but it defines a character of Kashmir. My first introduction to Wazwan had happened in Khyber in Gulmarg. The set of dishes cooked as part of the whole tradition were absolutely delectable. The platter had come across like a paradise on my plate. Another thing that I had noticed in Srinagar was that Kashmir Valley is also quite popular for its baking culture. But what remains lesser explored and hardly talked about is the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, the one that belongs to the Brahmin community of the northern most state. It is not as widely available as food connoisseurs or other curious people may want it but the local community has successfully kept their history and identity intact through their style of cooking.
Kashmiri Pandits are the only Brahmins and the native Hindus of that region, who have no qualms in eating non-vegetarian food. Interestingly, they abstain from the use of onion, garlic and tomatoes but you will not realize until you are told. They know how to play with spices. Asafetida fills up for garlic and yoghurt works well in place of onions. I bet Kashmiri food will always keep your taste buds entertained with aromatic spices, whiff of mustard oil and Kashmiri chilies. Last but not the least, simmering technique is something that they are proud of.
It is not every day that one gets an opportunity to savor a local flavor in the capital, Delhi, especially Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. I must applaud Food exchange at Novotel Aerocity for doing that. The 10 day festival as part of their home chef series was a lovely idea. Such special menus not only create an awareness around that region but they also encourage people to experiment something new, dig in history and connect with different parts of India. I always said that while traveling is one way to experience new places, food is another very delicious way to learn about different places and discover some interesting facts about the people who hail from that region. Every time you eat something new, you tend to inquire about its origin and learn about the place. What could be more exciting and fulfilling than this.
Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine wins with its spices and method of preparation
I was excited about this food festival and did make it there before the final night. While I clearly remember that my husband and I loved the turnip dish, although we never eat it at home. In fact, the gentlemen sitting on the table next to us also called it the best among all while enjoying their food. I could not imagine myself going ga-ga over a turnip dish but this was the magic of Kashmiri spices and the visiting Chef Rajni Jhinsi.
Later, when I read about it more, I learned that Kashmiri love for mutton and turnips is pretty old. They love to use sun dried turnips with lamb, red kidney beans and more. Mutton Rogan Josh is also cooked in Kashmiri Pandit style. The community food also offers lots of vegetarian options. The list always begins with Dum Aloo (boiled potatoes prepared in Kashmiri spices), Chamman Kaliya (paneer gravy), yoghurt based gravy (Yakhni) and goes on to Haak (Kashmiri collard greens like spinach), Red beans, Nadru (lotus stem) and sweet rice.
Along with the turnip dish, some of the other specialties that were prepared and served for the guests are as below.
Chicken Yakhni -Chicken cooked in rich yoghurt gravy with Kashmiri dry spices
Matsch -Minced meat dumplings cooked in red curry, mixed with different types of aromatic spices and prepared with Kashmiri red chilli powder
Monj Haak – Kholrabi cut into slices with collard greens cooked in mustard oil, hing and whole red chillies.
Chok Wangun – Kashmiri eggplants cooked in spices and tamarind water
Dum Aloo – Boiled whole medium sized potatoes deep fried and slow cooked in Kashmiri red chillies, spices and whole gram masalas.
Hook Suin – Dried small pieces of mutton
Chaman Pakora – Fried cottage cheese cubes marinated in special kashmiri paste.
Talit Gaad– Fish marinated in special spice mix and fried
Chaman Kalliya – Small cube pices of cottage cheese cooked in turmeric and yoghurt gravy.
Modur Polav – Basmati rice infused with cinnamon, cardmaom, cloves, bay leaves, flavored with saffron, cooked in ghee and sugar, topped up with dry fruits and nuts.
Kashmiri Phirni – Firni is a pudding, made by boiling rice or vermicilli with milk and sugar and cooked in Kashmiri style.
The grated radish chutney was amazing and the Kashmiri Kehwaah acted as a palette cleanser.
I may have missed some but mostly these were the dishes that really impressed me with their spices and flavors. I am sure everyone who dined during these days at the restaurant must have returned home, curious about Kashmiri Pandit cuisine.
How did I learn about Kashmiri Pandit cuisine?
Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine comes straight from the picturesque valleys of Kashmir in India. The cooking styles of this community has been inspired through the ages of culinary craftsmanship and its preparation is considered to be an art with the fragrance of spices, freshness, and long-lasting quintessence. A large part of the food is about its ingredients. I have studied in a Kashmiri school in Noida and I had some of my friends who had moved down from Kashmir. Some were Kashmiri Pandits too and I remember them telling me that they did not eat onion, garlic, tomatoes, chicken, eggs et al but they did eat mutton and fish. It was hard to imagine good and tasty food without onion & tomatoes but I was never disappointed when I ate from their lunch boxes. The spices always took over the taste buds.
Later I had a colleague from Kashmir and she used to prepare amazing nadru yakhni. We were in the same office for two years. So, these were some of my first encounters with Kashmiri Pandit cuisine.
Home Chef Series-3 at Food Exchange
Food Exchange is just the right name for the signature restaurant because that is what has been happening here. A lot of food exchange is taking place through home chef series where not very popular names but home makers, (people who love cooking) are involved to design the menu, cook food in their style and take over the festival for the number of days it lasts.
The concept of Home Chef and this whole idea of celebrating cuisines from different states and regions of India is absolutely wonderful. It is making us revisit and relish exotic cuisines and local flavors. This was the third in the series by Novotel and it turned out fabulous. Keep looking for more food festivals and don’t forget to check their website because this “Home Chef series” is here to continue.
Novotel Aerocity is very close to the Delhi airport, so you know where to chill before or after the flight. I love stopping by on and off. Pullman is also one of my favorites for its regularly changing art collection.