The origin of Kashmiri cuisine dates back to the 15th century when India was invaded by Emperor Timur. He brought skilled people for various professions, along with cooks from Samarkand. The exotic, lip smacking dishes use yogurt, saffron, and turmeric in ample measures. Mild in taste and rich in flavour, Kashmiri cuisine is also influenced by the culinary style of Afghanistan, Persia, and Central Asia. Gushtaba is the last dish to be served at a banquet before the dessert. Refusing it is considered an insult to the hosts. Lily traces the origin of this exotic Kashmiri cuisine, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
The paradise on earth, the crown of India, that is picturesque Kashmir is the home of Wazwan besides being the treasure chest of almonds, walnuts, cherries, apples and saffron to name a few. Its scenic beauty embellished with blossoming trees, lush green valleys is the perfect backdrop for its exquisite crafts. The fine embroidery and the wood carving comes from the fingers of people who cook up a scrumptious meal.
The formal banquet in Kashmir is the uniquely royal Wazwan. In the Kashmiri language “waz” means cook or cooking and “wan” means shop. The master chef is known as “Vaste Waze” supervises and cooks thirty-six courses, of which between fifteen and thirty can be those of meat. The meal is served in a big copper platter called “trami” to a group of four. Kashmiri Brahmins invoke Lord Rudra, while the Muslims invoke Allah after washing their hands in “Tash-t-naer” – a basin. The trami is full of rice and is quartered by two seekh kebabs. It has two pieces ofMethi Korma, two Tabak Maaz, one Safed Kokur, with yogurt and chutney in earthen pots. A stream of delicacies follows in a prescribed sequence. The long list of dishes ends traditionally with the Gushtaba, which I want to focus on today. The art of cooking is passed on in generations in the family and is not shared with anyone besides blood relations.
The origin of Kashmiri cuisine dates back to the 15th century when India was invaded by Emperor Timur. He brought skilled people for various professions, along with cooks from Samarkand. Wazas cook mutton in different forms and name the dish according to the shape. All Kashmiris, including Pandits, are voracious meat eaters. The exotic, lip smacking dishes use yogurt, saffron, and turmeric in ample measures. Mild in taste and rich in flavour, Kashmiri cuisine is also influenced by the culinary style of Afghanistan, Persia, and Central Asia. The seven must serve items in a Wazwan are Tabakhmaaz, Rista, Damiwal Korma, Roganjosh, Marchhwangan Korma, Aab Gosh, and Gushtabha.
The vintage ingredients of Kashmiri food are dry ginger, fennel, red chilies, curd, and mustard oil, besides Desi Ghee (clarified butter). A typical ingredient is the doughnut shaped Kashmiri Ver. It is a cake of ground spices with a strong and pungent aroma. The heady fragrance of asafoetida and saffron can make any mouth water.
Gushtaba is the last dish to be served at a banquet before the dessert. Refusing it is considered an insult to the hosts. It is correctly called the king. It is a dish of minced mutton balls cooked in curds and spices. As I walked along the promenade beside the shimmering waters of the Dal Lake, one moonlit evening, I felt truly alive at the fantastic wealth of culinary traditions that we have inherited in our vast and diverse country. The haunting sounds of the Jal Tarang wafted from across the waters, as the silhouette of the trees of Char Chinar swayed drunkenly. TheGushtaba glistened invitingly in my mind’s eye.
The preparation for the dish begins with very finely minced lamb mutton, 800gm boneless and 200gm meat fat.
Take the mince in a bowl, after mincing it fine in a wooden pestle and mortar – the smart ones do it with a mallet.
Add black cardamom seeds, half tablespoon salt, half ladle mustard oil and egg white and pound evenly.
Wash a mal-mal cloth. Put salt, dry ginger powder, cumin powder, cinnamon powder, cardamom powder, cloves, coriander powder and fenugreek powder in the cloth and knot it up. Put one-litre water in a big pot. Soak the cloth with spices along with bay leaves in it and put it on high flame.
Make balls of the minced meat and drop them in the water as it starts boiling. Discard the spice pouch after squeezing out the flavours.
Heat oil, add salt and asafoetida to cumin and whipped curds and milk.
Browned and crushed onions may be added too.
Add this mixture and pure ghee to the meatballs and cook for five minutes on low flame. Garnish with mint leaves.
One may add spices directly instead of in the pouch. Allow the balls to cook for almost an hour on medium flame. This is just a home-like way to make this dish.
Now, I believe an elderly uncle, mostly a maternal uncle, will take a position on a chair near the Waza and he puts a napkin to cover the trami. A Sarposh or a copper covering is put on the dish and remains so till it reaches the Dastarkhwan, which is laid where the guests are sitting. Some people call the Gushtaba a fat bomb jokingly and others refer to it as a full stop. After partaking of the Gushtaba, a senior or perhaps more spiritual of the guests draws his hands forwards as in prayer or dua, signaling the end of the feast.
Thank the Lord after and follow it with a polite belch. Look forward to some dessert till I see you next time.
Photos from the internet.
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