It is hard to find someone who is not bowled over by the beauty of Kashmir and I am no exception. Having trekked through the Kashmir valley, spending days under the starry skies, eating local cuisine from the street side to the star restaurants, I am lucky to have had a broad glimpse of paradise. When I saw the post in Bangalore Foodies Club about a Wazwan Feast (Multi-course Kashmiri wedding feast) in Punjab Grill Bangalore and just then Amitabh Bachchan appearing on television crooning “Yeh Kashmir Hain”, I knew it was not a mere co-incidence and the universe was indeed conveying a message.
Wazwan is all about flavours, cooked without garlic, little or no onions and sparing use of tomatoes. The subtlety of spices specially the abundant use of roasted aniseed, dried ginger, turmeric, asafoetida, saffron etc create a narrative that fills your senses. The fiery red color in the dishes is mostly Kashmiri Red Chilly and Mawal/Ratanjot deeply roasted in ghee or mustard oil. Having had Wazwan in Srinagar, I had a wee little doubt about the taste since you can get the ingredients, the Waza from Kashmir, but what about the water from Jhelum? Needless to say Cauvery did not let her soul sister Jhelum down and everything tasted just as it was in Srinagar.
We started off with Tabak Maaz and Paneer Tikka. The paneer was as good as it always is in Punjab Grill, soft and juicy but the star was Tabak Maaz, juicy lamb ribs. One whiff of its aroma when it was served on the table, I could not wait ant longer. As I sliced it through effortlessly, the texture of the meat was apparent. After two rounds of boiling over a long period; first with spices (fennel, dry ginger, asafoetida, cardamom, cinnamon and clove) and then with milk and saffron the ribs are completely tender. Finally it is pan fried in ghee to give it that glaze. I loved it so much that I asked for a second helping, pleasantly fumbling on my resolve to not indulge in one dish alone.
Last time around in Srinagar, I barely looked at the vegetarian fare which I regretted later. So this time around, I was eager to have the vegetarian course. Dum Aloo bowled me over completely, with the distinct aroma of roasted fennel combined with garam masala that makes it so very Kashmiri!! The baby potatoes were safely polished off in minutes. Tomato Chaman (Paneer) was a large piece of juicy paneer lightly sauteed golden and soaked in a distinctly flavorful tomato gravy that went down well with the pulao.
The Haak Saag which I should have ideally had first was craving for attention and I duly obliged. The smoky flavor of mustard oil coupled with hing (asofetida) and whole Kashmiri red chilly seeped through every helping. The best part is that due to the simple style of preparation, the saag retained its green colour. I took a spoonful of Yakhni from the bowl of Nadru Yakhni (Lotus Stem) and mixed it with pulao. It was one of the best Yakhni’s have had till date, the yoghurt and saffron balanced perfectly with ginger and garam masala.
The gravies in most Kashmiri dishes are light given that garlic is never used and onion is used sparingly and that too the small shallot kinds. These gravies are best enjoyed with rice and as per Chef Bashir Waza’s advise, we went with the steamed rice. In my opinion the Prince and Princess of Wazwan are clearly the Gushtaba and Rista which are soft hand pounded meat balls cooked in different gravies; one fiery red with spices that tickled my throat and the other calm and white which soothed my throat after the spice. The meat balls were uber soft, someone somewhere would have really spent hours pounding pieces of meat on stone to get that texture. The Gushtaba was slightly on the sour side and the Rista balls which are generally of smaller size were almost the size of Gushtaba. That did not take away anything from the taste though. When Prince Gushtaba and Princess Rista were romancing in my stomach, I turned my attention to Lamb Rogan Josh and Chicken Qurma.
Ideally, the curd based Gushtaba should have been the last dish but my craving took over my sensibility for that moment. If you are used to the Rogan Josh with heaps of onion and tomato pastes covering the meat then it was anything but Rogan Josh. With roots in Persia, Mughals introduced this delicious dish to India stewed for a long time in garam masala and turmeric and infused with Mawal or Ratanjot ,Kashmiri red chilly and yoghurt for colour and consistency. By the way tomatoes came to India much after the Mughals which quite explains why tomatoes are not used in authentic Rogan Josh.
If you are wondering about digestion, calories etc etc after all this gluttony then rest assured that the heaps of fennel (saunf) that were added to every dish will do its job. The creamy Cashew Phirni had the right amount of sweet and the nutty flavour was more than welcome after some serious eating. Finally rounded off with a warm glass of Kashmiri Kahwa and started humming “Rind Posh Maal, Grindane Drai Lo Lo”. This short lived Kashmiri Spring in the middle of Bangalore Monsoon is welcome indeed.
This special menu priced at Rs 1200 per person inclusive of all taxes, this was a steal. The staff and ambience was as usual warm and cordial instantly making us comfortable.
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