Many a cultural tides from different directions swept across Kashmir during its thousands of years of history synthesing its own distinctive culture and ethos. Assimilating influences from far and wide it evolved its own costumes, customs and cuisines. From times immemorial rice has been staple food of Kashmir. Paddy known as dhanye in local parlance had a dominating role in social and political activities of the place. It was main source of revenue for the government. Production of this crop determined the affluence of a family or a clan. Much before currency had been introduced in Kashmir, it acted as ‘popular currency’. Salaries and wages to government servents and private employees were paid in terms of ‘dhanye’.More than hundred varaties of rice, some fragrant and soft, others red and black and some coarse and medium soft were produced in this land.
Nothing can be said with authority as to when rice became staple food of Kashmiris but there are evidences that before its introduction here, water chestnuts which proliferated in all the lakes of Kashmir were the staple food of the inhabitants of the valley. Water chestnuts (trapa bisponia) or horned water nut known in Kashmiri language as “gor” constituted food of people living around Wular lake for more than six months till recent times. “Gor” had assumed religious significance as well, the Kashmiri Pandits were in habit of fasting for two days every month and during these two days they ate nothing but a little flour made out of water chestnuts.
Despite centuries of subjugation Kashmiris always have had an appetite for good food. Mutton was eaten both by Hindus and Muslims. Fowls, ducks and geese for their abundance constituted an important part of the menu on festivals. Hindus would not touch poultry or eggs but they did eat wild fowl and eggs of lake birds. Mutton cooked with turnip and left over to simmer for whole night made a very tasty dish and it was known as Shebdeg.
The history of modern Kashmiri cuisine can be traced to the advent of Islam in Kashmir. In the wake of invasion of India by Timurlane many people of many a professions migrated to Kashmir. Ameer-e- Kabeer, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, known as founder of Islam in Kashmir traversing dificulit mountain passes reached this paradise along with a host of companions including religious scholars, calligraphers, weavers, architects and artisans. Majority of arts and crafts for which Kashmir is known world over were introduced by this great saint and visionary from Iran in Kashmir. Many a professional cooks also accompanied the caravan of the great saint and reformist. The descendents of these cooks are known as wazas or the master chefs.
The ultimate formal banquet in Kashmir is the royal Wazwan comprising more than forty courses majority of which are meat preparations. Whether Mir Syed Ali Hamdani brought cooks or chefs known as ‘wazas’ along with him or imparted training in cookery to locals is matter of further research but fact of the matter is that contemporary Kashmir culture is incomplete without this royal banquet. Marketing of this cuisine in the international market could have earned a distinctive place to Kashmir in the world of tourism. The state government with huge paraphernalia of tourism department has failed to keep pace with the changing concept of tourism. Tourism is no more only selling scenic beauty but the new concepts like monument and cultural tourism have gained greater currency in the world of today. It would be naïve to believe that Kashmir with its denuded forests, polluted lakes and dirty roads can attract tourism any more. The tourism department will have to look for newer concepts like ‘cusine and cultural’ tourism. The Kashmiri cuisine with all its varaties and royal touch, if sold in international market, can attract more affluent foreigner visitors to Kashmir.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.