Sofitel Mumbai BKC recently hosted a Kashmiri cuisine food festival at it’s award-winning speacilty restaurant Jyran. In conversation with Akshay Nayak, Chef Shadab Ahmed, chef de cuisine, Sofitel Mumbai BKC highlighted the cuisine’s essence which is drawn by the heritage-rich region of Kashmir
What essence does the Kashmiri cuisine carry given the region’s diverse and strategic location?
Kashmiri culture is influenced by South Asia, Persia and Central Asia hence the cuisine is a perfect blend of these cultures. The scenic and lush Valley is not only famous for its enthralling locations but also for a wide range of lip-smacking and exotic meat offerings. Apart from rice which is the staple food, a major highlight of the cuisine is the Wazwan consisting of thirty six courses, the preparation of which is considered art. Traditionally, the Wazwan is served in a large copper platter called the traem and the seating is in groups of four. The rich, redolent dishes steeped in traditions have evolved through many generations and play a major role in Kashmiri culture and identity.
Which are the prominent ingredients and cooking techniques?
Kashmiri cuisine is the cuisine of the Kashmir Valley of India. Rice is the staple food of Kashmiris and has been so since ancient times. Meat, along with rice, is the most popular food item in Kashmir. Mutton, chicken or fish are of prime importance in Kashmir. There is a huge usage of yoghurt and turmeric in most of their dishes. Spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and fennel which are generally considered hot are used widely in different Kashmiri cuisines, while garlic and onion are not used much. The region boasts of being the leading producer as well as the exporter of saffron which is used as a colouring and seasoning agent and also as an ingredient in many of its dishes specially sweets and rice preparation. The exquisite aromatic flavour of variety of dishes, particularly seasoned with saffron, have become an integral part of Kashmiri food. Dry fruits are also used extensively in different Kashmiri dishes, especially in preparing curries. Traditionally ghee is used in cooking Kashmiri dishes, however in modern day many health conscious Kashmiri families have switched to mustard oil. Kashmiris are also known as tea lovers. The most popular and famous teas are called the Noon Chai, or Sheer Chai and Kahwah.
Noon chai comes from where ‘noon’ means salt in Kashmiri language and is made out of black tea, salt, milk and bicarbonate of soda. The tea has its unique pink colour from the distinct style of its preparation and of course due to the use of soda, whereas Kahwah is a green tea prepared with different spices, walnuts or almonds and saffron. There as almost twenty varieties of Kahwah. Kashmiris also follow the technique of cooking on woods.
Your favourite ingredients? Why?
Luxury Kashmiri food is mild in taste and rich in flavour with the high use of hot spices like cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and saffron. Vari Masala is my favourite ingredient which is used in the Kashmiri food. It is a special spice powder used in many recipes that is originated from the Kashmiri Cuisine and is a variation to garam masala. This masala can be easily stored.
Your views and strategies on further promoting Kashmiri cuisine pan India?
At Sofitel, I have always been intrigued and interested in Kashmir cuisine, with a unique food culture – which has always piqued my interest. At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we are delighted to offer guests a range of unique experiences based on embracing and showcasing local culture and traditional ethos. Guests on the days of food festival indulged in exotic dishes for their palate. We offered authentic flavours of Kashmiri cuisine by Chef Abdul Qayum Reshi, for the 10-day fiesta. The feast also popularly known as ‘Wazwan’ is a multi-course traditional meal of Kashmiris.