Dilnavaz and Aqeel Nedou belong to a family of hoteliers who’ve played host to luminaries from around the world over the last 120 years, a family that would take the Gandhi brothers hunting and whose registers hold plaudits from Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and even Lawrence of Arabia. The two are in the city to inaugurate a Kashmiri food fest. Earlier, Chef Surjan Singh spent a week at the Nedous’ hotels, mastering Wazwan wizardry. The family tells us about special dishes reserved for khaas guests and occasions in Kashmir.
Are there any foods/ingredients that Kashmiris specifically associate with affluence?
Dilnavaz Nedou: Saffron comes to mind, immediately. We make a special kahwah with saffron, almonds and cinnamon when we host a dawat — a party at our homes.
Aqeel Nedou: Guchchi, a type of mushroom is an expensive specialty, one whose exclusivity can be equated with that of caviar. It’s a wild mushroom that’s only available in the depths of jungles, between May and June.
DN: As a child, the morning after a storm, we would trek through the mountains and jungles in Gulmarg to find these.
Chef Surjan Singh: I brought these mushrooms from there. So, during the fest, we’ll be serving Kistawari Guchchi Haakh. Haakh — Kashmiri greens, also, aren’t easily available in Mumbai but we’ll be substituting Haakh with Kadam leaves, which come close in terms of taste.
Aren’t some of the cooking techniques and procedures very elaborate? Will the dishes be cooked the same way for the fest?
ND: Most authentic recipes involve long-drawn processes. Many dishes require overnight cooking and intense preparation. Tabak Maaz (ribs), for instance, takes a whole day to prepare. The dish must be prepared on a very slow fire while a weight is kept on the ribs to flatten these. And, to prepare Rista (meatballs in gravy), the meat must be pounded on a stone, by hand, so that the air gets trapped inside. This lends the meatballs a spongy texture, which can’t be achieved by mincing the meat in a blender like you would for a sausage.
CSS: We are using the original, painstaking techniques for the fest and, as far as is possible, I’ll also be using authentic Kashmiri ingredients. For Rogan Josh, the authentic Kashmiri recipe would require the right cut of lamb and ingredients such as Wagah chillies and the beautiful cockscomb flower (slow dried and pounded, this lends the dish its subtle colour), which I have brought down. Besides, few know that Kashmiri food is cooked in walnut and mustard oils. We’ll be
Have you modified traditional recipes to suit the Mumbai palate?
CSS: The Kashmiri diet includes a lot of red meat — not goat, but lamb (sheep). Wazwan feasts, usually, include only one or two chicken dishes (in a 35-dish spread). But here, we’ve had to alter the menu to accommodate a preference for seafood and chicken. We’ve also created an array of dishes inspired by authentic Kashmiri recipes like the Nadru (lotus stem), Walnut and Baked Anjeer Seekh.
DN: In truth, we don,t have too many vegetarian dishes in our cuisine. I can think of a handful of vegetarian preparations, which are prepared in Kashmiri homes. There’s Tamatar Paneer/Paneer Tsaman (prepared with big pieces of paneer) and Haakh, leaves from the spinach family — we have a Pundit Haakh and a Muslim Haakh, the Muslim version being one that’s prepared with more oil. Then, we prepare Nadru, and Khatte Baingan -— which is usually reserved for Wazwan wedding feasts.
Where does Kashmiri food draw its influence from — is it a fusion of North Indian and Pakistani recipes or is it a completely unique cuisine altogether?
DN: It’s a completely different cuisine. During a visit to Pakistan, I noticed that they they serve sheer chai there, but their tea is a sweet preparation, different from our sheer chai or noon chai, a tea we prepare with pink salt.
CSS: Noon Cha is served with Girda, a crusty, round bread, which is like a flattened ciabatta but has fingertip indents.
AN: Harissa is served in Pakistan. It's similar to Haleem, in that it's a time-consuming preparation in which meat is cooked with dhaliya (oats), but its recipe doesn’t include lentils.
DN: I was surprised to find Harissa as a main course served at lunchtime in Pakistan. For us, it’s a breakfast dish. When we start the day with Harissa, we are sated for the rest of the day.
Till Dec 15, 7, 30pm onwards COST Veg: R1,500 (+Taxes), Non-veg: R2,000 (+Taxes), Seafood and assorted meats: R3,000 (+Taxes/ you can also order la carte ) AT Nawab Saheb, Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel, 2 & 3B, Chinmayananda Ashram, Powai