History in a can

Prepared by a Vasta Waza or a Kashmiri head chef and his team of Wazas, the newest canned food entrant in the market holds recipes of a 500 year-old culinary legacy. Who needs a genie in a bottle when you can have a master-chef's talent in a tin, asks Anjana Vaswani

What is it about history that holds such appeal? Maybe it's the inimitable way in which it lets you connect with the past, allowing you to envision the secret stories and scenes that make up the rich tapestry of time gone by. For chef Shafique Ahmed, the past lies in the sniff of a condiment, and the turn of a ladle. Ahmed's ancestors emigrated from Samarkand hundreds of years ago and were among the handful of chefs, who conducted the first experiments in culinary fusion in our country. When Ahmed's forefathers prepared Wazwaan, they weren't just making an elaborate multi-course ceremonial meal as it is understood in present-day Kashmir. They were planning a royal feast to please aristocratic palates.

A can of Marchwagan Korma costs Rs 600 and has a shelf life of three
months. The dish itself tastes delectable pic/ Anjana Vaswani

And now, those recipes, perfected over generations, have been made available to us in a can.

"Due to the scarcity of people still practising our art, the only way to ensure the tradition endures is by making the recipes available to connoisseurs everywhere," explains Ahmed. His 30 year-old Delhi-based company, Ahad Sons introduced Wazwaan recipes in cans at high-end SoBo supermarket Dolce Vita two weeks ago.

"Wazwaan is traditionally served at Kashmiri weddings, the most lavish spread includes as many as 36 dishes. There's also a traditional service ritual and diners usually commence their meal by remembering God and then washing their hands in a large metal vessel called tash-t-nari before they sit around giant platters or taramis to partake of the meal in groups of four," Ahmed explains.

Non-vegetarian dishes like Sheekh Kabab, Rogan Josh, Tabakh Maazm, Aab Ghosht and Marchwagan Korma are quintessential elements of the feast that, traditionally, also includes Kahwah (Kashmiri green tea) and Firin, a saffron-flavoured semolina dish that's typically garnished with dry fruits.

Ahad Sons have introduced nine cans -- including Rogan Josh, Marchwagan Korma, and Rista Palak --  and plan to introduce all the 36 dishes that form part of the traditional meal. Each can costs Rs 600 and comes with a shelf life of three months.

All you need to do is pour the food out of the can and heat it till it reaches a boil. These dishes serve up to five people, and could be eaten with parathas or rice.

The meat of both, the Rogan Josh and Marchwagan Korma, is tender and almost falls off the bone. A shallow pool of oil on top of the dish indicates that this isn't diet food (Rogan means oil in Persian), but the gravies are absolutely lip-smacking. The Marchwagan Korma ranks marginally higher on our preference scale though, its darker gravy being more visually appealing than the stark red of the other. The dishes have a tendency to be spicy.

Vegetarian dishes like Dum-aloo and lotus root Yakhni may also be included in the spread, soon.

However, despite the quick-fix solution of canned food, Ahmed stresses on the importance of remembering the  traditional methods of preparing these dishes.

The emphasis, he says, is as much on planning the meal, as it is on perfecting recipes. Sometimes, preparation takes days or even weeks.

"Certain recipes, such as Rista and Ghustaba, a meatballs and yoghurt gravy dish that is typically served last, require that the meat be pounded for three days to reach a consistency so that the meatballs melt in the mouth." That's how the chicken dumplings in the fiery Palak Rista we sampled achieve their incredibly smooth texture, too.

"Recipes are closely-guarded family secrets passed down from generation to generation," Ahmed emphasises, adding, "While ingredients may be chosen to combat the cold weather, while planning the menu and recipes, the Waza also tries to use every part of each ingredient, therefore limiting wastage."

At: Ahad Sons' Wazwaan cans are available at Dolce Vita (11 am to midnight), shops number 18,19, 20, 22 and 32, the Grand Galleria, Block 42 B, High Street Phoenix, Senapati Bapat Marg. Call: 40044432

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