Kashmiri food festival in Mumbai hopes to debunk myths about the cuisine

Jan 14, 2018, 11:50 IST | Kusumita Das

A Kashmiri food festival in the city seeks to debunk many myths associated with the cuisine

Shufta, which is a Kashmiri dessert
Shufta, which is a Kashmiri dessert 

Kashmiri cuisine could well be a genre that continues to grapple with misconceptions in people's minds. It is often confused with a typical, rich Mughlai fare, something that would be spicy, oily and heavy on the stomach. "The real deal is quite the contrary," assures home chef Jasleen Marwah. Marwah, who's known for dishing out treats from the Valley, her homeland, has joined hands with Shikara restaurant in Navi Mumbai, that was known for its signature Kashmiri fare back in the 90s. In an attempt to revive the cuisine's lost glory, a food festival is being organised at the restaurant, that is modelled like a shikara -the iconic Kashmiri houseboat -floating on an artificial lake. Marwah has curated the dinner fare that is on offer from Jan 19 to Jan 21. "My food, however, has a more homemade touch to it," says the 40-year-old chef who calls Mumbai her home now.

(Left) Chef Jasleen Marwah and director Ruhi Mehra at Shikara in Navi Mumbai. PICS/SAMEER MARKANDE
(Left) Director Ruhi Mehra and Jasleen Marwah at Shikara Restaurant in Navi Mumbai. PICS/SAMEER MARKANDE

Many spices like onion, garlic, that go into conventional gravies in desi food, have little or almost no space in Kashmiri cooking, she says. "Our primary ingredients are sund (dried ginger) and saunf (fennel). These are two things that go into almost any dish. Fresh ginger is used less as is jeera and dhania powder; haldi too is used rarely," Marwah says. Besides popular Kashmiri dishes like the rogan josh and the phirni, the selection at the festival also offers tabakh maaz, which is slow cooked mutton, nadru yakhni, a preparation of lotus stems, again in curd, chokh wangun, whole brinjal cooked in tomato gravy and rajma, to name a few. "The Kashmiri rajma is different from the Punjabi ones -these are very dark red in colour and relatively smaller in size. It's cooked with shalgum (radish) as that is seasonal," Marwah adds. 

Tabakh Maaz, a Kashmiri mutton preparation
Tabakh Maaz, a Kashmiri mutton preparation

Contrary to popular perception, Kashmiri cuisine is heavy on vegetables too. "Even though staple Kashmiri food denotes rice and mutton, we love our greens. The haq saag or knol khol is a popular side dish, the nadru yakhni is a delicacy as is the chokh wangun. We also have the Kashmiri achaar, which is any seasonal vegetable tossed in saunf, red chili paste and mustard oil." Ghee and mustard oil are a must in most dishes, while only whole spices are used, such as green and black cardamom, dal chini, Kashmiri mirch and hing.

Unlike in other parts of India, no ginger, onion or garlic is used to cook meat dishes in Kashmiri cuisine. "In thetabakh maaz, for instance, the mutton is slow cooked in whole spices, and then pan fried in ghee. The concept of the typical North Indian gravy is not there in Kashmiri food -the way we saute our onions and garlic and tomatoes to make a gravy. Here, the gravy is formed out of the stock and the oil that the meat lets off. Therefore, it is lighter and packed in flavours. The idea is to honour the hero ingredient in the dish -be it the meat or veggies -without letting additional spices define the taste," says Marwah who lived in Srinagar until she was 12.

Marwah believes the misconceptions about Kashmiri cuisine is due to inadequate exposure to the authentic fare. "Most people who have tried my food have said how refreshingly different it is from the 'Kashmiri food' they had sampled until then. Authentic Kashmiri is hard to come by, until perhaps you visit the Valley." The restaurant Shikara had started off as a haunt for authentic Kashmiri fare alone. Ruhi Mehra, director, says, "But soon, guests began to request for more options and we had to veer away from what we had set out to do. Now that there's a nip in the air, it makes for a good time to revisit our roots and to familiarise foodies with Kashmiri cuisine."

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