Kashmir's culture, traditions and arts have been greatly influenced by history. So has its food. Persian, Afghan and Central Asian touches are reminiscent in Kashmiri cuisine, its style of serving and eating. Kashmir, of course, has absorbed the best out of each influence and elevated it to its present very lavish, and at the same time, hospitable appeal.

The concept of 'Wazwan' is unique. The term 'Waz' means the Chef - person with the rare culinary skills passed on through generations from father to son. An artist who is obsessively and passionately involved with his art and who is one of the privileged few flag bearers of this great Kashmiri tradition. "Wan" is the shop with its abundant supplies of meats and delicacies.

The traditional 'Wazwan' consists of 36 courses. Each dish has its own tradition and brings to mind, memories of momentous events, of special occasions, it is very seldom that all 36 courses are laid out, but eating 20 odd courses on a regular basis is quite common in most Kashmiri homes.

In Kashmir, it is said that the host should lay out all the food that he has at home before his guest. The guest, on his part, must reciprocate this gesture by doing full justice to the meal. Our 'Vasta Waza' (the head chef) is assisted by a court of Wazas - title conferred grudgingly on a chosen few after years of apprenticeship. The process of cooking is extremely long and elaborate. The end result of their efforts is for you to judge. Your smiles of appreciation are reward and reason enough for them to keep alive this great tradition.

The meal is a ritual in itself. "Tash-t-Nari" is passed around by the attendants so that you can wash your hands. It would be sacrilege to use anything but your fingers to eat this meal.

People sit in fours (considered auspicious) to share sustenance with dear ones over a 'Tarami' (large plate). The tarami arrives heaped with rice and the first few courses. Each successive course follows separately to allow you to savour the distinct flavour. The last and probably the best known dish of the Wazwan is the 'Goshtaba'. Refusing this delicacy would hurt the feelings of the Wazas even though you may already have reached the limits of your appetite.

At the end 'Kahwah' is served from the Samovar, the aroma of which leaves you with lingering memories of 'Wazwan'.

Dinner: INR 495; USD 11 per head


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