Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Special Cuisine | Kashmiri Food Festival at Le Meridien Gurgaon

Waza Rashid
L to R: Chicken and Tabakmaaz; Taraami platter; Seekh Kebab.

Waazwaan is a traditional Kashmiri feast that is typically served at weddings. But I bet you already knew that since it is a term that many non-Kashmiris are now familiar with. Indulging in a waazwaan is often a must-do for most tourists going to Kashmir. Chefs, who cook the waazawan, are also flown to different parts of country to cater for fancy weddings and lavish parties. However, a waazwaan can only be called so if it has been cooked by a waza. “Wazas are chefs who cook the waazwaan; and one has to be born into a family of Wazas to become one,” explains Marryam H Reshii, renowned food critic. Having travelled extensively in Kashmir, understanding the nuances of Kashmiri cuisine, and being married into a Kashmiri family, Reshii is an expert on Kashmiri cuisine. Thus, when Executive Chef Le Meridien Gurgaon, Tanveer Kwatra, tried Waza Rashid’s fare at a friend’s party and decided to showcase his food through a Kashmiri food festival at his hotel’s multi cuisine restaurant Latest Recipe, he approached Reshii to help them curate the menu.

About the Festival
“Not all wazas are comfortable cooking out of the Valley,” shares Reshii. But Waza Rashid has not only cooked for the crème de la crème visiting the Valley, but he has also cooked extensively outside the Valley at top notch parties and even been a chef-cum-partner at Delhi’s Kashmiri Kitchen. What he has brought to the festival currently on at Le Meridien Gurgaon is a mix of popular and traditional dishes. “I am preparing the Wazawaan on wood fire for this festival with recipes passed to me through the generations in our family,” says Waza Rashid. While you can tuck into delicious Rogan Josh, Murgh Yakahni, Rista and Goshtaba, there are some hidden gems on offer too. The Doodh Dal, for instance, that was considered poor man’s food in the Valley with the meats taking preference over the humble dal, says Reshii, is a recipe worth preserving for its creamy texture and subtle flavour. Although Kashmiri fare offers an abundant choice of meat dishes, vegetarians are well taken care of with appetisers like tikkis made of haak saag and nadru (lotus stem). But I have to confess that the lotus stem is blended so well that it loses its lacy, thready texture and I confuse it for a galauti kebab! And of course, there’s Tomato Paneer, Brinjals with Tamarind, Dum Aloo, Haak Saag and more. Most of these dishes are available in the buffet, along with other Indian and international, but Chef Waza suggests that guests try the set menu for an authentic Kashmiri experience.

Traditional Traami
"Traami is a large plate that traditionally serves four persons and customarily has 2kgs of meat (prepared in different dishes) served on a bed of rice," says Reshii. Along with this guests are served Waza Kakor or Waza Chicken, Tabak Maaz or ribs, Methi Maas and Seekh Kebab. Waza Rashid shares that over the years the number of dishes in a waazwan has increased from 5-6 to almost 36 owing to special requests for parties and the demands of younger generations. One thus finds adaptations like the Kishmish pulao that is appreciated unanimously.

My Experience
Our evening starts with a choice of four chutneys: pumpkin, zereshk, walnut and mooli. Even though it is difficult to pick one my favourite is the zereshk for its tangy-sweet flavour. This is followed by the tabakmaaz and waza chicken. While the tabakmaaz is too oily for my liking, I love the succulent waza chicken. Then comes the haak ki tikki and nadru ki tikki that I've already mentioned earlier. The set meal is enough to serve two persons and the non-veg platter includes spongy rista and goshtaba, aab gosht, alubukhara korma, murgh yakhani and milk dal. Reshii explains that the curd used for cooking the yakhani in the Valley is very sour and Waza Rashid has incorporated a similar flavour here to maintain the authenticity. A lovely saffron flavoured phirni and kehwa form a befitting end to this hearty meal. But the highlight of the evening is sharing a table with Marryam Reshii and other food enthusiasts discussing the finer points of Kashmiri cuisine.

Latest Recipe, Le Meridien Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, MG Road, Sector 26, Delhi-Gugraon Border, Gurgaon, Haryana, India. 
Tel: +91 124 499 2008
Prices: Lunch Buffet Rs 1,899++ per person; Dinner Buffet Rs 1,999++ per person; Rs 900++ per child. Set Menu Rs 2,000++ per person.
Dates: 20th -29th Feb 2016.


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