A disclaimer: Having never tried Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, which is removed from the more commonly accessible Kashmiri Wazwan cuisine, there is a chance this review might be stilted. So here’s my take on my initiation into this little kno...
A disclaimer: Having never tried Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, which is removed from the more commonly accessible Kashmiri Wazwan cuisine, there is a chance this review might be stilted. So here’s my take on my initiation into this little known fare, but please don’t let it colour your perception of Kashmiri Pandit food.
My first brush with Kashmiri cuisine was at a little known restaurant in Mumbai called Kong Poush many years ago. The simple preparations and mild flavors of the food were quite unlike the otherwise overpowering taste one encounters in most cuisines, which is probably what drew me to it. Later I was told that Kong Poush specialized in Wazwan preparations, an offshoot of Kashimiri cuisine by Muslim inhabitants of the state. I also learnt that the other offshoot was Pandit cuisine – one that is cooked in the homes of Kashmiri Pandits and is rarely found outside the kitchens of the original residents. Since then, I’ve been curious about what exactly constitutes Kashmiri Pandit cuisine.
I was therefore very excited when I learnt that ITC Grand Central in Mumbai was organizing Koshur Saal – a revelation of the cuisine of Kashmiri Pandits by visiting Chef Suman Kaul, who is from the Gul Poush Vadie. From 17th to 26th May, 2013, Chef Kaul’s creations are part of the dinner buffet, which incidentally also include the regular Indian, Continental and Oriental dishes.
Getting the opportunity to have a chef of Kashmiri Pandit origin serve you some dishes from the region, dishes that she learnt from her mother and grandmother, was too good to be missed and I found myself waiting eagerly to meet Chef Kaul and also receive an insight into the elusive delights Kashmiri Pandit food.
Chef Suman Koul
The diminutive Chef Kaul surprises you when she says that she has no formal training in cooking and learnt everything she knows about this particular cuisine in her family’s kitchen. It helped that her two children were equally fond of Kashmiri food and she found herself trying out variations of the yakhni, which incidentally is her favorite Pandit dish. So here’s what we learnt about Kashmiri Pandit cuisine – these Hindu Brahmans do not use onion or garlic in their food, but are meat eaters. However, they do not eat beef or pork and stick to lamb, chicken and fresh water fish like Rohu and trout. The basis of the food is slow cooking, where pots are simmered for hours on end so that when the lid is opened, it’s aromas fill up the entire room. Interesting stuff, this!
We started our meal with Nadru Monje, which are strips of lotus stems dipped in a coarse rice flour batter and then fried. Personally, I found it lacking salt and any discernible taste, but Chef Kaul told me that this is how it is traditionally enjoyed. The Kabargah, lamb ribs cooked in saffron and then fried, had such a barely-there hint of spices and saffron that you could actually taste the meat.
What caught our attention and our appetite was Gaade, big pieces of Rohu fish cooked in a spicy Kashmiri sauce. It was hard to believe this delicate fresh water fish could retain its unique flavor despite being flavored with so many elements. So grave was our disbelief that we helped ourselves to Gaade twice more and finally decided that yes, this was the way Rohu should be eaten.
Gaade and Rogan Josh
We then spied some unusual items around the buffet table, which piqued our interest more than our appetite – Moonje Chetin, radish cooked with dry walnuts and Aele Yakhni, bottle gourd cooked in yogurt. Now we will be the first to admit that both these vegetables trail at the bottom of our list of the least desirable food items. The very description about their preparation however, was so intriguing that we had to try them. Once you have lulled yourself into ignoring the vegetables that went into the dish, they are both very enjoyable. The Moonje Chetin especially had a sharp biting flavor, while the bottle gourd had soaked in the essence of yogurt so well that it lost