Of Kashmiri Wazwan and More

Our columnist in search of the perfect Kashmiri wazwan
In search of the best Kashmiri wazwan
In search of the best Kashmiri wazwan

In the summer of 2016, I went scouring the streets of Srinagar in the hope of finding the ultimate Kashmiri gastronomic experience. Said to be a meal fit for royalty, a &lsquoWazwan&rsquo spread, at its lavish best, can have as many as 36 courses featuring several kinds of meat cooked in a variety of ways, with a selection of spices and other ingredients. It is, with good reason, considered to be a must-try for anyone visiting Kashmir. 

I looked to a few locals for their suggestions on where to go for such a meal, only to quickly realise that their opinions were quite fragmented. While everyone agreed that I must try Wazwan, no one could seem to agree on the best place to actually do so. Left with no clear answer, I rolled the dice and simply went to the restaurant that was &ldquohighest rated&rdquo as per the internet. 

And the outcome The experience was definitely unique. But, sadly, the food itself was very ordinary. I could tell that it did not have the freshness of ingredients or richness in flavour that a meal of this stature should have had. Clearly, the meal was put together out of obligation rather than as a representation of the best of Kashmiri cuisine. 

A few days later, I was ranting to a newfound friend in Srinagar about my terribly disappointing &lsquoWazwan&rsquo experience when he, while thoroughly amused, cut me short and said, &ldquoI&rsquoll take you to a good place.&rdquo I immediately assumed that this would involve another lavish Wazwan restaurant. To my complete surprise, we landed up in front of a fairly ordinary looking roadside restaurant with a faded board across the entrance that read &lsquoNew Krishna Vaishno Dhaba&rsquo. The place was buzzing with people and as a waiter rushed past in a hurry, Aaditya, my friend, managed to sneak in our order - &ldquoDo (two) rajma chawal butter fry&rdquo. 

Within minutes, two plates came sliding across our table brimming with a piping hot mix of, well, rajma and rice. It took just one mouthful for me to know why we were there. This meal, while very basic, was fresh, full of flavour and extremely gratifying. Basically, all of the things that my earlier fancy dining experience was not. I had to accept that, after all that effort, and to my own amusement, I had found my favourite meal in Srinagar at an unassuming vegetarian dhaba 

The reality is that Wazwan, in its tourist-oriented avatar, is a far cry from what it&rsquos actually meant to be. On a subsequent visit to Kashmir, I had the chance to try it again at a friend&rsquos wedding ceremony. The privately catered meal was fresh, authentic and truly heavenly. The key, then, is to basically find places where it&rsquos made for the locals and avoid all the other eyewash. Having said that, whenever I&rsquom in Srinagar next I&rsquoll still be sooner found standing in line for a nice big plate of rajma chawal butter fry

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