Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surprise, Wazwan is Kashmir's Native Cuisine

Tahir debunks the notion that Wazwan is an import brought to the valley by foreign travelers and notes that the cuisine finds a mention even in old sanskrit texts

Discovering Wazwaan

Tahir Sufi

The popular local cuisine has always been the result of mostly the local cultural influence, and up to some extent, the result of some foreign influence as well. Over the centuries different countries have developed their own styles of cooking, shaped largely by their natural resources. World famous Chinese cuisine developed as a result of two powerful influences. First, the country has always been heavily populated and acutely short of fuel. Consequently, a method of fast cooking over scarce, quick-burning fuel was developed. While other Oriental cuisines have some things in common with Chinese cookery, they each have their own unique characteristics.

In Europe, French cookery is generally acknowledged as being the first and most influential of all fine cuisine-types. The chefs carried on the tradition of experimentation and innovation, developing cooking as an art in France. So the present French cuisine has evolved by hit and trail method and ultimately took the present shape of what is now called as nouvelle cuisine (new cooking), a method of preparing food in a simpler, less rich, and more natural way. Dry cooking, steaming, and grilling are the hallmarks of this approach, whereby wafer-thin slices of meat or firm-fleshed fish are served with a colourful array of crisp, only just-cooked vegetables.

Kashmiri cuisine holds an important place in the world. The Kashmiri food festivals are organized by most of the five star hotels and trade fairs across India. The list of the dishes served in wazwan is quite elaborate and has stood the test of the time when it comes to maintaining its authenticity. However, the strange phenomenon which can be hardly seen anywhere in world is the differentiation of recipes on communal lines. The dishes of wazwan prepared by Kashmiri Pundits and Muslims do not taste the same!

It is very difficult to trace the History of Kashmiri cuisine especially wazwan. Kashmir has been ruled by so many outsiders as we seem to have lost track of our own cultural belongings. With so many rulers entering over the mountain ranges or via silk route no doubt brought lots of their own culture with them, like carpet making. Similar arts like making “namda”, “gubbas” , copper work including “Naqshkari”, wood work “ Khatamband, “Paper Machie” and so many crafts we can boast are ours only, and we should be proud of this heritage.

The chief craft among the crafts we can boast to be ours is wazwan but unfortunately we cant believe that it can be our own. We are being informed that that probably Mongols, Uzbeks, Turkemenistanis, Samarkandis, Iranians so on have brought this cuisine with them. However, one fails to understand why then the cuisine is available in Kashmir only today, and not in any other place including central Asia.

Speaking of Mongolia, in thirteenth century, Pope of Rome’s ambassador Plano Carpini, who visited Mongolia, wrote that Mongolians ate dogs, wolves, foxes, horses and even humans. The latter was attested by Marco Polo too. How all of a sudden then they learnt the fine and subtle art of cooking wazwan? If we look the cuisine of Mongolia even today there seems to be absolutely no resemblance at all with wazwan. The “traditional” or “characteristic” style of Mongol cuisine involves methods like cooking mutton with “stones”, drying thin strips of meat in the wind and so on.

Another source, which has been widely discussed, is Azerbaijan, the capital of exotic cuisine. This cuisine is famous for being aromatic, delicate and original. Some of the core national dishes include Dushbara, “ Mutton dumplings stuffed in pastry sheets” cooked in broth , Yarpag Dolmasi “ Mutton, rice, dill etc stuffed in wine leaves stewed in sauce pan and served with yogurt” . These dishes are the heart and soul of Azerbaijan - but it is very easy to understand that how distinct our cuisine is. While going through the entire Azerbaijanian cuisine, there is hardly any evidence of any similarities. I am sure that any Kashmiri visits Azerbaijan, he will have to accept the cuisine with some efforts. One fails to understand why some of the very popular desserts like “parkhlava” and “tarkhlava” made from rice flour, nuts, sugar, egg whites and spices, kozinaki - nuga-like sweets, Turkish delight, jellied peaches, caramels shaker-pendir that have been traditionally served for dessert since the ancient times did not find their way into Kashmir. This questions the impact of Azerbaijan cuisine on Kashmir.

A yet another source that is also ascribed is Iran. There is absolutely no doubt that Iran gifted Kashmir with the art of carpet weaving. However, if we look at the cuisine of Iran we are surprised to find out if wazwan has anything to do with Iran. This is quite evident from the traditional Iranian cuisine which boasts of its diverse regional cuisine, which is distinct in taste and form. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from khoresht (stew that is served with white Basmati or Iranian rice: ghormeh sabzi, gheimeh, and others), aash (a thick soup), kookoo (vegetable omellettes), pollo (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs, including loobia pollo, albaloo pollo, zereshk pollo, and others). The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs.

It is very difficult to justify that Kashmiri traditional cuisine” Wazwan” had to do anything with any central Asian country or with Iran for matter. This makes us to look for our soil only for the roots of “Wazwan”. The most ancient book on Kashmiri culture is the sixth century Sanskrit classic “Nilmathpurana” in which references to meat eating habit of ancient Kashmiris has clearly been cited at many instances.

Most of the traditional cuisine of Kashmir for sure is being inherited from our ancestors only. However, with the advent of Islam in thirteenth century through Muslim mystics of central Asia, the eating pattern could have got impacted. The mystics like Shahi Hamdan (RA), whose arrival in Kashmir led to beginning to spread of Islam might not have been fond of such lavish gourmet, however, it is not surprising that the kitchens of our local and foreign rulers were the innovative labs where the transformation and adaptation of local cuisine took place. In fact, the development of Kashmiri Cuisine seems to be clearly a local innovation, rather than the import and we must be proud to own it and call it our Heritage cuisine.

(Greater Kashmir)

No comments: