Rich and redolent with the flavour of the spices used cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, saffron, etc. — Kashmiri food can be the simple meal of a family, or a 36-course wedding banquet called Wazawan. The staple diet of every Kashmiri is rice, the most preferred being the dense, slightly sticky grained Kashmir variety, which is prized in the Valley.
Mutton, chicken or fish are of prime importance in Kashmiri meal and everyday cooking often combines vegetable and meat in the same dish. Mutton and turnips, chicken and spinach, fish and lotus root are also very popular combinations. Pure vegetarian dishes include dum-aloo – roasted potatoes in curd-based gravy, and chaman- fried paneer (cottage cheese), in a thick sauce. Non-vegetarian dishes are considered in Kashmir to be a sign of lavish hospitality and at a Wazwan or banquet, not more than one or two vegetarian dishes are served. Sweets do not play an important role in Kashmiri cuisine. Instead Kahva or green tea is used to wash down a meal.
Wazawan is usually served at weddings and parties. The most commonly served items are rista (meat balls) made of finely pounded mutton and cooked in a gravy; seekh kababs, tabak maz, or flat pieces of meat cut from the ribs and fried till they acquire a crisp crackling texture, roganjosh, which owes its rich red colour to the generous use of Kashmiri chillies. Yakhni, a cream coloured preparation of delicate flavour, is made with curd as a base. Gushtaba, which is the last item to be served in a traditional wazawan, are meatballs moulded from pounded mutton like large-sized Rista but cooked in thick gravy of fresh curd base. Dam-Aaloo and chaman are the commonly served vegetarian dishes – to serve more than this would indicate an unseemly tendency on the part of the host to economize!
Several restaurants in Srinagar serve Kashmiri wazawan on their menus. Mughal Durabar, Ahdoos and Grand, on the Residency Road, offer authentic wazawan. Similarly, Broadway Hotel on Maulana Azad Road arranges wazawan prepared by professionals.
Restaurants All the better hotels in Srinagar have attached restaurants, generally serving Indian, Continental and Kashmiri cuisine. Other restaurants are mainly located on the Boulevard, Shervani (Residency) Road, Lambert Lane and Lal Chowk.
Mughal Durbar and Ahdoos on Shervani Road, Ruby in Lambert Lane and Juniper in Lal Chowk are well known for their Kashmiri cuisine. Solace and Tao Cafe on Shervani Road and Shamyana on the Boulevard are three known garden cafes. There are also several restaurants offering Chinese cuisines such as J&K TDCs Nun-Kun Restaurant near Nehru Park, Alka Salka on Shervani Road and Lhasa on the Boulevard. Some restaurants, both attached to hotels and independent, cater to the large number of vegetarians who holiday in Kashmir. These are mainly located in the Dalgate Kohna Khan area and on the Boulevard. Amira Kadal and Dalgate have inexpensive eateries where you can get simple, well cooked meals.
There are a number of bakeries at Dalgate and Shervani Road. Some of them, in addition to patties and pastries, serve Kashmiri breads like ‘sheermal’ and ‘baqerkhani’, without which no Kashmiri breakfast is complete. Kashmiris use a variety of breads seldom seen elsewhere.
Tsot and tsochvoru are small round breads, topped with poppy and sesame seeds and traditionally washed down with salt tea. Lavas is a cream coloured unleavened bread; baqerkhani is the Kashmiri equivalent of rough puff pastry and kulcha is a melt-in-the mouth variety of short-bread, sweet or savoury, topped with poppy seeds.