The famous multi-cuisine cuisine of the picturesque valley of Kashmir in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir – Wwazwan, known for its soothing taste buds – is also believed to have turned the political tables, at times upsetting global diplomacy with far-reaching consequences over the past 70 years.
In December 1955, when former Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev visited India, his host then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made sure to visit Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir in the winter months.
It is understood that the famous image of Kashmir Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad placing goshtapa – a meat ball prepared in yoghurt with special spices – in Khrushchev’s mouth has turned the tables of global diplomacy in favor of India. Upon his return, the Soviet Union began to veto discussions and resolutions relating to Kashmir at the United Nations.
The UN Security Council had earlier adopted a unanimous resolution seeking a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir to allow people to decide whether the region would be part of India or Pakistan.
In his autobiography Aatish e Chinar (Chinar in Flames), Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, the popular leader who had been ousted from the premiership two years earlier, wrote that he saw Soviet planes carrying Khrushchev flying over Kod Prison, where he was housed.
With eyes fixed to the sky, he immediately assumed that the visit of the Soviet leader and the hospitality he would receive in Srinagar meant that the Kashmir solution would now be subject to the complexities and international ingenuity associated with great-power rivalry.
Former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s statement on food diplomacy that “the table is where power has influence, where tensions are eased and where relationships are built”, was tested in April 1985 by the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Ghulam Muhammad Shah to save his government.
His coalition partner, Congress, had pulled the plug and asked Governor Jagmohan Malhotra to dismiss the government and appoint its leader as Prime Minister. Rather than stage a show of force in Srinagar, Shah flew to New Delhi with top chefs and invited then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to a feast.
Wazwan saves the government
He also invited some select journalists, who asked Gandhi after dinner about the fate of the government in Srinagar. The prime minister, who is also the head of the ruling Congress party, said while still squashing the wazoan plates: “There is no plan to change the government in Srinagar or hold new elections. His party will continue to support the Shah as prime minister.”
The statement eased the morale of the Congress party leaders in Kashmir and gave a chance of life to Shah’s government for another year, thanks to the whimsical appetite.
India’s first Prime Minister Nehru, originally Kashmiri, was a huge fan of this cuisine and would often order it from Srinagar. In a lighter context, many analysts believe that Nehru Pozwan’s passion did not allow Jammu and Kashmir to become part of Pakistan at the time of independence despite it being a Muslim-majority region.
Prominent legal writer and author Abdul Ghafoor Noorani, based in Mumbai, told Anadolu Agency that Wazwan was in fact a strong persuasion for him to continue researching and working on Kashmir.
“In the early 1960s, socialist leader Merdula Sarabhai commissioned me to provide legal aid to imprisoned leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in court. I visited him in Jammu Central Jail and then challenged his case. But after that, my relationship with Kashmir through my belly remained enchanted by the wonderful tastes and zwans.”
In 1975, when Abdullah became chief minister of the district, he would send a group of wazaws to him whenever there was a direct flight from Srinagar to Mumbai, reminding this prominent legal figure. The award-winning octogenarian writer said he still gets his wazwan by mail from a Kashmiri chef, whose sons have set up a fast food restaurant in the Indian capital, New Delhi.
dish control order
According to Ghulam Nabi Jouhar, the session judge in 1974, he had to rescind a government order restricting people to serving only five dishes of Ouazwan. Since its preparations cost a lot of money and labour, the government wanted the poor not to spend money on preparing dishes to compete with the rich.
Jawhar wrote in his order that Eid al-Wazzan is based on lamb and requires the use of every part of the animal in different dishes. Even the offal form separate dishes and are served as an appetizer. He said the five-course restriction meant the host would have to throw out the rest of the meat. Instead he recommended restricting the number of guests.
According to prominent Kashmiri journalist Naseer Qani, in the late 1960s Prime Minister Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq, who is believed to be close to the Communists, considered Zwaan a remnant of Kashmiri aristocrats and made serious attempts to phase out Wazwan.
Quoting the Kashmiri poet Zarif Ahmad Zarif, he said that Sadiq wanted to buy all the utensils from the chefs to put in a museum. He even gave them permits to drive minibuses. But the attempt was unsuccessful because she resented the people.
Historians say that the Wazzans traveled to Kashmir with Turkish immigrants from Central Asia who were visiting and settling in the region in the 14th and 15th centuries. But to make it more creative and tasty, it is entirely the responsibility of the locals. Waz is derived from the ancient Kashmiri language and the Sanskrit word waja – for cooking. The chef is called waza, which is derived from the Persian aashpaz, meaning a private cook.
Wazwan dishes require fresh meat. Sometimes the chef himself will check the live sheep to check if they are suitable for the kitchen. Since it needs a lot of labor and a variety of seasonings, it becomes uneconomical to serve authentic Wazzan meals in restaurants. Between 10 and 36 dishes are cooked overnight under the supervision of a chef in special nickel-plated copper utensils known as daegs.
A social statement to break down barriers
Sociologists assert that the ouzoan is not a variety of dishes alone, but because it is served on a plate, where four people sit down to eat together, it is a social statement to break the grip of class and class. Islam came to Kashmir only 700 years ago by preachers, who preached against the caste system and spread equality and brotherhood. Before the advent of Islam, the upper class could not sit with someone from the lower class. Eating from the same dish was out of the question.
Guests sit in a row, they make a group of four people share a plate containing rice and as starters they order kebab (minced meat grilled on skewers on hot coals), tabukh moaz (shiny lamb ribs cooked in milk and then fried in clarified butter), dini foul (large piece of lamb), and halves or two whole chicken pieces sprinkled with chopped coriander and watermelon seeds, a broth made from lamb stomachs.
Then a series of dishes start appearing one by one like but not limited to rasta (meat balls in red broth), rogan josh or red lamb curry, daniwal korma (lamb cooked in lots of coriander), marchuangan korma (mutton korma). Spicy cooked with kashmiri red chilli), aab gosht (lamb ribs cooked in a milk-based broth flavored with green cardamom and saffron) punctuated with a variety of sauces – the spicy seasoning made up of walnuts and almonds. The last dish, before the race, is goshtapa – large white meatballs that completely put an end to meat dishes.
Despite having world-class grazing land, Kashmir imports 30 million kilograms of mutton every year, mostly from the Indian province of Rajasthan. Since most of the grazing land is located near the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the region into areas controlled by India and Pakistan, it is too militaristic in nature to take any economic benefit from it.
Last year, when Indian film producer Vivek Agnihotri announced the re-routing of wazwan to make it entirely vegan to make it Indian, it sparked panic locally and was seen as an attempt to weaken the cultural identity of Kashmir. “Nobody in Kashmir knows how to cook and vegan zwans. I came here to change it,” he wrote on Twitter.
Like the Kashmiri language, dress and literature, the Wazwan is also an integral part of the region, which needs to be preserved, protected and used in enteral diplomacy to reach the high political tables.