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Food festivals in the city aren't uncommon and cuisine from the Valley has been a popular choice. So what makes the ongoing Kashmiri food festival at Pride KC Hotel & Spa any different? Well, for one, it's being spearheaded by a third generation chef, Shabbir Ahmed. Hailing from Srinagar, Ahmed's grandfather and father were Wastas, as they call masterchefs in Kashmiri. "Cooking has been in the family for many generations. We have served in the royal court and these days our endeavour is to take Kashmiri delicacies across India," remarked Ahmed. He's brought along a team that also includes Chef Bashir Ahmed and a bagful of special ingredients from home. "Traditional Kashmiri cooking is known as Wazwan and the cuisine is rich and aromatic, replete with an unmatched flavour. Its preparation is considered an art," remarked Chef Shabbir, who has lugged with him special ingredients like dry ginger, cardamom, cloves, saffron, fennel and Kashmiri red chillies.
The cuisine, as the chef asserts, requires special ingredients and no Wazwan cooking can be complete without 'praan', special type of onions from the Valley. Not only are they much more expensive than regular onions but are known to add pungency to a dish. "Apart from special ingredients, Wazwan cooking involves a lot of patience. Also, since there are many non-vegetarian dishes, the meats have to be fresh and marinated with care," said Ahmed, as he served us a bowl of freshly made Rista. The meatballs in curry might look like an easy dish, but as the chef pointed out, it takes the longest to prepare. "The meat has to be procured fresh and then pounded till it reaches a fine consistency. It is then rolled into balls," explained the chef. Despite its ferocious colour, the gravy wasn't as fiery on the palate. And even though the rogan josh finds itself on many menus across restaurants in the city, the one prepared by Ahmed had a robust flavour and an unmatched aroma. Through the course of this food festival, Ahmed would be rolling out special Wazwan dishes like Tabak Maaz, Gushtaba, Kanti Kebab as well as vegetarian delicacies such as Chuk Wangan (sour fried brinjal), Waari Muth (turnip and black beans), Dum Oluv (baby potatoes) and Nadru Malai Kofta (made from lotus stems). The lunch and dinner buffet would also feature classical Kashmiri desserts like shufta, made using a smorgasbord of dry fruits and phirni. The latter, which we tried, was very different from the Punjabi version and the long strands of saffron give it a flavour that stays on the palate much after the meal is over. With the mercury taking a dip, we suggest you wind up your meal with the Kashmiri kahwa.