A delicious slice of·Kashmir

Shivani Mohan
Filed on June 10, 2011

An interesting book on Kashmiri cuisine was launched recently at the India International Centre in New Delhi, in the presence of the crème de la creme of Kashmiri intelligentsia and connoisseurs of good food from all walks of life.

written by Sarla Razdan traces the history of this unique and distinct cuisine and offers some heartwarming recipes. Mrs Razdan, wife of Mr M K Razdan, CEO of PTI (Press Trust of India) has enjoyed cooking sumptuous Kashmiri food all her life, picking the nuances of this gourmet cuisine from her mother and mother-in-law, and egged on by her adoring family to master the art till many leading dignitaries and guests were literally eating out of her hands. Thus the book has some firsthand inputs and magic talismans that make Indian home cooked food, especially that cooked by the lady of the house, still unbeatable in the taste and warmth departments.

It is true that no matter how many celebrity chefs float around, the best Indian cooking can still be found in homes and it is women such as Mrs Sarla Razdan who carry forward this tradition painstakingly with a lot of love and patience — a fact that makes this book one of the best you can pick if you genuinely want to venture into home style Kashmiri cooking. As noted author and journalist M J Akbar, points out in his evocatively written foreword to the book, “Cooking is a selfless joy… The great cooks have pride, but no ego. It is only current capitalism that has given us the phenomenon of chefs who offer signature dishes… The false ego on display in Michelin-starred restaurants is only a means of extortion; they do not give to each according to need, but they certainly take from each customer according to his ability to pay.’

The book is showcased in an interesting format. It not only offers authentic Kashmiri recipes but also has some breathtaking shots of the valley, many of them absolutely stunning and captivating landscapes by Mukhtar Ahmad. Sarla Razdan’s cooking comes with some heavy weight and genuine endorsements by well known faces who have dined with the Razdans on several occasions such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lata Mangeshkar, Sachin Tendulkar and Farooq Abdullah. Each one of them have savoured one or more of the dishes in the book, often taking away recipes from her to try themselves.

Speaking at the occasion, Sarla Razdan dedicated the book to all Kashmiris and related some endearing, light-hearted episodes about food and cooking. She said, “Kashmiris love their food so much that they must be the only people with surnames taken from food items. You may have heard of someone called Mr Wangnu, named after eggplant or Mrs Kakru which, believe me, is derived from chicken. This book is dedicated to all Kashmiris and is an honest effort to preserve recipes that make our food a delicacy and such a delight. Yet these recipes are updated for the generation next and for those who don’t have that much time to cook today… However I must admit that it is much easier to cook than to write about cooking!”

In the book she points out the difference between Kashmiri Muslim cooking that is primarily non vegetarian as opposed to the cuisine of the Kashmiri Pandits who also enjoy a vast variety of vegetarian dishes, many of which are included in the book. But there are snatches of a culture once lived and imbibed homogeneously mentioned in the book that give an insight into traditions that are lost when narrow agendas take over. “We pundits grew in Muslim neighbourhoods. We shared the same language, the same music, and went to the same schools. A Muslim wedding in the neighbourhood provided a strong challenge to the taste buds — the Wazwaan with over 30 varieties of meat preparation is truly a gastronomic Olympiad. Our Muslim neighbours would always invite us to savour this delightful food and if we couldn’t make it, food would be sent home.”

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