The Kashmiris were isolated from mainland India by the mountains in between. This led to the development of a number of rituals and practices in many areas which are quite different from those prevailing in the rest of the country. One such delightful practice is in the area of cooking for marriages and other big functions, called the wazwan. Waza in Kashmiri means a cook and wan means a shop. Therefore wazwan means, loosely translated, the shop of the cook or the dishes the waza will cook for serving to guests.
A typical wazwan can have anywhere upto 25 dishes ormore. It depends on the spending power of the host. However the original meal formula consisted of kababs, rista (minced meat balls), tabak maaz (sheep’s ribs cooked in ghee),aab gosht(mutton cooked in milk), gushtaba (minced meat balls cooked in curd), and mirchi korma. The vegetarians could look forward to dum aloo, nadroo yakhani (lotus stem cooked in curd), varities of paneer, and the famous but simple mujh chattni(raddish chattni in curd).Today the host’s status will decide the number of dishes that will be served.
Usually the preparation of the wazwan starts a day before the wedding reception. Traditionally, large copper vessels are used to cook the various dishes and wood is the preferred medium for providing heat, but now gas cylinders are also used in a big way. In a typical Kashmiri Muslim wedding anywhere upto 350-400 kgs of meat can be cooked. In a Kashmiri Pandit wedding it could be say around 200-250 kgs as some dishes are not usually cooked in their weddings.The cooking is done in the open. Some of the dishes require lot of labor like gushtaba and rista. The boneless mutton is pounded on a stone slab for about four hours or more till the required fine consistency is achieved,only after which it is fit to be cooked further.
On the day of wedding the delicacies are kept on slow heat in copper vesssels ,which aids in the gradual absorption of the spices into the meat giving
The cooks or the wazas who create and cook these exotic delicacies are now a vanishing species, even in Kashmir itself. Their children are no longer interested in adopting the usually hereditary vocation. They are getting educated and are moving into newer professions.. One of the reasons for the children not following in the footsteps of their fathers is the low status granted to the wazas by the Kashmiris. Till the food is cooked they are most welcome and once the food is served they are the most unwanted person,is the general but true perception within the wazas and their children.
In downtown Srinagar, Kashmir, there is a community of wazas, staying in an area known as wazapora, stated to be in existence since past three centuries now.The winds of change are sweeping this community of around 250 waza families also. Their children also want to enter into more respectful professions and are studying ,unlike their fathers who were happy in carrying on with their hereditary waza functions and in the process cooked and served mouthwatering delicacies to generations of Kashmiris.Their fathers had no choice but their children have a variety of options How long before one more tradition becomes a memory of the past.