Did You Know Kashmiri Wazwan Cooks Speak A Secret Language?

They call it ‘heaven of earth’, and can heaven be complete without good food? For centuries, Kashmiri cuisine has attracted people from the world over for its exquisite flavours and richness. Sadly, in fast-paced times such as these, the true Wazwan experience is losing relevance even in the Valley. 

For the uninitiated, Wazwan is the famous Kashmiri sit-down meal, comprising a range of dishes. The word ‘Wazwan’ is derived from two words, ‘Waj/Wazei’, which means a cook and ‘Waan’, which means a shop. It is said that the idea of the meaty feast came to India in the 14th century with Timur. Many craftsmen, sculptors and cooks also migrated to Kashmir during this time, giving rise to a high culture of hospitality and service. These cooks who migrated from Samarkand to Kashmir, changed the culinary map of the region and gave birth to the Wazwan, and the area where the meal is cooked came to be known as WurBal.  

Since Wazwan is an integral part of Kashmiri culture, no stone is left unturned to make it an extravagant fare. Dishes like Rogan Josh (a hearty mutton curry) and Tabak Maaz (the rib of sheep that is steam cooked and served in the beginning of Wazwan) to Rista (the Kashmiri meatballs) - all of these make the Wazwan a meat-lovers dream come true. But that’s not all, a lot of paneer-based dishes and greens also make this fare all things wholesome and versatile.

The chefs or the cooks of Wazwan are held in very high esteem in Kashmir. Traditionally, the process of making Wazwan would begin as early as three in the morning, where the head chef would supervise the work of all the cooks, as they would beat meat for hours, marinate and do all the cutting and chopping business before they get to the ‘real cooking’.

Tabak Maaz in making

The organised and meticulous operations in the kitchens is surely a sight, but to understand their language you would, perhaps, need an acquaintance inside. That’s right, in Kashmir, most of these cooks seem to be conversing in their own secret language for all of these years, a language that is hard to decipher even for the local Kashmiris.  

History is proof of how it is common for people of the same vocation or community, to have their own mode of communication, distinct from the rest of the world. Certain words or phrases may have their roots in other languages, but find a different context or sound within the community.  

The cooks of Wazwan, also have this secret code language of sorts. It requires expertise to cook Wazwan, but it is very important to have harmony between the chefs. This language is very common among Wazwan chefs, especially in downtown Kashmir. These words and terminologies are passed on from veteran chefs to junior chefs, who then pass them down to the newer lot.  

Rogan Josh, a delicious mutton curry

Most names of the dishes in Wazwan have been derived from the Persian language anyway, but this is something different. The head cook, who is usually referred to as ‘Waza’ or ‘Aash Paaz’ outside, is called ‘Koulur’ in this secret language, Rice becomes ‘Raang’, Kebabs are 'Ashgund', gravy is ‘Mooa'th’, Tabakh Maaz is ‘Taieye’, and Rista is ‘Chuwei’. The list doesn’t end here, words for mega-popular dishes like Rogan Josh (Raizei), Gushtaba (Tass) also makes this language all the more fascinating. They also have words for guests, chicken, and utensils such as ‘Musann Weil’, ‘Du Zung’ and ‘Tamein’, respectively.  


Why do they need a separate language to communicate? Is it merely a tool to increase communication or efficiency in the kitchen or something more? We shall never know. What’s there in a name you ask, bard?  Old legacies, secret flavours and more, apparently. For now, we sure have started craving a wholesome bowl of Rista, or should we say ‘Chuwei’?