Shaitan Wazwan: A Traditional Kashmiri Feast By ‘Devil’ Chefs
- Jasmine Kaur
Updated : September 03, 2022 02:09 IST
Although ‘devil’ might sound like a strange way to address the chefs, the story behind this mysterious reference is quite interesting
The beautiful valley of Kashmir is home to scenic landscapes and lush greenery. If that wasn’t enough, the aroma of slow-cooked rich and hearty Kashmiri food captivates the taste buds and makes a visit to the paradise fulfilling. The culinary affairs of the Valley are known for being hot and delicious but it is the Kashmiri wedding feast that is the most awaited time of the year. Given the topography of the place, the months between April-October are well-suited for events like weddings to take place. The highlight of the wedding day is the traditional Wazwan that is prepared for the family and guests.
For the unversed, Wazwan is an authentic Kashmiri meal that is mostly prepared for festivals like Eid as well as weddings. The term is coined from words like waz, meaning cook, and wan, meaning shop. One family that has been preparing this traditional feast for generations are the Shaitan wazas or devil chefs. It is believed that this unique name was given to the family of cooks during the tenure of Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi. At a special function at the then Prime Minister’s house, Asadullah Khan’s great grandfathers were asked to prepare Wazwan for the guests, as per a media publication.
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The magical flavours in their food allured almost everyone but one such guest requested to meet the cook behind this amazing meal. Upon meeting the chef, the guest instantly remarked that the food was cooked by a shaitan or devil. Used with a positive connotation about the supernatural abilities of the chef to deliver such flavours on the plate, the name ‘Shaitan Waza’ has stuck to the family since then, as per Asadullah’s interview with a media publication.
The legacy of preparing these elaborate meals continues to be of great importance in Kashmir. Such is the power of Wazwan that if a specific Waza is not available on a particular date, the wedding will be postponed to suit his time. An extensive and time-consuming process, the Wazwan is believed to have originated from Persia where 53 dishes were cooked at once. Brought to Kashmir by the Mughals who came back with Persian cooks, the traditional feast was adapted in the region and today, you will find somewhere between seven to 36 lamb or sheep meat dishes prepared as part of Wazwan.
Some dishes that you would commonly find in a Kashmiri Wazwan are Rogan Josh, Tabak Maaz, Rista and Gushtaba. Asadullah also shares that the lavish feast involves a team of several junior Wazas or chefs along with head chefs and a mutton dish takes about 16 hours to cook. All these dishes are prepared in the courtyards of the customers in open fire and relished on a traem, a large platter on which rice and the meat are served to be eaten by four people at a time. The rich and hearty delicacies are savoured by all the guests after the wedding rituals and are an indispensable part of any Kashmiri marital affair.