There are certain kinds of cuisines in which the authenticity of flavours, preparation methods and recipes is of paramount importance. One such culinary style is the legendary Wazwan food of Kashmir.
Chef Ravi Sharma of Vivanta Dal View, Srinagar, specializes in recreating the magic of Kashmiri food with stringent adherence to authentic ingredients, cooking styles and traditional practices. His areas of specialisation include not just Wazwan but also the ancient recipes of Kashmiri Pandits, and cuisines that came all the way from the distant kingdom of Samarqand and were, thereafter, customised to suit the Indian palate. All these cuisines have a very important ingredient: rich, sparkling, golden yellow cold-pressed Mustard Oil. This is a must for maintaining authenticity.
Like all other Wazwan chefs (traditionally known as Waza), Chef Sharma believes that there can be no ingredient substitution, quick-fixes or fusion experiments when it comes to Wazwan. And that also applies to the use of Mustard Oil. You can’t get the real flavour of Wazwan food if you prepare the dishes in refined oil or some other cooking medium. That’s because in Wazwan, Mustard Oil isn’t just a cooking medium, it is also a part of the flavour, the texture and the visual appeal of the dishes. In fact, a common practice in most Wazwan recipes is to heat Mustard Oil to its smoking point and then drizzle it over the top of the dish like a Tadka before serving it. Moreover, in many of the dishes, Mustard Oil is also used as a marinade.
One dish that demonstrates the need to use Mustard Oil to ensure authenticity is a vegetarian preparation known as Haak. It’s a dish that Chef Sharma includes in the menu for all the Kashmiri food festivals he curates all over India. The greens (Haak) used in this dish have a very subtle taste. The spices used are everyday ones – asafoetida, cardamoms, fennel, ginger and garlic. The spiciness is accentuated by the use of red chillies. But the warm, enticing essence of the dish’s flavour comes from the generous use of Mustard Oil. It won’t work with any other cooking medium.
As a true aficionado of the art of Wazwan, Chef Sharma believes in the simple principle: No Mustard Oil, no Wazwan!