Evolution of A Kashmiri Kitchen

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The story goes like this…Once upon a time, in the Valley of Kashmir lived a huge population of Kashmiris, the forefathers of today’s generation living in the Valley of Kashmir. However, unlike the present generation, they did not have electricity or even the kerosene stoves which could have helped them in executing the most basic need of human beings – cooked food. But, nevertheless, they were an evolved species and were utilizing indigenous methodology to prepare their daily meals.

Each house had a ‘oblong clay oven’ which was over a foot in height with three to four holes on the top and a hole at the floor level through which firewood was fed to keep it burning. The holes on the top of this ‘oblong clay oven’ were meant for keeping different sizes of vessels either to cook or to warm the food. This was enough cooking infrastructure for a moderate family.

Once food was required to be prepared  for a large gathering, the whole concept of Kashmiri cooking underwent a drastic change.

The activity took the shape of “Sal” or “Wazwan” and the preparation of food for a larger gathering moved out of the kitchen with a “Oblong clay oven” to an open-air kitchen. The “Oblong clay over” underwent a huge transformation and the fireplace for cooking in the open kitchen was called ‘Vura’. Built with stones (now bricks), ‘Vura is rectangular in shape with holes on bothsides for smooth airflow to keep the firewood burning. The interesting part of the “Vura’ is that the fire burning within it can be regulated as required.  With multiple huge holes on the top for iron cauldrons and earthenware, one could easily control the fire with for any sort of cooking, ranging from deep or slow frying. The intensity of the fire can normally be controlled with the closing of one or at times both the side holes.

With the help of large sized wooden or metallic ladles, the contents in cooking vessels are stirred. Once the food is cooked, it is removed from over the Vura and is kept on simmering charcoal / dry cowdung slow fires. This process helps in maturing of flavours and developing just the right consistency of the gravy.

While the Kashmiri Muslims utilise tinned copper pots with a round bottom with a narrow mouth, which helps in stirring and turning the contents while cooking.Kashmiri Pandits normally opt for brass vessels. Kashmiri Muslims call such pots ‘Deg’ or ‘Digchavar’ and the Kashmiri Pandits call their cooking vessels ‘Digcha’.

The bottom line is that the preparations by either community over a period of time have gained popularity. The only thing which has changed is the fuel which is used for make such delicious food either in the kitchen for a moderate gathering or in an open kitchen for a large gathering.