There is nothing like ghar ka khana (home-cooked food). The aroma of freshly cooked food has been the first sign that you are drawing close to home ever since childhood. Be it running home from school with bruised knees, dawdling home as teenagers or hurrying home after a tiring day at work, the food always felt the same – like home.
Eventually, over the years, people have found themselves moving away from home. Some due to circumstances, and others by choice. Food has always been the least of their worries because even if the natives were not accepting of them completely, their cuisines were not only accepted but loved and appreciated by all.
Now, there is Chinese cuisine in Goa and Goan in Mangalore. But, the void that ghar ka khana left is still felt deeply by many who are away from home.
And, two people who have acknowledged this void are celebrated Kashmiri Pandit chefs, Chef Rahul Wali and Chef Sunil Mattoo, who recently showcased a delectable spread of home-cooked Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, titled, 'Poushvaer - A culinary journey from Kashmir to Goa', straight out of the kitchen of Hilton Goa Resort in Saipem, Candolim.
What initially started as a weekend menu from Chef Rahul’s kitchen at home, soon started growing as he began approaching hotels. Ever since the beginning, the goal was always about putting Kashmiri Pandit cuisine on the Indian map.
"The passion for food and our Kashmiri roots prompted us to promote Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, which many people are not aware of in this part of the world", says Chef Sunil.
“When people think of Kashmiri food, they think of only the Wazwan cuisine. Nobody speaks about the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, which is actually the original cuisine of Kashmir,” began Chef Rahul.
Every journey has a story to tell. And, when asked about their journey till today, Chef Rahul jokes, “You want the long story or the short one?” The Kashmiri Pandit cuisine dates back to 326 BC, he claims.
He explains, “Being a Kashmiri Pandit myself, I have grown up eating this kind of food. The only difference is that we never sold our food like the Wazwan cuisine. Our food was always in the closed walls of our homes.”
People would begin their meals with a small cup of aromatic Kashmiri tea known as Kahwa. The scent of cinnamon and cloves filled the air as Chef Sunil laughs, “Local brandy!” he teases.
When it comes to the thalis, both the vegetarian (Mahariyn thali) and the non-vegetarian (Maharaaz thali) are very simple and nutritious meals. There is no fancy plating but still something that makes you want to dig right in.
With buzith gaad (roasted fish), kokur yakhni (chicken with yogurt), muton rogan josh, gaad nadur (fish with lotus stem) and kong phirni (saffron semolina phirni) being some of the items arranged on the plate, another interesting thing to note is that the food of Kashmiri Pandits is cooked with a handful of spices and without the use of onion, garlic or tomatoes.
“If you have noticed, there are very limited ingredients that have been used to prepare this meal. There is nothing fancy about it, not even a garnish. It’s like a home-cooked meal, and nobody garnishes their food when they eat at home. The food is cooked, plated and eaten – as it should be. If it were up to me, I would dig in the traditional way – with bare hands!” explains Chef Rahul.
Many people ask, “Why do you eat non-vegetarian even though you are a Pandit?”
“There is a story behind that as well. Although there is no way to prove the authenticity of this story, it is a traditional practice that I’ve heard about and see in homes,” he says as he shares an interesting story from his native place in Kashmir.
The story begins with the Shaivites (followers of Shiva). All their food, especially the Pandits’ food, has a lot to do with Shivratri and other sub-regional festivals.
“We have a festival for fish at the peak of winter, a festival for mutton liver, a festival for mutton khichdi and another one where other parts such as the intestines and other parts of the body are cooked at a marriage ceremony. As for the bones, they were probably fed to wild animals or used as stock and consumed. And, the same system applied to vegetarians,” says Chef Rahul.
Truth be told, most of these festivals were created to minimise the wastage of food. “Apart from this, there were three processes for preserving food. It was either sundried, pickled or fried and preserved,” he continues.
With Srinagar being a winter place with snowfall that is almost 5 to 6 feet deep, the question of going to the market often did not arise. There was no vegetation for three to four months, and the only option was to buy food, fry it, preserve it and store it in large baskets, especially in joint families.
People would purchase a whole lamb or maybe fish and store it in baskets. The need for refrigeration did not arise as it is naturally cold.
Looking back, sustainability was always the goal, and that is something that we need to bring back today, he says.
"As for the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, I would say we’ve just touched 2 per cent of people, and there’s still 98 per cent left. Today, the irony is that in the 80s people used to go out to eat Western food like pasta and pizza. Now pasta and pizza come home, and people go out to eat regional food,” rues the chef.
Today, chefs Rahul and Sunil share not only their cuisine with the world, but have also shed light on all that has been forgotten in this fast-paced life.
And, as for the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, it is more than just a meal, when people like chefs Rahul and Sunil are the ones sharing it.
If you pay close attention, listening to their culinary tales is like taking a mental trip to the mountains of breathtaking Kashmir of 326 BC, into a house where a meal is being cooked while the kesar is being generously sprinkled on rice, and smell of delicious Kawa fills the air.
WHERE: Hilton Goa Resort in Saipem, Candolim.
CONTACT: +91 9607975963 or @hiltongoaresort on Instagram