Dressed up in a white kurta, pyjama and cap over their heads, Waza, traditional chefs of Kashmir, are popularly known for the world-famous Kashmiri cuisine - Wazwan. In social gatherings, wazwan is served to guests and is considered a mark of hospitality of Kashmiris.
Every family in Kashmir has their family chef who is called to prepare cuisines on every occasion of the family. Conversely, every Waza has up to fifty families as customers. The Wazwan is the single largest expense for a wedding as it includes non-vegetarian dishes mostly. Nowadays, there is addition of some vegetarian dishes as well.
In the ideal months of marriage in Kashmir, which are usually April to October, Wazas remain in high demand.
The dates of marriage are set after taking consultation with Waza as they get booked by other families as well.
Abdul Majeed, an elderly local said, “If Wazas are not available, the dates of marriage are postponed. They are the pride of Kashmiri tradition and the most important part of occasions.”
Wazwan is a multi-course supper in Kashmiri cooking, the planning of which is considered as a craftsmanship in Kashmiri culture. In Wazwan, the dishes are mostly meat-based (sheep or chicken). Different chutneys, pickles and salads are also included.
“It is well known fact that our occasions are incomplete without wazwan. People from all over the world come to relish the delicacies,” said another local, Basit Shah.
In the Kashmiri language, waz signifies 'cook' or 'cooking' and wan signifies 'shop'. A definitive conventional feast in Kashmir is the regal wazwan.
Of its 30 courses, somewhere in the range of fifteen and thirty can be arrangements of meat, cooked for the time being under the management of an expert gourmet specialist called a wouste waze (head chef).
It is fiendishly difficult to replicate a Kashmiri wazwan outside the state because you must have a meal cooked by a waza. They are a traditional, hereditary community of male cooks who set up an outdoor kitchen in the courtyards of their customers and cook on wood fires. There are no wazas outside Kashmir. If you want to relish wazwan outside Kashmir, you ought to bring a waza with you.
The Wazwan is a proper feast that is for the most part ready during formal occasions like weddings and parties. Consisting of different non-veg dishes made by utilizing ghee and various kinds of spices to enhance the taste of dishes.
There are many Wazas in Kashmir but the most famous are the Wazas from Wazapora and Shaitaan Waza from the downtown area of Srinagar. These wazas have been in this profession for many decades now. They are following their legacy.
Mohammad Amin from Wazapora has lived up to the reputation of being a master at making the delicacy. He has acquired these traits and skills over generations.
“My ancestors, grandfather, father, uncles were also in this profession, and we are following it,” he said.
Ideally Wazwan is a feast which mainly includes kabab, kokur, tabakh maaz, rista, rogan josh, daniwal korma, aab gosh, marchhwangan korma and gushtaba.
“From the last few years there has been a demand to add more dishes to Wazwan specially for wedding and engagement functions,” he said.
He said, “We at present prepare about 34 dishes including mutton, chicken, cheese and vegetables.”
Another famous waza, Ayoub from downtown said, “We get tremendously happy on seeing people getting married happily and I believe the wazas play the most important role in the weddings.”
“We have many loyal customers (over 50 families) who do not fix the dates without us giving a nod,” said Ayoub.
Ayoub recently got a chance to prepare wazwan for a family where his father had already prepared wazwan for years all together.
He said there is a huge difference in the quality of the wazwan cooked in towns and other places outside the towns. “The Wazwaan was a gift from Central Asian Muslim rulers.”
Abdul Majeed, a resident of Habba Kadal area said they have a family waza who prepares wazwan for them on every occasion. “He is just like our family member. He has been bestowed with such good taste; his hands are magical.”
He said, “He even prepares different delicacies for us on Eid and other special occasions. My father used to be his friend.”
“I think waza is the one who makes an occasion memorable. The functions last for 3 to 4 days only and everyone forget about it in a month but the Wazwan people taste at a wedding is unforgettable and is cherished for the years all together,” he said.
Abdul Majeed said the times and culture is changing drastically in Kashmir, but nobody can ever replace the wazwan prepared by traditional Kashmiri Wazas.
Kashmir has seen a lot of modifications during weddings. The things that used to exist in the past are nowhere to be seen in today’s wedding. Things have changed and people are adapting to it but the only thing that has remained unchanged till now is “Wazwan- prepared by Waza”.
Wazas have been there for a long time now and nobody till now has been able to replace them. No matter where the other cooks come from, no matter what kind of food they prepare, Waza remains unbeatable and constant throughout.
Wazwan has now turned into a sensation among inexpensive food joints in the valley and has additionally acquired acclaim among vacationers. It is also served globally at Kashmir food festivals and other social gatherings. Wazwan is also ordered online from Kashmir.