March 7, 2023
Springtime in Kashmir is a sensory spectacle. The state’s idyllic mountains dust off their coats of white, awakening from slumber. Picnickers rejoice in Nishat Bagh as the park’s foliage turns pink. Dal Lake meanders through the state, thawing under the glint of the sun, which breathes zuva, or life into everything beneath it. It’s easy to see why the Mughal emperor Jehangir, when asked his dying wish, responded, “Only Kashmir.”
The emperor likely was referring to not only Kashmir’s ecology, but also to its comforting cuisine: think shatteringly crisp lotus fritters, floral kahwa tea, and Kashmiri harissa — a fatty sheep dish. Legend has it that the Mughals were also served wazwan, a 36-course, meat-based meal, upon their annexation of the state in 1586. The feast is a non-vegetarian’s fever dream and a vegetarian’s nightmare.
These days, the elaborate production of wazwan is reserved only for special occasions such as weddings, devgans (Kashmiri engagement ceremonies), or to close out the 40th day of mourning in Islam. And if you ever find yourself in Srinagar, woe betide you if you try to find the meal within a week’s notice. But despite its ritualistic significance, the ancient, labor-intensive feast is slowly disappearing.