Kashmir Food is possibly the most varied in the Indian sub-continent. Since it covers an area almost the size of the UK, this is hardly surprising. Also like the UK it has a very chequered political and religious history. Even today the region is administered in different parts by India, Pakistan and China, and parts of the region are still disputed; between India and Pakistan in the North-West, and India and China in the North-East.
The first rulers of the area were Buddhist and Kashmir was a great seat of Buddhist learning and one of the most important areas for the development of Buddhism. During the early history there was a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu who co-existed quite peaceably.
The early 14th century saw the invasion of the Muslims and the next two centuries saw an assortment of Muslim rulers, some tolerant of other religions, some less so. In the late 16th century the Moghuls became established when Akbar conquered the region.
Nearly four centuries of Muslim rule under the Moghuls and the Afghans followed, but in the early 19th century Kashmir was conquered by Sikh armies and Sikhism became a predominant influence. Today there are different areas of the state with differing religious mixes.
Other than that the state is landlocked, geographically it is also very diverse. It is India's most Northern state and the Northern parts are mountainous and glacial, at the other extreme there is the Vale of Kashmir, a 2000 sq mile river valley with lakes and fertile ground. The climate too varies hugely with extremes of both temperature and rainfall.
It is no surprise then that Kashmir food is quite varied?
Although Kashmir food contains both vegetarian and non-vegetarian there is a large meat eating tradition and the staple is wheat rather than rice. Baking has a rich tradition in Kashmir and Kashmir breads are many and varied - not really like the usual Indian roti and poori. Sheermal is like a naan but sweetened with sugar and egg and ends up more like a Danish pastry. Baqerkhani is a bit like our puff pastry, the dough is layered and each layer coated with ghee, folder and rolled again repeatedly before cooking. The result is a crispy bread often eaten at breakfast.
One famous tradition of the area is the Wazwan. This is a Muslim feast consisting (traditionally) of thirty six dishes (a bit like the Greek meze). Certain of the dishes are considered mandatory like rogan josh, mutton curries, kufta, kebabs and fried ribs as well as chutneys and other side dishes. It is tradition that everyone should organises one of these huge shindigs for their family and friends at least once in their life (I think once would do for me).
Mutton is the pride of the Kashmir food, there are many varieties and it is eaten by both Muslims and the Hindu Pandits. The Hindu cuisine is quite elaborate and uses lots of spices, different oils and often uses yoghurt. The Hindu pandits do not eat root vegetables such as onion, garlic and carrot.
The korma is a celebrated regional dish. This is not the thing you get in British Indian restaurants which are always mild, creamy and usually have nuts in them, Korma refers to a method of cooking - it just means 'braised' and so there can be many variants - rogan josh and dopiaza are both types of korma, so you can have anything from a creamy chicken korma to a red hot vegetable korma.
A final word about tea, Kashmiris are voracious tea drinkers with rather strange tastes - they put salt and baking soda in it - oh well.
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