Wazwaan: Kashmiri Wedding Feast

In Kashmir, waza caterers—whose professions are handed down through generations—specialize in the elaborate meal called the wazwaan, undertaken for auspicious occasions such as weddings. Read more about the wazwaan feast in "Perfect Union" by Betsy Andrews »

Khurshied Khan sorts cuts of meat at the wedding of Shafia Jeelani, a resident of Srinagar, Kashmir. Khan is a waza, a caterer, whose occupation has been handed down through ten generations. He specializes in the elaborate meal called a wazwaan, undertaken for auspicious occasions such as marriage. His repertoire encompasses 36 courses—nearly all of them lamb.
Nearby, copper pots bubble over blazing logs: They tend stews, cook springy meatballs called ghushtaba in a rich, yogurt-based gravy, and splash mustard oil for frying shami kebab patties stuffed with onion and ginger.
For the wazwaan specialty called tabak maaz, lamb ribs are parboiled in turmeric, pressed, and then fried; they will be laid on communal copper platters atop enormous heaps of rice along with kebabs and other meats to serve wedding guests four at a time.
Many of the dishes, like mirchi qorma, spicy lamb shoulder, begin with a vermilion chile broth, made by soaking smoky dried Kashmiri chiles in water and puréeing them.
The bride, Shafia Jeelani, has been elaborately dressed and made up by her female friends and family members in preparation for the night's wazwaan. It is a feast only for the bride's wedding party. Tomorrow night, the groom's party will be feted.
The following evening, the bride's party stands in anticipation of the groom's arrival. The groom arrives to a house lit up with colored lights and is serenaded by the bride's party, who present him with gifts.
The groom, Jeelani Bhat, partakes in the wazwaan feast, savoring dishes like the tubular seekh kebabs. At the end of the meal, guests will load plastic bags, provided by the bride's family, with leftovers to take home to their families; this "takeout" is an integral part of the ritual. The food writer Marryam Reshii calls the wazwaan a Kashmiri form of cucina povera, or “cooking of the poor," for an entire animal is utilized, and no food goes to waste.

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