If you are a member of one of Delhi’s Facebook food groups, you will have seen a question sooner or later in one or all of them: “Where is the best place to find Kashmiri food in Delhi?” The good news is that there are plenty of places, on an axis from Jama Masjid, south Delhi to Gurgaon. But first, a word about the cuisine itself.

There are two cuisines in the Kashmir Valley: Muslim and Pandit. They are both different from one another. As chef Nimish Bhatia puts it, “Wazwan food hits you at the back of the mouth, near the throat, and thus stays on your palate longer. Pandit food is more spicy, comparatively and is perceived in the front of the mouth”. One cuisine is not inherently better or worse, but do be aware that they are different. Wazwan itself is the banquet food of the Muslims of Kashmir; when the Pandits have banquets, they typically call cooks from the Kishtwar region of Jammu to create a set of dishes that are radically different from those served at a wazwan. Whereas a wazwan has a preponderance of meat preparations, the Pandit wedding banquet does have paneer and collard greens {haakh} in addition to rajmah. You would never find these at a Muslim banquet: Tomato paneer is the lone vegetarian option.

The other thing is that some dishes have become extremely popular and for a host to leave them out of his menu will be to invite scorn if not outrage. Chief among them are gushtaba and rista, two pounded mutton meatballs that have an unique texture. It is an enormous challenge to replicate these outside Kashmir, because the sheep has to be freshly slaughtered and the meat has to be pounded before rigor mortis has set in. It is next to impossible to meet these conditions in Gurgaon and Delhi, which means that having these two items on the menu has a disproportionate amount of back-end work. And because these two dishes have to be made by a hereditary waza, as opposed by a housewife with a food processor, many restaurants serving Kashmiri Muslim cuisine are hard-pressed to hire a waza. There is no such compulsion in Pandit cookery. And now to the restaurants and takeaway outlets.

RoadRomeo

Road Romeo, up two flights of stairs, is a restaurant in the day and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday nights, a nightclub. The menu, surprisingly, is a serious mix of Lucknowi, Hyderabadi and Kashmiri and though there is not a lot of Kashmiri, it is surprisingly good, particularly the roghan josh.

Where: 47, Defence Colony Market

Nearest Metro Station: Lajpat Nagar

Contact: 011 65999950

Price: INR 1,700 for two {approx.}

Ahad Sons

Photo source: Ahad Sons

Photo source: Ahad Sons

The oldest and the most permanent restaurant, is Ahad Sons of Masjid Moth, Behind Uday Park. The three brothers, themselves wazas from a prominent Srinagar family, have been located in Delhi since the late 80s, they are the pioneers of canned wazwan and they sell from a small menu of ten or so preparations in individual portions, cater for parties and even supply to restaurants. For individual portions you do have to go to their commissery {no seating} in Masjid Moth to pick up your order; they will deliver to your doorstep for party catering. Two people can eat for as little as INR 700.

Mirchi Qorma and Seekh Kebabs are my favourite picks. Their canned wazwan is available at Masjid Moth and online at Kashmirbox. Generally considered to be the most authentic, their client base include most Kashmiris who live around south Delhi.

Where: 3A, Uday Park

Nearest Metro Station: Green Park

Contact: 011 26253642

Price: INR 700 for two {approx.}

Chor Bizarre

Chor Bizarre is the restaurant or catering service that serves the food of both the Muslim and Pandit cuisines. The years have been less than kind to the food, however, but as a venue for dinner with overseas guests, the quirky memorabilia, film music of yesteryears and the very location, midway between Old and New Delhi, is hard to match.

Where: Hotel Broadway, 4/15/A, Daryaganj

Nearest Metro Station: Chawri Bazaar

Contact: 011 43663600, or write to broadway@oldworldhospitality.com

Price: INR 1,500 for two {approx.}

Daawat-E-Kashmir

Photo source: Daawat-e-Kashmir

Photo source: Daawat-e-Kashmir

23-year-old Vivek Dhar believes in going against the grain. He can well afford to, because Daawat-e-Kashmir is a subsidiary business for him. His is a takeaway serving Mughlai and Kashmiri food, and though his focus is Pandit cuisine {do not miss the crunchy nadru churma and the khetchar- khichri- with meat, called Kashmiri biryani on the menu}, he employs a cook from Jammu who does very creditable ristas and gushtabas, so that the lines between the cuisines are intentionally blurred. Because the business caters to the comparatively cosmopolitan crowd of Gurgaon, there’s a marked trend in the ordering pattern. Non-Kashmiris order Mughlai and Kashmiri interchangeably whereas Kashmiris could order dum aloo as well as ristas with equal gusto.

Where: Navkriti Building, Golf Course Road

Nearest Metro Station: Sikanderpur

Contact: +91 9821542005/6

Price: INR 800 for two

Follow them on Facebook here.

The Pavilion- ITC Maurya

Trawl the restaurants in this list and you’ll notice how compact most menus are. It’s a function of demand and supply in a city where Kashmiri food is but one regional cuisine among many others. ITC Maurya’s Pavilion has two weekly buffets by housewife turned chef, Suman Kaul in which at least 15 constantly varying preparations are showcased. Kaul is a passionate hobby cook and has an unending repertoire of uncommon dishes like guchchi ver and apple pakora. Her Wednesday lunch and Friday dinner buffets are highly recommended for being a rare occasion to find home-cooked food in a five-star setting, that too, steering clear of cliches.

Where: ITC Maurya, Chanakyapuri

Nearest Metro Station: Jor Bagh

Contact: 011 33106450

Price: INR 4,000 for two {approx.}

Matamaal

Photo source: Maatamal Restaurant

Photo source: Maatamal Restaurant

Gurgaon has turned out to be the headquarters of Kashmiri food. Nalini Moti Sadhu of Matamaal in DLF City Court, Sikandrapur, owns a diminutive little eatery which nevertheless manages not to be cramped. She and her helpers cook, serve and man the telephones with a rare display of warmth and friendliness. The dozen or so seats in Matamaal {which means maternal grandma’s home} are usually occupied by friends and friends of friends. The menu is modest, not surprisingly, and consists of Pandit dishes cooked with a home-style flair. The soft music is straight from the Kashmir Valley.

When the day is done, Mr Sadhu appears from his office down the corridor and the couple eat in their own restaurant, fussing over one another, just like any much-married couple would. Do try their Shufta, a sweet dish that I have only seen here.

Where: 203, DLF City Court, Sikandarpur, Gurgaon

Nearest Metro Station: Sikandarpur

Contact: +91 9899499043

Price: INR 1,000 for two {approx.}

Follow them on Facebook here.

Mealability

Sanjay Raina, of Mealability, operates out of Gurgaon. His team cooks a range of items that are listed on his Facebook page. You have to order {minimum order applies} any time from Monday to Friday and the food will be delivered to you on the weekend. Raina’s speciality is Pandit food with its trademark touch of asafoetida and his Dum Aloo is very good. No order is too large for him, and with enough advance notice, he can even make a delivery on a weekday.

Where: 407 A, Palam Vihar or order online here

Contact: +91 9871511111

Follow them on Facebook here.

Khyen Chyen

Photo source: Going Banaras Photography via Khyen Chyen

Photo source: Going Banaras Photography via Khyen Chyen

Less than five kilometres down Gurgaon’s famously pot-holed roads, is Khyen Chyen. It is on the ground floor of Cross Point Mall. Another small eatery {15 seater}, this one serves wazwan in settings that call to mind a Kashmiri household, complete with copper tableware gleaming on a wooden sideboard, including a tasht naar that a server brings around to wash your hands before and after eating. The minus side is that the noise level of the exhaust fan {and its woeful inadequacy} goes through the roof making conversation strained, but the food is adequate if inconsistent.

There’s a tendency to cater to the local palate which demands mirchi qorma without too much mirchi and rista with extra gravy! Two can eat for within INR 1,000, which includes a mutton starter, a mutton main course, fat rice {thank god for no basmati here} and mineral water. A good option if you are in the area and are trying out Kashmiri food for the first time. There are wazas in the kitchen.

Where: Ground Floor, Cross Point Mall, DLF Phase IV, Gurgaon

Contact: 0124 4231919

Price: INR 1,200 for two {approx.}

Follow them on Facebook here.

Kashmiri Kitchen

Photo source: Kashmiri Kitchen

Photo source: Kashmiri Kitchen

Less than half a kilometre away is another world altogether: Kashmiri Kitchen. Located off the main road behind Cross Point Mall, right opposite the Hamilton Court gate, the entrance to the residential compound is dark and not well-marked at night. Go into the gate and follow the road as it turns to the left. The market is composed entirely of takeaway joints. Kashmiri Kitchen is up a flight of metal grill stairs {watch out if you’re in stilettos}. Owned by a mother and a daughter from the Kashmir Valley, the kitchen is on the ground floor and is manned by wazas from outside Srinagar. However, Mrs Khan is always at hand to monitor the cooking and service and all the semolina kheer is made by her.

Whether you try the shammi kebabs, the ristas or the mild yakhni, you will have a great meal.

Where: 786 Complex, Opposite Hamilton Court Building, DLF Phase 4, Gurgaon

Nearest Metro Station: IFFCO Chowk

Contact: +91 9999662326

Price: INR 1,000 for two {approx.}

Samavar

The other Kashmiri restaurant of note is Samavar on the angle between Greater Kailash and Pamposh Enclave. It occupies space in what is essentially a club for the community {Pamposh Enclave was more or less set up for Kashmiri Pandits in the 1970s}. This is the only restaurant on this list that serves Indian and Chinese as well, but the Kashmiri food, cooked by a person from Kishtwar, the elongated meatballs of the Pandit community, is the speciality here, followed by Haakh and Dum Aloo. Do not miss the Nadru Churm here. The large barn-like space effortlessly caters to club members, first timers, seekers of Kashmiri food and drinkers of the spirits at unbelievably low prices, so this is the one space in the NCR that has the vibe of a restaurant in Kashmir.

Where: B-36, Pamposh Enclave, Greater Kailash 1

Nearest Metro Station: Kailash Colony

Contact: +91 9654666795/96

Price: INR 800 for two {approx.}

Cafe Illuminati

Photo source: Illuminati

Photo source: Illuminati

This is a cosy cafe that bustles with activity at all hours. Though every cuisine makes its appearance here, from Mexican to Italian, Kashmiri is more of a footnote {the owner is from Kashmir}. It is one of the few restaurants in the entire city which does not boast of an in-house waza. On the contrary, the kitchen team makes tabaak maaz and yakhni with a homestyle touch. The atmosphere too has faint touches of the Valley in the arch of the chairs and niches.

Where: Second Floor, Shop 18, Inner Lane, Khan Market

Nearest Metro Station: Khan Market

Contact: 011 43504250

Price: INR 2,500 for two {approx.}

Lastly, there are two restaurants in Urdu Bazar, close to the Jama Masjid. Hygiene is not a strong suit here and the gargantuan menu bears little resemblance to the dishes actually available at any given time! They operate during the winter when the floating Kashmiri population in the area is at its maximum, and shut shop at the beginning of summer.

This post was originally published on marryamhreshii.com here.

Featured photo source: gahdjun via Wikipedia[CC BY 2.0]