Sample a Unique and Singular Indian Food from the Mountains and Valleys of Kashmir
It’s difficult to define India without resorting to mass generalizations about the culture, Indian food, language, and religion. The truth is, India is one of the largest nations on Earth, and the second most populous—and the cultural identity of one region may be totally alien to its neighbours. Today, we will travel north, to the unique region of Kashmir, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, to explore a staple of Kashmiri cuisine that can be enjoyed around the world today: rogan josh.
Rogan josh is a curried lamb dish with its origins in Persian culture. The Mughal Empire, which extended from the Persian Gulf to cover parts of the Indian Subcontinent in centuries past, brought this dish as far north as Kashmir. They favoured this region for its higher altitude and cooler climate—Kashmir is made up over beautifully scenic mountains and valleys, located in the Himalayan Mountains. Today, it is the only state in India with a Muslim-majority population.
Translated and adapted from the Persian language, “rogan josh” means something akin to “cooked in hot oil,” though other interpretations of the name translate it to “red passion.” Like many other curries in Indian food, the meat is cooked in a gravy-like sauce; in this case, typically shallots or browned onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, yogurt, and more. While traditionally made with lamb, it may also be made with goat instead. The dish has an intense red colour, which in its most traditional form comes from generous servings of Kashmiri chilies which have been deseeded and crushed into a paste, though some simplified variations use a mixture of paprika and cayenne pepper—largely favouring the former.
Rogan josh is more than just a popular dish in Kashmir. It’s actually a common and even integral part of a tradition specific to Kashmiri Muslims. The tradition, called Wazwan (“cook shop”), is a 36-course meal, the preparation of which is considered an art form, and is regarded with immense respect. A vasta waza, or head chef, is assisted by a courts of wazas, and together they prepare large servings of food in a large copper platter called a traem. Attendees of Wazwan begin with a ritual of hand-washing, before being served a traem—four diners to a traem. Other cuisine prepared for Wazwan includes seekh kebab, tabak maaz, meth maaz, barbecued ribs, and more. This meal is often served at particularly special occasions, such as weddings and family reunions. Certain culinary techniques involved in preparing Wazwan are passed down through families and seldom ever to outsiders, making waza families prominent and respected in their communities.
So the next time that you’re going to your favourite spot to get Indian food, and you’re wondering if you should try the rogan josh, just know this: you’ll be tasting more than just a tasty dish of succulent lamb and savoury spices. You’ll be tasting the flavours of culturally unique Kashmir, rich with history and made with centuries of experience behind it.