WaazWaan — What is it and how is it different to ‘North Indian’ cuisine?

With our third restaurant ‘WaazWaan’ well under way, I thought I’d take the opportunity to answer the most common questions about WaazWaan this year.

What’s the difference between your restaurants? Which is better? What is Kashmiri food?

My commitment since the beginning of my restaurant journey has always been to bring more respect to ancient Indian cuisines — In my perspective, there is no better way to do this than focus on regional specialities and bring the balance of authenticity with local ingredients and taste.

Akbar- The first Mughal to conquer Kashmir

The history

The common denominator between Mughlai (Grace of India) and Kashmiri cuisine (WaazWaan) is the Mughal (Mongol) reign over North India between the 1500’s all the way to the late 1800’s. During this transitory period we find the Mughals who were great assimilators of regional cultures blend their cooking ideas with local traditions.

Think Rogan Josh — A lamb curry slow cooked in a tomato and onion gravy, a dish you may have had many times and has become a staple North Indian restaurant curry. 
This dish originally belonged to the Kashmiri Pandits who cooked it based on their traditions and religious beliefs — The original Rogan Josh had no tomato and certainly no onion! The dish was modified or ‘enhanced’ from the Mughlai point of view when these flavours were added based off Mughal heritage. This change turned the ‘Pandit Rogan Josh’ into the more popular version served across the world in North Indian restaurants called the ‘Shahi Rogan Josh’ .

Jahangir (the second Mughal ruler of Kashmir and son of Akbar) is painted here exploring Kahmir in Kashmiri oars. He is famously quoted as saying “If there is Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this” when he first visitied the Kashmir region.

Preparing the ‘WaazWaan’

20 WaazWaan dishes being cooked at once

WaazWaan is named after a food tradition of the Kashmiri people which we find references to dating all the way back to the 14th century. 
For events — the Kashmiri nobles hire a ‘Vasta Waaza’ (Head Chef) who is tasked to prepare anywhere from 25–35 dishes for arriving guests. Of course, this is no easy task so the Vasta Waaza brings his team (Could be up to 10 Waza’s). 
The Kashmiri people are so well versed with the WaazWaan that the chefs and hosts are under pressure to live up-to to extremely high standards, so the logistics, resources and manpower required to prepare fresh and high quality food often mean it is common for the chefs to start cooking at Midnight all the way through to the next evening when the dishes will finally be served. 
I can definitely say I’ve felt the prying eye of Kashmiri’s coming to my restaurant to determine wether the dishes will live up to their expectation too!

Waaza’s working together from midnight to prepare a feast!

My favourite aspect of preparing the WaazWaan is the music! With the chefs required to beat meat into a fine mince by mallet for many of the dishes (an intensive hours long practice), the Wazas sing kashmiri folk songs and beat the meat in timing — this helps get through the tedious work and creates a strong bond between the cooking team.

Time to eat

When dishes are finally prepared, the chefs also take personal responsibility of serving the dishes prepared by themselves. There are certain dishes which must be included in the WaazWaan such as Yakhni, Goshtaba, Tabakh Maaz and others which also follow a certain order in terms of what should be served first and last.

As well as rules for the sequence of the dishes, there are also rules about how the WaazWaan must consumed by diners. A fine Kashmiri carpet is laid to fit 4 people — a large plate placed in the centre with a mound of rice and the Waza’s place one dish at a time in each individuals corner — the next dish is not served until the previous is completed and this goes on until all dishes are completed.

WaazWaan’s new look

Kashmiri food is probably one of the most under-represented foods in the North Indian repertoire with very few Kashmiri dishes recognised by people outside of Kashmir.

A new look for the Kashmiri WaazWaan

There have been several attempts in India to bring the cuisine to light — however it has to be rebranded to fit a newer style of dining. With WaazWaan dishes often only served in a Kashmiri household for family or once off during a function, few restaurants in India serve the dish in Thali’s where diners get their own assortment of Kashmiri dishes. 
Despite the effort of a few restaurants in India — restaurants around the world with authentic Kashmiri dishes are very rare.

I hope my restaurants give Sydney folk an opportunity to divulge into lesser known cusines and bring to light the great diversity of South Asia.


For English speakers — play with English subtitles. The video covers the food aspect of WaazWaan
Anubhav looks at WaazWaan but also Kashmiri culture while he’s there


I’ve come across many a customer who hasn’t a clue what Indian home cooking tastes like.

Let me give you a clue – It’s nothing like what you’ve had in an Indian restaurant. In fact, they’re both nowhere near each other in similarity. This unknowingness is what started my quest: to present my Australian audience with cuisine from India that hasn’t quite hit the shelves yet!

European cuisines brings ‘Nona’s cooking’ to your plate – How something so fragile and loving made it to your plate after a lineage brought it down, treasured it and re-pieced it based on living and oral memory. Not a tagline associated with Indian food. In fact, Indians, when eating out (ask your Indian friends about this) will go to Indian restaurants for the sake of variation.
For a few years I reflected on the divide between the two cooking styles – on why a culture where travelling 100 km meant new street dishes, new sweet meats, different types of wedding food and where ‘seasonal food’ was the norm rather than a ‘special’ couldn’t grasp the concept of presenting those treasures abroad. Indian restaurateurs in India and overseas created fusions, adaptations and experimental cuisines (one of my friends recently told me about being served curry with popcorn as the garnish) but no one gave home cooking any heed.

‘Indian street food’

Hence, in the back of my mind, ideas for Lavendra were brewing. What if I brought Australians the taste of rural Punjab, Bengal or Lahore? The dishes we salivate over at home when thinking about these cities.


I’ve been involved with traditional Indian restaurant cooking at Grace of India and eating homemade (aka mum made) Indian food since I was born – Mum would serve up Gajjar Mattar (Carrot and peas curry), Kadhoo Sabzi (Pumpkin curry) with Lasan Aachaar (Garlic pickle) after school and my evenings consisted of Dad cooking me an array of classical Indian dishes you’d expect at your local Indian – from Tandoori lamb cutlets, Butter chicken, Prawn masala, Paneer tikka masala in the evenings (Back in my meat eating days). I was really getting the best of both worlds!

As I gradually grew into the business I found many of our regular diners hadn’t experienced the cooking at home that I’d grown up with – even to the point where I believe – some people have become so closed minded about Indian food that they have trouble accepting this side of Indian food – when I present it at LAVENDRA they label it fusion!

Both serve the purpose – Tasty, nutritious and made with love but there’s a lot yet to be seen when I’m t comes to the Indian restaurant scene adopting dishes from home and this is what we’ve been working on for 4 years quietly (not so quietly now). In my previous Summer Menu at LAVENDRA I had a homemade dish called ‘Kashmiri Baingan’ – a simple eggplant dish that I’ve relished growing up. Try it at home and let me know how it goes!

Ingredients (Serves 6):
2 eggplants, cut into 2cm cubes
1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
4cm piece ginger, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon hot chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
400g can chopped tomatoes
Chopped coriander leaves, to garnish


Place the eggplant cubes in a large colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Set aside to drain for 10 minutes, then rinse the eggplant well and pat dry well with paper towel.

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the ginger and spices and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. In batches, add the eggplant cubes and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the eggplant has softened slightly. Return all the eggplant to the wok, then stir in the canned tomato and 1 cup (250ml) water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12-15 minutes until the eggplant is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with salt, garnish with coriander and serve.

At LAVENDRA we want you to come experience rare Indian dishes, our adaptations of mums cooking and play on Australian ingredients with Indian cooking methods. I’ll be bringing you a new menu every season!




Punjabi Saag, Kerala fish curry, Kashmiri Gushtaba, Pondicherry Ratatouille may as well be from other sides of the planet. India’s history has weaved through the original Indigenous population, Sultanates, Mughal Invasions and Colonial empires and given the people of each geography a range of original and/or cross cultural specialties.

All of this and keeping in mind India’s natural topography includes the Himalayas in the North and tropical weather in the South!

India - Himalayas
People living in and around the Himalayas have evolved their diets around the climate
India - Kerala
Polar opposite in Kerala where temperatures are almost tropical

Given all the cultures and food variety — it does beg the question — why didn’t cheese get a place in Indian food?


There is one exception to the rule when it comes to cheese in India — Paneer. More than likely the only type of cheese you’ll find in your local Indian restaurant.

Paneer is made by boiling milk followed by adding an acidic substance (soured whey, lemon juice, vinegar etc.) and thereby curdling the milk and separating the liquid remnants with the now slow forming and cooling Paneer.

Pondicherry Ratatouille at Lavendra - Paneer
Pondicherry Ratatouille at Lavendra

Until not long ago even Paneer was not on the menu for Indians and this gives us a clue into the underdeveloped culture of cheese in India.

Here’s a few reasons why India doesn’t have cheese platters:

  1. Indians valued the cow and all milk products to a level where they revered it. This is why they didn’t believe in curdling milk or preserving it to the point where it became mouldy because frankly — it was spoiling it. For Indians this was trying to fix something that was holy and not broken!
  2. Paneer was introduced to the Indian diet by Middle Eastern invaders who had different ideas about the value of milk. Most of the time it was the invaders themselves consuming these products compared to the locals who didn’t develop a taste for Paneer until after Mughlai restaurants became popularised.
  3. A lot of India was not exposed to foreign influences for them to start developing a new ‘cheese culture’ .This meant very limited parts of India were exposed to cheese and where consumption existed — very few locals were consuming it anyway.
  4. Chenna — a product similar to Paneer was introduced to East India by the Portuguese in the 17th century. East Indians began using Chenna in dessert so the idea of culturing, curing and ageing never evolved. What cheese meant to Indians took a very different tangent to how it was developing in the west.

At Lavendra we’re working on bringing you Paneer as a cheese platter with three different textures. Not aged, rennet infused or cured but a start for our journey experimenting with cheese in Indian food!

Watch our video below on how we make Traditional Paneer at Lavendra, or check it out on YouTube  — https://youtu.be/f1yjlrC7QVg