Treasure called Wazwan

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Treasure called Wazwan

Thursday, 15 February 2024 | Shobori Ganguli

Treasure called Wazwan

Kashmir’s signature Wazwan has weathered centuries of incursions to retain its original soul. SHOBORI GANGULI journeyed down that road at Shangri-La Eros in Delhi recently. Photographs by Pankaj Kumar

It was a misty April afternoon in 2013 when our then Srinagar correspondent Khurshid Wani took us out for lunch at Srinagar’s famed Residency Road to a nondescript restaurant called Grand Hotel. Run by an elderly Kashmiri couple, the tiny first floor outlet was frequented by locals and tourists alike. Served from huge weather beaten tramis or copper platters and pots, the meal transported us to another culinary world altogether. Back then, Grand was the only restaurant serving a traditional Wazwan seven course meal. This divine culinary marvel can go up to a 36 course affair for festivities and weddings.

When Delhi’s Shangri-La Eros decided to showcase a pop up Wazwan at their restaurant Tamra, I was naturally quite excited to relive a decade old epicurean delight. Curated by Executive Sous Chef Arun Thakur, the hotel had especially flown in two Wazas (Kashmiri Chefs) from Srinagar along with their battery of Kashmir’s unique spices and ingredients, secrets that never leave a Waza’s kitchen.

Much like a traditional Bengali meal, Wazwan is served course by course, and, both use mustard oil and ghee as the base cooking medium. We were first treated to hot steamed Kashmiri rice with Goshtaba, a signature dish that dates back to hundreds of years. Goshtaba is a delicacy that takes hours of labour and preparation before reaching the diner’s table. Small meat cubes are patiently pounded along with lamb fat and local Kashmiri spices for hours in a heavy stone mortar and pestle to a paste, hand-rolled into dumplings which are then released into a delectable yogurt gravy with a distinct fennel powder flavour.

To Chef Thakur’s credit, there was no attempt to improvise on the traditional flavours of Kashmir. While the local cuisine of this state has been deeply influenced over the centuries by Persian and Central Asian intrusions into the region, followed by the Mughals, the locals gently and resiliently retained their home grown blend of spices to lend Kashmiri cuisine its inimitable identity.

Unlike the rest of the country, authentic Kashmiri cuisine, mainly lamb preparations, sparsely use tomato, onion, ginger and garlic. Instead it is infused with the far more gentle flavours of fennel powder, dry ginger powder, asafoetida, cooked yogurt and the absolutely gorgeous red Kashmiri chillies. 

The Wazas at Tamra then sent across to our table the delectable Rista, a red hot spicy cousin of Goshtaba, lamb dumplings cooked in a gravy using the famed Kashmiri chilli powder that gives the dish its unique red colour. Kashmiri chillies are known the world over more for their colour than their spiciness. This infusion gives Rista a visual appeal few can resist.

This was followed by the crunchy Tabakh Maaz, spare lamb ribs cooked to perfection in clarified butter. On its heels came the world renowned Roganjosh, literally a red hot lamb curry served with traditional Kashmiri roti, a wheat flour-based bread treated with yeast and milk which makes it really soft and spongy. The entire meal was served along with traditional Wazwan accompaniments of walnut, radish and onion chutneys. These chutneys are not ground to a paste; they are rich and full bodied.

Owing to health alerts across the world against the intake of red meat, clearly the mainstay of Kashmiri cuisine, the Wazwan over the years has incorporated chicken as a more acceptable non vegetarian alternative to red meat. So we also got a taste of Waza chicken accompanied with rotis.

While many have a misplaced notion about Kashmiri cuisine’s heavy reliance on meat, the truth is it also has an array of vegetarian dishes, like the leafy collard greens called Haakh, sourced from the shallow waters of  the Dal Lake. Since this is rare to find in the northern plains, the chefs at Tamra used spinach to prepare the Palak Haakh. On the vegetarian platter there was also Ruwangan Chaman, cottage cheese cooked in a rich tomato gravy. A traditional Wazwan meal also serves nadru (lotus stem) Haakh or Yakhni.

Chef Thakur signed off the lavish spread for us with some aromatic Kashmiri Zafran Phirni.

It is commendable that Shangri-La Eros in Delhi chose to bring an authentic and secret Indian kitchen to town at a time when most eateries are opting for an increasingly global menu. It is indeed time we put our traditional Indian home kitchen cuisine on the global food map, beyond the clichéd chicken tikka masala and butter chicken.

Paradise on Earth

In a candid interview the Abhishek Sahoo, General Manager, Shangri-La talks about his work, life and “Paradise on Earth” that is Shangri-La Eros, Delhi

Shangri-La is renowned for its commitment to providing exceptional guest experiences. How do you ensure that this commitment is consistently met across all aspects of the hotel?

At Shangri-La Eros New Delhi, every aspect of the guest experience is meticulously crafted to exceed expectations and create indelible memories. Through rigorous staff training and active feedback, we provide personalised service tailored to individual preferences. Meticulous attention to detail ensures every aspect of the guest experience exceeds expectations, including innovative dining options like Le Petit Chef, India's first 3-D immersive dining experience.

We pride ourselves on curating memorable experiences for special occasions, such as Christmas, New Year, Valentine's Day and festive celebrations like Diwali and Holi. In addition to our commitment to service excellence, we offer diverse dining options and comprehensive wellness amenities. Guests can enjoy award-winning Italian cuisine at Sorrento, modern Indian street food at Mister Chai, an array of global flavours at Tamra's lunch buffet, Shangastic Dimsum lunch at Shang Palace, and cocktail concoctions at Grappa along with the Moonlight brunch 2.0. Exciting pop-ups with renowned chefs throughout the year add to the culinary excitement for the guests.

For ultimate relaxation, Chi, The Spa provides guests with rejuvenating Asian-inspired treatments, while our state-of-the-art Health Club ensures that guests can uphold their wellness regimens effortlessly. With our exceptional offerings, we ensure that every stay is memorable at Shangri-La, leaving the guests with

At Shangri-La Eros New Delhi, our dedication to delivering exceptional guest experiences encompasses personalized service, innovative dining options, memorable celebrations, and rejuvenating wellness amenities, all meticulously designed to leave an enduring impression on our guests

The hospitality industry is dynamic and ever-evolving. How do you stay updated on industry trends, and how do you incorporate innovation into the operations of Shangri-La Hotel?

In the fast-paced and dynamic landscape of the hospitality industry, staying ahead of trends is of paramount importance to me. I prioritise continuous learning and information gathering through participation in industry conferences, forums, and networking events. Engaging with industry associations, subscribing to relevant publications, and maintaining open lines of communication with industry peers help me stay informed about emerging trends and best practices. Regular brainstorming sessions and collaboration with our dedicated team ensure that innovative ideas are not only identified but seamlessly integrated into our operations, maintaining my position as a trailblazer in the ever-evolving hospitality landscape.

How does the hotel contribute to the local community, and how do you keep staff motivated and encourage staff participation in such initiatives?

To ensure our staff stays motivated and engaged, we prioritise communication and education on sustainability's importance. This involves regular training sessions, recognizing and rewarding staff contributions and offering professional development opportunities in this field. By fostering a sustainability culture, we empower our team to positively impact the local community while maintaining our leadership in environmental stewardship.

Our commitment to the local community is demonstrated through our "Rooted in Nature'' campaign. This initiative showcases our dedication to sustainability by incorporating locally sourced produce into our menu, supporting local farmers and reducing our carbon footprint. As a part of  Rooted in Nature, we have incorporated Baby Spinach, Avocado, and Beetroot Salad, Pasture-Raised Grilled Chicken at Sorrento and Shang Palace's menu now features new additions such as Free Range Chicken Clear Soup, Stir-Fried Hydroponic Pokchoy, and Kale. This culinary evolution caters to diverse tastes and adds an extra layer of excitement to our guests' dining experiences.

Are there emerging opportunities or trends that you believe will shape the future of the hotel industry, and how is Shangri-La positioned to leverage them?

The hotel industry is currently undergoing significant transformations, presenting us with exciting opportunities and trends which we are eagerly embracing. One notable trend is the rising demand for personalised and distinctive experiences. To capitalise on this, we've introduced our pioneering initiative, the Le Petit Chef experience, which has been the first 3-D immersive digital dining experience in India. Le Petit Chef offers guests an unforgettable culinary journey that seamlessly blends cutting-edge technology with gourmet cuisine.

Furthermore, we recognize the pivotal opportunity in integrating technology into our services. Therefore, we are committed to investing in advanced systems that facilitate seamless and contactless experiences, including digital concierge services and smart room technologies.

Moreover, our esteemed Shang Palace, the 39th of its kind globally, has been a beacon of excellence since its establishment, epitomising our dedication to celebrating the elegance, richness, and dynamism of Cantonese cuisine. In an increasingly globalised world, authentic and culturally rich dining experiences like those offered at Shang Palace resonate deeply with discerning travellers seeking genuine cultural immersion.

Can you briefly describe your professional journey and how you ascended to the position of General Manager at Shangri-La Hotel?

Embarking on my journey in the world of hospitality, I dedicated myself to mastering diverse operational roles, instilling in me a deep-seated commitment to excellence. My Shangri-La adventure has been a dynamic progression through various departments, each contributing to the success of different properties within the Shangri-La family. This journey reached its pinnacle as I assumed the role of General Manager at Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi.

This ascent symbolises not just a career trajectory but also my unwavering dedication to providing unparalleled hospitality. It is a journey fueled by the collaborative efforts of a talented team and grounded in the Shangri-La ethos, where guest satisfaction and innovation take precedence. In my current role as General Manager, I am privileged to lead a team dedicated to elevating the guest experience and upholding the highest standards of service, making each guest's stay at Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi, truly exceptional.

What motivated you to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, and how has your background contributed to your success in this role?

As a passionate hotelier, my journey in the hospitality industry was driven by a deep-seated desire to create memorable experiences and genuine connections with people from all walks of life. From a young age, I was drawn to the dynamic nature of the hospitality sector, where every day presents new challenges and opportunities to delight guests and exceed their expectations. My background, steeped in education from IHM Business School and practical training at the Institute of Hotel Management, laid a solid foundation for my career in hospitality. The rigorous curriculum and hands-on experiences equipped me with the essential skills and knowledge needed to navigate the complexities of this industry with confidence.

Throughout my career, I've had the privilege of serving in various capacities, from Resident Manager to Director of Operations, honing my expertise in Operations, Sales and Marketing, Revenue Management, Finance, Renovation, and loyalty marketing along the way. Each role has provided me with invaluable insights and experiences that have shaped my approach to leadership and management.

I firmly believe in leading by example and fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and service excellence within my team. Moreover, my ability to adapt to changing market dynamics and leverage emerging trends has been instrumental in driving the success of Shangri-La Eros New Delhi. By staying abreast of industry developments and constantly striving for improvement, I've been able to position the hotel as a premier destination for luxury hospitality.

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