It is probably unique in the annals of Kashmiri commercial food, but two ladies have got together to set up a take-away kitchen and a tiny restaurant in Delhi. For anyone who is familiar with Kashmir, it sounds like an impossibility. Every last waza in the Valley is male, and unlike most other towns and even villages in the rest of the country, where women run food stalls and home-style cafes, in Kashmir it is unheard of. As for when a family celebrates a function with a wazwan, the division of labour by gender is complete: the ladies winnow the rice and peel onions at home; the men procure the sheep and monitor the progress of the cooking itself, which usually takes place in a nearby courtyard.
In other words, Kashmiri Kitchen really has set the Jehlum on fire. Mother-daughter combine Qamar and Pearl Khan first conceived of the idea when Pearl, a one-time PR professional living in Delhi, used to invite friends home for a quick bite. Even the most pedestrian meals that her cook would turn out would have her friends gasping in awe. “You <I>must<I> open a restaurant,” they would exclaim. A restaurant seemed too large an investment for Khan, who hails from a family of salaried professionals, so she played it safe by having a take-away outlet at first.
There are other Kashmiri take-away joints in Delhi, but few things can outdo the micro-managing skills of a woman, and so, Pearl would procure the all-important lamb herself, watch over the pounding of the chutneys, taste the gravy for the yogurt-based yakhni and inveigle her family and friends to hand-carry real Kashmiri chillies when they visited Delhi (what usually passes off as Kashmiri chillies is anything but!)
When Qamar came to Delhi on a flying visit, Pearl managed to convince her mother to instead move to Delhi and become a part of Kashmiri Kitchen! Consequently, the only Kashmiri restaurant to be owned by women opened as a result of Qamar’s enthusiasm. Furniture and accessories from the family home in Srinagar were shipped to Ghitorni between Delhi and Gurgaon, where the restaurant is, the long-suffering Kashmiri waza now has two female bosses to contend with and there’s usually a little knot of cars waiting patiently for their order to be made in the evenings.
In a nutshell, if you want the hard work of pounding meat on a flat stone, you do have to have a (male) waza. But if you want to sweat the small stuff that will elevate the experience to near other-worldly levels, you do need a woman. Preferably two.