Express News Service

NEW DELHI: “The hardest thing for us was to convert a predominantly non-vegetarian cuisine to a vegetarian one,” says Chef Vanshika Bhatia of OMO, Gurugram.

Kashmiri cuisine is essentially meat-based. The multi-course Wazwan, a mouth-watering ceremonial feast, is now well-known for its innovative means of preparing meat.

“We took inspiration from the meals we had at the farms of Kashmir. The technique of slow cooking for hours, using a mortar and pestle in some capacity in each recipe and dried vegetables was very enlightening,” adds Bhatia who co-owns the restaurant with entrepreneurs Grace Muivah and Deepika Sethi

Sourced sustainably and from the far corners of the country, Gurugram’s first vegetarian cafe serves healthy food rooted in ethics on a plate. With every dish, they bring stories about how each ingredient plays a role in bringing communities together.

Bhatia says, “Team OMO keeps travelling across the country in search of Indian produce and to partner with farmers. We choose regions according to season and we felt like winter was a good time to introduce Kashmiri flavours.”

Our visit to the restaurant began with Kahwa, a Kashmiri tea simmered with cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron to which nuts and rose petals are added. Saffron cappuccino is another drink we recommend–the warm spice of the cinnamon complements the floral notes and inherent sweetness of the saffron threads of the beverage.

The main courses had a good blend of flavours, with interesting constituent elements forming the core of a dish. Pumpkin Fagottini for instance uses water spice emulsion. The pumpkin is dried and then cooked with lentils and water spice. “We then stuff it in pasta and serve it with pickled pumpkin and grilled Haak (saag).”

A dish from the new Kashmiri menu.

Next on the plate was Kohlrabi and Apple Salad—crisp kohlrabi and apples tossed with a tangy vinaigrette and sharp gouda cheese. Kohlrabi is a crisp cruciferous vegetable like broccoli and cauliflower. It’s a little sweet, a little savoury, and unexpectedly delicious!

“We always try different techniques, treating vegetables in different ways before we finalise what is the best way to showcase our travel story. We use techniques like the dehydration of vegetables, the way we cook a chilli paste, and the use of onion oil for cooking,” she says. 

We also tried the Nadru Yakhni; the lotus stem is a Kashmiri food staple. Kalari, a Dogra cheese that is used to make Kaladi Kulcha, among other dishes, is another must-try. It is a popular snack in Jammu.
Bhatia also drew our attention to some beautiful ingredients like quince, dandelion, cockscomb flowers, local shallots, lotus stem, and beagle beans in the making of vegetarian Kashmiri food. “We have treated most of the ingredients with techniques we learned in Kashmir and then created dishes that go with those elements,” she says.

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