Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Creamy Interlude

Kashmir gave Wazwan to the world. Kashmiris have tried with varying degree of success to replicate its complicated, time taking stews almost everywhere. There is also a secretly held belief that wazwan cannot be prepared anywhere other than Kashmir, that wazwan prepared anywhere else is phony and faux, and all that is bordering on dangerous fanaticism.
Traditional it is, but Kashmir is not generally resistive to culinary diversity. And if anything has been adapted into Kashmiri lifestyle better than the pointless pineapple-and-cherry-thing in wazwan it is the pastry cake! We are big about bakery anyway. There isn’t one decent bakery in Srinagar which hasn’t got its set of regulars. There are some bakeries which have become landmarks. There are some that have history running through them.
Two decades ago, in the terrible nineties, pineapple pastries were quite the vogue. No elite party was complete without them. The pastry itself was a simple affair – in fact, no more than a miniature layered cake – two layers of whipped cream between cake and a triangular piece of pineapple at the top. These pastries were the currency of social gatherings, being exchanged on every occasion deemed worthy. Every student passing out of class tenth would get at least a dozen of these from some close relative. Not-so-close relatives simply (and rather indifferently) turn up with a bundle of plain cakes. Every wedding would see a large round copper tray, majma, carrying pineapple pastries on saucers painstakingly placed by some aunt with a flower-like name. (Almost all families in Kashmir have at least one lady nicknamed Lily or Rosy for no special reason).
Towards the end of nineties, quite suddenly, the wazwan became more extravagant than was warranted, even dramatic – food servings increased to proportions they were not intended and the whole affair became messier and dearer. When the wasteful wave subsided, things came back to normal. The humble pineapple pastry too gained a few layers like an obese drunkard, wobbly at the top. Somebody, around that time, had the genius of adding a cherry too next to the pineapple wedge. And even though it did nothing to improve the taste and looked like an overlooked grammatical error the trend caught on. In the “Bakery” section, nineties were the time of cream rolls and cream puffs. Coconut macaroons and bite sized biscuits with a jam smeared centre. As the nineties rolled out, the pine apple pastry fell out of favour. Its richer patrons shifted to richer options – like the black forest which after much experimentation was perfected in a Srinagar bakery with the correct amount of shavings.
Like all things, pineapple pastries outlived their fanciful trend. Today the humble looking pastry sits next to its more glamorous successors. The bakers in Srinagar have been quick to introduce truffles and trifles and a whole range of products around walnuts. (In one case, there was also a carrot cake which didn’t quite serve the purpose of anything.) All this, while the greater debate still is: whether the price hike in girdah is justified!

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