Nasir Andrabi quit his banking job in Singapore to promote Wazwan, a traditional Kashmiri cuisine outside the valley.
Nasir Andrabi, resident of Bagaat, Srinagar, and a business graduate from Cardiff Business School, London, quit his banking job at Singapore to start his own business to promote traditional Kashmiri cuisine known as Wazwan outside the valley.
I always wanted to do something for Kashmiri culture and traditions; I was keen to take Wazwan to the world since my business school days.
The preparation of the cuisine is regarded as an art and the dish is held with high regards in the region. This multi-course meal traditionally comprise of 36 courses which mostly consists of meat based delicacies.
Nasir’s studies and professional pursuits took him to many domestic and foreign destinations. During this period, he was surprised to see the absence of authentic Kashmiri cuisine on food menus across the world. It was then he envisaged a chain of highly successful restaurants offering traditional Kashmiri food.
It pained me to see that such rich and tasty food wasn’t available anywhere in the world, this inspired me to start something away from Kashmir that would smell and taste like Kashmir.
Wazwan is regarded by the Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity.
The different courses of the dish are prepared by and under the supervision of the head chef called Vasta Waza, who is assisted by a team of chefs called Wazas.
Finding authentic Kashmiri food outside the valley is an uphill task. Most of the restaurants that serve Kashmiri dishes in leading Indian and global cities don’t use Kashmiri spices or employ the traditional cooking techniques, which results in compromised taste.
Nasir says, “We do not alter traditional recipes or the way we serve our food. We serve Kashmiri food the traditional way.”
This Kashmiri cuisine is quite rich and full of flavour with a culinary history spanning several centuries. It is influenced by cuisines of various cultures that came in contact with Kashmir in the last millennia - including Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Persian, and Afghani. The spices and the ingredients used in Kashmiri cooking are supposed to be native to the valley which ultimately give it a traditional taste – local spices like chilies, cockscomb, turmeric and saffron are used to achieve the authentic taste in the dishes.
Nasir opened his first outlet in Gurgaon on February 7, 2015 and named it as ‘Khyen Chyen’ meaning - food and drinks. Owing to its success, he soon opened two more outlets in Delhi.
He saved some money while working in Singapore and started the venture with his own funds and savings.
I phased out the opening of the outlets and my vision is to take Kashmiri food to the world and New Delhi being the capital city was my first choice. From here we plan to take Khyen Chyen to various locations across the globe.
Almost all delicacies of Wazwan are cooked at Khyen Chyen. Some are available every day and some on pre-orders. The best part about Khyen Chyen is that they offer authentic Kashmiri food in a traditional way.
Wazwan is served in Traem, a large copper platter with each platter serving a group of four people. Wazwan is not only a meal but an experience of Kashmiri hospitality.
The struggle and the success
Nothing comes easy - like every other business, Nasir also faced many challenges. For starters it was difficult to find a suitable market as it was a risky experiment. It was also difficult for Nasir to find the traditional chef, Waza who cooks the traditional Kashmiri cuisine. The most challenging job for Nasir was to maintain the quality and the authenticity of the food.
I never look at how hard it is or how hard it was, I guess everyday is challenging and that is what keeps me going - I am grateful to God that I could do my bit for the Valley. We have such deep rooted values and culture, it needed to be showcased.
Now Khyen Chyen is a team of passionate people with a young team of Wazas, service and support staff. Nasir, currently employs over 32 people and aims to employ more in the future.
Over the years, people have started to modernize this tradition by adding new servings such as - cold drinks, sweets, dry fruits, etc. But the real beauty of Wazwan lies in its old traditional techniques which is where Nasir wants to focus more.
He is overwhelmed with the kind of the response the cuisine has generated. Not only do residents and outsiders come and enjoy the mouth-watering delicacies but some local Kashmiris also visit enjoy the lip-smacking Wazwan.
Some important delicacies of Wazwan include – Tabakhmaaz- barbecued lamb ribs prepared in ghee, rista, a spicy gravy preparation of meat balls, gushtaba - a big meatball prepared with yogurt and served at the end of the meal.
Rafi Mansoor, who loves to travel and eat at new places says, “I love to eat here, it feels like home here.”
Nasir is planning to open his first outlet outside India, in Singapore.
The man always wanted to do something for his homeland - what better way than feeding people. Let’s wish him good luck.