Mughal Darbar Restaurant: Go to the First Floor!
Visiting Kashmir and then leaving without having sampled their famous wazwan is an unforgivable crime. Masood insisted that his first meal in Srinagar has to be wazwan so our driver takes us to Mughal Darbar.
This visit to Kashmir is pretty spontaneous with no planning or research whatsoever, except for that Google search I did once about the weather and the Gondola rides to check the ticket prices. As a result, we hand our clueless selves over to Riaz, our driver and guide, who takes us to Mughal Darbar just a few hours after stepping foot in Srinagar.
“Go upstairs to the first floor,” Riaz casually says as Masood and I step out of his car. But since Riaz doesn’t elaborate on why we should go to the first floor, we enter the restaurant at the ground floor as soon as the friendly guy standing at the doors usher us in with the most warm and welcoming smile.
Today, as I write this post and do a quick Google search on the restaurant, I realise why he was telling us to go upstairs. And since I’m committed to writing honest reviews, I will show you this picture:
We have dined in an unauthorised restaurant, you guys! Why this supposedly unauthorised restaurant is still running a very thriving business just below the authorised Mughal Darbar restaurant is beyond me.
But let me tell you something very honestly: the food we had at the ground floor restaurant is very good. That’s our personal opinion. And since that is where we ate, I am going to write my review about it. Then it’s totally up to you to decide – whether you chose to eat downstairs or upstairs.
There’s nothing fancy about Mughal Darbar restaurant, but it’s clean and the staff is friendly. We arrive around three in the afternoon and find the place packed – the majority of their diners appear to be Kashmiris.
The chandelier emits a very orangey light that makes food photography a headache (plus the people are eyeing me suspiciously since no one else is taking pictures of their food or their surroundings). A thick plastic is spread over the table cloth to protect it from stains. Cheap plastic flowers are placed in the corner.
The bright and colourful artwork on the wall is interesting. It appears to show some people in fancy dresses all queued up, offering food and presents to a Mughal Emperor.
Once we are shown to our table, a rectangular box of lit charcoal briquettes is promptly placed just below our table to keep our feet warm.
Wazwan is not just a multi-course meal; it is both tradition and art for the Kasmiri people. It is regarded by the Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity.
This is most commonly prepared during weddings and festivals. Guests are grouped into fours for the serving of the wazwan. The meal begins with a ritual washing of hands, as a jug and basin called the tash-t-nari are passed among the guests.
The traditional number of courses for the wazwan is thirty-six! Thankfully, restaurants do not serve all the courses (unless, perhaps, you ask them to); this prevents food from being wasted.
After placing our order, the waiter assigned to our table suggests we take only half serving. A full serving, he tells us, is good for 4-5 people.
First, he brings a plate of fresh vegetable salad to our table. I’ve never tasted such tender and sweet carrots and radish before. Within a few minutes he bring this dish out:
Seekh kababs, tabak maaz (ribs of lamb simmered in yoghurt till tender, then grilled), safaid kokur (white chicken), zafrani kokur (masala chicken) – all these resting on a bed of aromatic rice. We don’t know how or where to begin eating!
All the meat are succulent and flavourful. Just as the first morsel hit our tastebuds, the waiter reappears to tell us he hasn’t served the main curries yet!
Fruit trifle with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Not too sweet and surprising very delicious.
Then there’s Kashmir’s version of Dal Fry. There’s a little amount of gravy and a dollop of butter. We have this with cumin rice. A little bit salty but otherwise it’s a good break from all the meat-based dishes. The other is dal coriander.
And then we also tried the chicken tikka – well marinated and very delicious. Served with lemon wedges; cucumber, carrots and radish sticks; cashew nuts; and shredded cabbage.
Price isn’t cheap. The half Wazwan course costs ₹ 1,300 (including 2 cups of tea).
Would we dine in this place had we known it’s trying to imitate the real Mughal Darbar restaurant’s name and taking advantage of its fame? Probably not. Nevertheless, this restaurant is running a successful business. Besides, I’m sure the authorities would have shut this place down had it been operating illegally.
The fact remains that we have dined in this restaurant, not once but twice. We find their service good. The staff is attentive and quick. Most importantly, we thoroughly enjoy the food.
Now you know there are two Mughal Darbar restaurants in the same building. Which restaurant you must go to for your wazwan experience is totally up to you.
Moral of the story: If you haven’t done your research, pay attention to what your local guide is telling you.