Last week, celebrity chef Sanjay Raina launched an online campaign demanding Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the exquisite Kashmiri wazwan.
Culinary connoisseurs have been counting Kashmiri wazwan among the ‘top three exotic foods’ of India. Yet it has not received its due unlike other cuisines. India is a country of multiple cultures and cuisines. From Mumbai’s `Wadapaw’ to Hyderabad’s `Haleem’, and from Kolkatta’s `Mishti’ to Amritsar’s `Chola Kulcha’, India takes pride in its cuisine.
Food is one of the main attractions of tourists visiting different states and countries. Any visitor would like to taste the local cuisine. From times immemorial, food has been a great leveler. It helps in cultural mélange in any part of the world.
From pizzas to pastas and from prawns to lobsters, food has become one the biggest industries in the world. The global culinary tourism market was valued at $1,116.7 billion in 2019. It is expected to have a market value of $1,796.5 billion by 2027. Culinary or food tourism is a form of travel in which a tourist purely visits a place to explore its cuisines and food markets.
Every country is trying hard to cap this food tourism market. Even smaller states fight for food superiority. For instance, West Bengal and Odisha fought a bitter battle for `rasgulla’.
When West Bengal got GI tag for its version of `rasgulla’ in 2017, Odisha was visibly heartbroken. However, it did not give up. In 2018, Odisha’s Small Industries Corporation Limited (OSIC Ltd.) and Utkal Mistanna Byabasayee Samiti applied again for GI indication for its version of `rasgulla’.
On July 29, 2019, the registrar granted the GI tag to Odisha as well. Presently, we have two GI tags for one sweet though with a different twist. Similarly, Hyderabadis also fought hard for securing the GI tag for `Haleem’.
GI status is a sort of trademark or a patent given to the products which are indigenous to a community in a particular geographical region. The GI registration acts as a certificate that the product is made by traditional methods and possesses certain qualities specific to the area and the community.
Wazwan is the biggest attraction for tourists visiting Kashmir. Anyone visiting Kashmir will definitely savor wazwan whether in whole package or some of the dishes. There is hardly any tourist who might not have relished wazwan while visiting Kashmir.
Wazwan is endemic to Kashmir. Nobody can take this art from Kashmir, though many may try to replicate it at star hotels. As Chef Raina says wazwan is not just food, it is a whole experience. Right from preparing it to sitting on the floor, eating from the `tramis’ et al.
Wazwan is Kashmir’s pride. It is our brand. It needs to be preserved. This art needs to be passed on to the next generation without altering the basic model. The mere name of `rista’, `gushtaba’ and `tabakmaaz‘ is enough to bring water in the mouth. We need to cash in on this cuisine and lure food-loving tourists to Kashmir.
Pandemic has hit the tourism sector hard across the globe. The travel and tourism sector suffered a loss of almost US$4.5 trillion to reach US$4.7 trillion in 2020, with the contribution to GDP dropping by a staggering 49.1% compared to 2019.
In 2019, the Travel & Tourism sector contributed 10.4% to global GDP; a share that decreased to 5.5% in 2020 due to lockdown. In 2020, 62 million jobs were lost, representing a drop of 18.5%, leaving just 272 million employed across the sector globally, compared to 334 million in 2019.
Kashmir too suffered a lot. Tourism arrivals came to naught post-August 2019. However, the good news is that post unlock 2.0, tourists have started flocking Kashmir again. More than 2.4 lakh tourists have visited Kashmir this year so far with August recording the maximum footfall.
Official data reveal that 2,41,035 tourists visited the valley till August. They include 796 foreigners. Figures suggest that nearly 50,000 tourists visited the valley in August. Most of the tourists who visited Kashmir hailed from Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu. In July, 48,858 tourists visited the valley against 16000 in June when the Covid number had started dipping in Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, a total of 4.8 lakh tourists visited Kashmir despite lockdown and surge in COVID-19 cases.
The tourism department has planned an aggressive promotional blitzkrieg to sell Kashmir as a niche tourist destination and increase footfalls in autumn and winter.
Apart from selling new destinations, planners need to should focus on food tourism. Wazwan can do wonders if pitched at the right quarters.
Our cuisine has everything that can lure food lovers: Taste, aroma, style, and cultural moorings. We need to strike the right chords.
Jammu and Kashmir government needs to go into mission mode to fight for the GI status to wazwan. The government should emulate West Bengal and Odisha to get the GI tag for wazwan.
Jammu and Kashmir government has shown the will when it fought for GI tag for Pashmina and Saffron. It was because of their efforts that we have secured the GI tag for Kashmiri Pashmina and Saffron. The same will is needed for wazwan. Time is running out fast and we need to start now.