The Bohri Story
Bohri food seems to be the latest fad in the regional food scene in Mumbai. With a number of people exploring this cuisine, we thought that a little backround behind the fragrant spices and the meat oriented cuisine would be a good idea…
Being an outcome of a mixed marriage between a Sunni father and a Bohri mother, the occasion of sitting and eating a thaal was always enthralling to me. Food has been a religion in our household and my incessant questioning about the different eating habits of the communities have armoured me with a fair bit of information on the subject.
The Bohra community originated from a Muslim sect in Yemen and Egypt, later spreading to India and Pakistan. Hence, the food influences have been heavily adapted from the Middle East. The initial settlement of the Bohra’s in Surat, Gujarat have led to major Gujarati influence on the cuisine as well.This is why you will find that Bohri cuisine is much lighter and lower in spice than Mughlai or Pakistani food.
Bohri cuisine uses milder foundations and focuses on the flavour of the ingredients to create an altogether unique experience from what many of us are used to here in India. Usually, meat will be boiled with ginger, garlic or chilly pastes and then the same broth is often used to create the gravy, thus adding a meaty-ness to each bite, complemented by the subtle flavours of ginger and garlic. Due to the par boiling, the resulting dish consists of perfectly soft and succulent chicken or mutton. This method of cooking is adapted from the Arabic way of cooking meat unlike the western ways of grilling, roasting or searing.
Not only is there a distinctive cooking style, there are certain traditional ways in which the food is prepared and served. One of the most popular and age old traditions is that of sitting and eating in the thaal. It is a large, round metal dish in which the family sits around and eats their meal, course by course. It symbolizes unity, equality and sharing amongst the family. Every meal begins with a clearing of the taste buds with a grain of salt, which is also believed to cure many diseases. Then you move on to eating a grain of sweetened rice (soddanu) to celebrate any auspicious occasion.
My favourite dish has to be Dal Chawal Palidu (DCP.) It would constantly beg my mother to make the flour based stew with drumstick and rice which is boiled in the same stew loaded with cooked lentils. This would be accompanied with mutton koftas (minced mutton balls) in a tomato based gravy, adding some spice to the flavourful rice and dal combination. I remember watching my mother carefully making the meatballs and placing them in the simmering water and keeping a hawk’s eye out till they were perfectly cooked so that they wouldn’t break apart. The precision and effort was always well appreciated at the table, you could tell from the way I gobbled up the dish without even taking a breath!
Obviously, we don’t eat out of a thaal on a daily basis at home, but when we do I always feel so much more connected to the food I’m eating and the people I’m around. I find that in Bohri cuisine; flavours, tradition and culture comes together around the thaal adding a lot more to the table than just food!