by Insia Lacewalla
I grew up in a Dawoodi Bohra (commonly known as Bohri) family. Bohris are one of the larger Shia Muslim communities and if you grew up with one, you will know that food is an integral part of our culture.
We love to eat and what we love even more is to feed. We are passionate about our food and no matter how much you eat; we feel you haven’t eaten enough. We will pile your plate at every given opportunity, insisting that the next piece of meat is juicier than the one you just devoured and that reflects perfectlt in the way we cook. Every dish is prepared lavishly; soft succulent boneless pieces of meat will be slow cooked for hours in dry fruit pastes, strongly flavored with saffron and spices, desserts laden in cream and fruits, sherbets that will cool your body and soul.
I was brought up in home known for its great cooking and some of the best food I have had has been at home. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that most of my friends are my friends because they don’t want to lose out the great food my mum feeds them. My folks live in Pune while I live in Mumbai and not a day goes by when I don’t miss the food.
I run Small Fry Co. a company dedicated to curating unique culinary experiences and I realized that like me, there are many people who would love to savor a home-cooked meal. Traditional, regional home-cooked meals were losing their place in our culinary world of experiments and we weren’t going to let that happen. We decided to take it upon ourselves to bring together the lost recipes passed down generations to an audience craving this kind of food.
On Sunday, we will host a very special edition of The Secret Ingredient: Bohri Special. This one is being prepared by my mum, Tasneem Lacewalla.
Before we get to that, I want to share some of the customs of Bohri cuisine. As a community, we believe in eating together, in sitting with one another and sharing our meal. A safra, a square plastic mat is laid on the floor. In the centre, a tarakti, a metal stand is placed on which comes the thaal that is a round steel plate suitable for 8 people to sit around.
The meal always starts with a tasting of salt to cleanse the palate.
Course 2 is a small portion of rice cooked in ghee and sugar, sprinkled with nuts.
Courses 3 and 4 bring mithaas (sweet) and kharaas (savory) to the plate with Pao No Halwo, a traditional bread pudding and Dal na Samosa, which are small samosas stuffed with a mixture of dal and spring onions along with Kheema na Samosa.
Course 5 brings the mithaas back with an intense mango soufflé with cold lychees and miniature rasgullas thrown in.
Course 6 is a loaf of bread scooped and fried and filled with a white sauce chicken.
Course 7 (pièce de résistance!) is a traditional Bohri style Mutton Biryani, slow cooked and smoked served with a chicken soup for you soul and a simple kachumber.
And then, to beat the heat, a watermelon cooler followed by dry fruit paan and spice soaked raisins.
Not only are we particular about what we eat but the manner of eating plays an important role too.
- You have to wash your hands before and after eating.
- Only the right hand must be used to eat.
- All five fingers must be used while eating.
- One leg should be folded horizontally while the other should be folded vertically while eating.
- The meal begins and ends with tasting of salt.
For us, eating is like praying and it needs to be treated with complete respect.
If this post has tempted you enough, then book a seat at The Secret Ingredient: Bohri Special on 3rd May at 12.30pm or 2.30pm at House of Wow, Bandra.