How The Bohras Got People Together To Eat
Kheema na samosa is quite a hit at Bohra ceremonies. Photo: Kulsum Kunwa
If you have never heard of Dawoodi Bohra cuisine, you can’t be blamed. Being a minority with a small population against India’s gigantic landscape, it’s easy to not notice little clusters of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, who live mostly in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
But, if you have seen Bohra men wearing white and golden knitted topis, and women in beautiful lace rida, it’s most likely you will spot them often. It’s a Bohra insider joke – we can be seen everywhere!
Much like the Parsis, Bohras originally clustered on the fertile land of Gujarat, and took up trading (which till date is what Bohras are largely associated with). But unlike Parsis, they didn’t come from Iran even though they originated from Yemen. This is because the religious tolerance in Yemen started degrading, and a few learned philosophers and religious leaders found succession in India where they already had a small but loyal following. That's how Bohras settled in India (including now Pakistan).
Because of its unique influences of Middle Eastern, Gujarati, Mughlai and Rajasthani food, the cuisine is unlike anything you might have had elsewhere. Bohras have fused together their love for meat and rice with the Gujarati sabji, and Middle Eastern technique of cooking meat similar to Mughlai food. This is however constantly evolving as the community now lives in different parts of the world.
That said, unless you have a Bohra neighbour or friend, it’s rare to be introduced to this glutinously delicious cuisine. The closest an outsider can get to the sheer magnificence of the cuisine is if you are familiar with the Bohri Mohalla in Mumbai. If Bohras know one thing, it is to make the best of meat dishes. Nothing rubbery, dry or uncooked can pass as everything is cooked to perfection. While you shall spot a lot of beef in the Mohalla for it tends to be economical versus mutton, consumption of beef in general is discouraged.
What Bohras eat at home and community dinners though is entirely different. Food is served on a thaal (a big metal plate), and is shared by everyone while eating the meal.
What to expect at a Bohra feast?
Since rice is considered extremely auspicious, a sweet assembly of fragrant Basmati rice topped with pure desi ghee and a little sprinkling of sugar marks the inauguration of a feast followed by an actual dessert. It could be British influenced trifles and custards to hand-churned ice-creams to traditional wheat-based desserts. A savoury appetiser or Khaaras is then served, which could be something crispy and fried like kheema na samosa followed by the first course, gosh ni tarkari (a soupy stew) with roti.
The main dish in true Bohra tradition has to be something rice-based – pulav, biryani or dal chawal palidu (a three component dish served with a thick sambar-like preparation to mix with the rice), perhaps the only non-meat based dish Bohras will savour with as much as enthusiasm as a meat one. Soups are another specialty, which range from cold smoky lentil soups called sarki to milk-spiced mutton broth called khurdi to more universal chicken corn soups. All these are served along with the rice preparation. It’s also not unusual to be offered some sherbet and paan to end the meal, while all you would want to do is take a long nap!