Jul 29, 2015
Back in early 90s, when I was struggling to follow the protean schedule of the college, life was all about attending lectures, memorising names of lecturers and waiting for the practicals to begin.
I used to carry my lunchbox since eating out in the canteen was unacceptable to my doting mother and was unaffordable too. But unlike schools, colleges do not have a fix recess time, and hence canteen was generally the place where you can eat during free lectures or small breaks.
It was still the first week of my college life, and I was sitting at the corner table after ordering a cup of tea. Just then a niqab-wearing girl entered the canteen. She looked around and finally came towards me and lifting her niqab, sought my approval, in gestures, to occupy the vacant seat across my table. I just smiled. She placed her order, while I too was still waiting for my cup of tea.
It was a bit uncomfortable to sit beside and not talk. I started a formal conversation. She told me about her school and family, and her discomfort was obvious when she noticed the glances her niqab was attracting. Since they had recently shifted, her family was facing challenges while living in a Hindu neighbourhood and was trying their best to fit in. Our conversation was interrupted by a steaming plate of idli-sambhar (that she ordered) and of course that paani-cum-chai (a dilute tasteless tea) that I had opted for.
I opened my tiffin (lunchbox,) which had koki (I was waiting for tea, because I love koki with tea. Blame it on my Sindhi genes!) and some left-over khaman dhoklas, which my mom had made the night before. I hesitatingly offered her koki and she almost jumped with joy. Thanks to the Indian local train culture where fellow travellers share food with strangers, she often got to eat koki, courtesy a Sindhi lady. After relishing our breakfast, we moved on. After that day, I occasionally saw her in the canteen with her newfound friends and she looked comfortable and happy.
Very often societies, religion, cultural practices, places of worship restrict people from intermingling with those belonging to other religion or nationality, but food brings us together. The Niqab-wearing girl and I were unaware of each other’s culture and traditions. But we both love koki.
We do not often accompany our Christian friends to visit church during Christmas, but gorge on the Christmas cakes. We may not visit Mazar with a Muslim colleague, but would relish Iftaar dinner at his/her home. We might not even be aware of rituals of Fire worship at the Agyari, but yet look forward to the invitation of a Navroze meal salivating at the thoughts of steaming Patrani Machchi or creamy Lagan nu custard.
You might have never thought of offering Akha at Jhulelal temple during Chaliha festival, but a meal of Kadhi-chaawal shared by your Sindhi neighbour is religiously relished every Sunday by you and your family. You probably won’t ever visit Shabrimala, but yet look forward to the Onam sadhya invitations from your Malayali friends. We equally relish dosa, macher jhol, puranpolis, chole bhature, kebabs, thepla etc without bothering about the ‘religion’ of food. There is no discrimination (except veg and non-veg of course).
The political boundaries may divide us, but often our kitchens are devoid of boundaries! Our love for our regional food doesn’t lessen our lust for the food from across the borders. One can follow a single religious path, a lone spiritual Guru, but when it comes to food, it has to be a blend of regional flavours, a communal harmony of tastes, and an amalgam of aromas of various curries, soups, gravies simmering on our stoves without any prejudice.
Our unique headgears or articles of faith (turban, veil, burqa, cross lockets, Janeyu etc) are the visible signs of our religion, but they generally set us apart while regional food brings us together dissolving the cultural differences. At home, we might strictly follow our regional rituals, but the spread at our dining table is the symbol of our secular palates.
Yes, you guessed it right! It’s koki on the menu today. This whole wheat flatbread is a hot favourite of Sindhis as well as non-Sindhis.
Recipe for koki (Makes 3)
2 cups wheat flour
1 onion large finely chopped
3 green chilies finely chopped
Some coriander leaves finely chopped
3 tbsp. ghee or oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp Annardana (dried pomegranate seeds)
Salt to taste
Oil for shallow frying
1. Finely chop the onion.
2. Sieve flour, add salt, onions, annardana, cumin seeds, chopped green chilies, coriander leaves and oil (excluding oil for shallow frying)
3. Mix well. Add some water and bring the dough together. Do not knead it hard. The dough must be stiff.
4. Divide the dough in 3 portions.Take each portion and roll with rolling pin just to flatten the roll.
5. Slightly roast it on both sides on hot tawa, take it off the flame and place on rolling board. Again roll it with rolling pin till it reaches thickness of paratha (This helps to make koki bit flaky than chewy).
6. Place it on tawa again, cook on each side, on medium flame, adding little oil or ghee from sides till small brown patches appear on surface.
7. Repeat for remaining dough.
8. Serve hot with yogurt /pickle/ tea or papad.
It has a shelf life of about 24 hrs, so is ideal for picnics or while traveling long distances.
Alka Keswani is a microbiology graduate, a hands-on mom and food blogger. Besides contributing articles to various magazines and newspapers, she has also co-authored a food section in ‘We The Sindhis’ book. Her blog Sindhi Rasoi won the Best Regional Food blog in 2013 and Best Vegetarian food blog in 2014 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. She also manages another blog called Recipeonclick for non-Sindhi recipes.
Follow Alka on Twitter @Sindhirasoi