Mumbai is a melting pot of cultures, with myriad communities stirring their own culture and culinary traditions into the large tapestry of this uniquely vibrant city. APB’s Culinary Legacy Series aims at showcasing lesser known community cuisines, the people behind them, their food culture and their culinary influences on Mumbai’s food map, simultaneously working to document, preserve and celebrate their rich culinary legacies.
One such community that enriches Mumbai’s culinary diversity is that of the Dawoodi Bohras or as they are fondly called, the Bohris. The community has a significant presence across the city and has played a substantial role in making the city the commercial capital it is today. The Bohris can be identified by their distinct attire – men in their stiff, white topis, hand crocheted with golden thread, and women in their colourful ridas.
Despite their notable presence across the city, a major chunk of Mumbai populace is not acquainted with the charming traditions and the fantastic food of the Bohri community. The few who know of it, find their way to Bohri Mohalla during major festivals like Ramzaan to gorge on the fabulous streets foods like succulent Kebabs, steaming Paaya, Khichda, the Baraah Handi, Malpua, Firni and more!
So, when Munaf Kapadia and his family launched The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) from their home in Colaba, it quickly became synonymous with Bohri cuisine. The weekly themed meals in the Kapadia home are always full with locals and tourists from all walks of life, eager to get an immersive experience and taste the lovely food cooked by Munaf’s mother, Nafisa aunty.
This January, Munaf offered to do a winter special with APB, and we jumped at the opportunity to curate an event around Bohri winter dishes for our patrons.
The event was held on Sunday, 15th January, 2017 at The Pond Room of the Great Eastern Homes Complex.
On the main APB table, we had special guests Kunal Vijaykar, and Dr. Mohsina Mukkadam with Shekhar and Rushina. The Thaals were set with accompaniments including fresh mint and lime wedges, a piquant khajur and dry fruit chutney, and an addictive pineapple boondi raita. The guests were already in deep food conversation amongst themselves and with various members of the Kapadia family by the time the salt bowls were set on the Thaals.
Here is how the rest of the afternoon unfolded.
For those who are still wondering about the salt, a Bohri meal typically commences with a pinch of salt which acts as a palate cleanser and activates the digestive juices of the diners. Food then follows in courses. The Bohris have a very distinct tradition of serving their meals in alternating courses of savoury and sweet options called khaaraas and mithaas respectively. This traditions comes from the belief that the sweet courses act as palate cleansers in between the savoury courses, by ‘resetting’ the taste buds before each new savoury course. Then, the rest of the meal comes in courses, starting with appetisers and several rounds of mains alternated by sweet dishes, with the subsequent course only proffered when the offered course of food has been completely devoured. The meal ends with another pinch of salt.
First came the Smoked Mutton Kheema Samosas. Unlike the fat Punjabi samosas with their puff pastry casing, the Bohri Samosa is more along the lines of the Irani or Arabic samosa. It has a thin pastry sheet encasing an aromatic filling of smoked kheema (mutton mince), flecked with fresh green coriander, laced with spices and deep fried to crispy perfection. These typically come with wedges of lime, and sprigs of mint. The samosas were grabbed and gorged on, and we were already upto our third ones when we were warned by Munaf to pace ourselves. We understood why when hot degchis (bowls) of aromatic Khatta Meetha Chicken were placed before us. Chicken on the bone had been cooked slowly in a rich, sweet, tangy, tomato-based gravy redolent of garlic until it was succulent and falling off the bone. Total silence ensued at the table as we dug in with our fingers to savour the dish! The savoury appetisers were followed with a sweet course of Karamra, a quintessentially Bohri-style kheer or pudding of rice, yoghurt and condensed milk topped with a colourful garnish of desiccated coconut, dry fruits and pomegranate kernels.
As Rose Sherbat, flecked with Sabja seeds did the rounds to help us wash down the first few courses, the first of the savoury main courses was served. The legendary TBK Special Raan is a large leg of lamb that is marinated for over 2 days in Nafisa aunty’s secret masala and then cooked till its falling off the bone. This was followed by the Mutton Undhiyu, a Bohri version of the popular Gujarati winter special, in which a medley of winter vegetables are slow cooked together with muthiya (fenugreek and chickpea flour dumplings). The Bohri version is intriguingly different, because mutton is added along with drumsticks and the muthiya are made with Jowar or Sorghum. The addition of the mutton makes it very different and unusual. After these two sumptuous courses, it was time for another sweet course! The surprise that followed was a flaky, cream filled concoction of layers of airy pastry filled with fresh, sweetened cream called Malai Khaja. We were told it had been specially delivered by the Tawakalls just before the meal. The Masala Jaljeera that did the rounds at this point was very helpful in making space in our bellies!
Especially since another round of savoury main courses followed. First came Lasan Kheema Bedu with Lamba Pav, an aromatic, winter favourite in which eggs, sunny side up, are set on Mutton Kheema, cooked with generous lashings of green garlic. Typically, this comes with a special Lamba Pav to soak up the meaty, eggy goodness! The garlicky notes of the Kheema Bedu were followed by a Chicken Biryani accompanied with a Paaya soup, the last savoury course for the day in which succulent chicken marinated in Nafisa Aunty’s special masala has been slowly dum-cooked with potatoes rice. The delicately spiced Paaya soup went down easily, leaving a lingering tanginess and a film of delicious fattiness on the palate.
And then came the sweet finale to this fabulous feast, the last sweet course of Sitaphal Sancha Ice Cream – a hand churned ice cream studded with luscious bits of custard apple.
The gastronomy of the Bohri community for sure is any gourmand’s delight and we would love to see more people engaging with and enjoying the cuisine of the Bohris by way of this culinary legacy series.
About The Bohri Kitchen (TBK)