Five good reasons why I love Bohri Food traditions

By Kamla Hemrajani
The lunch buffet at K3, JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity is a safe bet at all times, with the ongoing option oftheir regular three live counters for Italian, Thai, Cantonese and Indian fare, along with my favourite salad bar. So there was always something to fall back on, if the Bohri food lunch that I was invited to did not work out. But let me tell you, that I had worried needlessly. The taste buds never had it so good in a long while.

Start the meal with a pinch of salt – literally. It is the Bohri food tradition. Said to cleanse the tongue and get the digestive juices flowing. The Sous Chef Mukesh Kumar introduced us to the guest Chef Musakir and his assistant Abdul, who are specialists in the cuisine of the Bohra community. We got an education on the etiquettes and the culinary traditions. . The ‘khara’ and ‘meetha’ alternate. Having desserts, before the meal, in between meals, after meals, is something I love.

The crunchy chana dal samosas (sold in Mumbai as Bohri samosas) and cheese baida rolls, were done to a turn. Mutton patties, and chicken baida rolls, all brought back memories of the early years in Mumbai. Baida means the egg, which was used popularly in Bohri cuisine. There was a fair selection of dishes for the vegetarians too, though Bohri food is more about meat. The starters were followed by another childhood favourite – rice with sugar and ghee. Sughanna is a version of the same, garnished with chopped almonds, usually served on special occasions such as weddings.

In the name of ‘Indian non-veg foods, the northern part of India, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, are more familiar with the Mughlai cuisine, along with the Avadhi food of Lucknow, which have dominated the scene. The Bohri cuisine, with its more delicate and subtle flavours is not so common in these parts. The reason for this is the history of the early Dawoodi Bohra of Yemen, who relocated to India around 1530, and settled down in the Western India, in Gujarat. History and geography played a role in influencing the cuisine despite having zealously guarded its traditions has yet allowed popular culinary influences. A case in point is theirDabba Gosht, a baked dish that had pasta as one of the ingredients. Divine taste and has to be eaten to believe this amazing blend of spaghetti pasta, mutton, cashew paste, tomatoes and eggs. A wholesome one-dish meal.

The Bohras do not care for breads, not counting the Baida maida roti. There were the rice dishes of Bohri mutton biryani and the vegetarian putana (peas) Pulao. The Drum Kaju Cream with chicken was delicious. Malwa gosht, cooked with whole Kashmiri red chillies, had all the flavours bursting on the tongue without searing the palate. There was also the Ajwain macchi curry, made Bohri style with cashew paste, although fish is not part of this cuisine.

The Bohra cuisine is more delicate in its flavours, less spicy and lighter too. The gravies were made of cashew instead of copious quantities of onions and garlic and ginger. The use of ‘garam masalas’ was minimal, which tend to otherwise dominate the flavours.

The vegetarian fare comprised paneer cheese, a lighter and more delicious version of the butter paneer. Bohri mixed vegetables had a delicate cashew based thick gravy. Bohri bhindi masala, with crunchy fried onions and tomatoes, held its own. There was also the masala batata, a potato dish. The mushroom do pyaza, though absolutely delicious, did not seem part of the Bohri traditional foods. But it is always hard to tell. Like all things, passage of time allows for a blurring of the differences. Gujrat is also home to a distinct Parsi cuisine, besides having its own traditional vegetarian styles. Also, the Bohras are a prosperous community, well read and well travelled. Like everything else, the food too reflects this.

Traditionally, a Bohra meal is served in a large ‘thaal’, served for a minimum of eight people, taking into account large joint families and community eating. While K3 at JW Mariott Aerocity, understandably, did not provide for that, it certainly makes the dining experience very pleasurable and relaxing. The testimony was in the large number of diners at the venue, happy children, noisy family members, loud laughter, along with us adding to the merriment shooting pictures of the dishes. It could also have something to do with the very nominal charges of the Buffets for such a large range of foods. The dessert counter is amazing too. The Bohri Food Festival is on until May 4, 2014. Three different menus are planned for the Bohri lunch, dinner and served cyclically.

Lunch: 12:30pm – 3:00pm, INR 1650 + tax

Dinner: 7:00pm – 11:00pm, INR 2100 + tax

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