Flavours from Bohra culinary tradition

Food Nilanjan Hajra
Eat-Well
Bohra culinary tradition

A whole family eating together is a common Islamic tradition in many parts of the world. However, the Dawoodi Bohra culinary tradition has such tale-tell signs that you can recognize if the family belongs to that community with just a glance of how the members begin to eat their food. Bohras not only have a distinct custom of partaking their meals, but they also have fascinating traditional recipes, both vegetarian and nonvegetarian.

Dawoodi Bohras belong to the Ismaili branch of Shia Islam. And the community traces their history to the Fatimid Caliphate, named after venerated Fatimah, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The leader who guides them is known as al-dai al-Mutallaq. The ruler of Yemen Arwa al-Sulahi (1048-1138) created the first independently operational office of al-dai al-Mutallaq in 1134 CE. From Yemen the Dawoodi Bohras have spread to 40 countries around the globe. The largest number of them live in India’s Gujarat province. They also have significance presence in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Egypt.

Customs of Bohra culinary tradition

Bohra culinary tradition mandates that members of a traditional Bohra Community will always sit around one huge plate, known as Thal, and eat together from it. Indeed, that’s one way of quickly recognizing them. And there are a few more unmistakable markers. The members should ideally cover their heads while eating. The Bohra culinary tradition includes a custom of tasting a pinch of salt before anything else. Each person will taste salt saying Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Rahim.

In terms of serving of food, as per Bohra culinary tradition sweets, calls ‘mithas’ are starters and not desserts. ‘Kharas’ or savoury dishes such as Kababs will follow sweets. Then comes the main meal.

Once the meal is over, everyone will again taste a pinch of salt and utter Alhumdulillah! Non can leave before everyone around the Thal finishes eating.

The food from Bohra culinary tradition

Rice and wheat play major roles in Bohra culinary tradition. Some of their mind-blowing main meal dishes include: Bohra Khichra (mutton in beaten wheat), Kheema Khichri (Minced meat in rice), Mutton Kari Chawal (Rice served with mutton in spiced coconut milk), and of course the vegetarian Dal Chawl Palidu (Rice in lentil and flour-based stew of drumstick or bottle gourd).

Among the famous Bohra soups are Sarki and Sarka. Sarki is Toor Dal (pigeon pea lentil) with cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and curd. And Sarka the later, more hot, is Toor Dal with groundnut and coconut.

Bohra culinary tradition includes various kinds of breads such as Gol Roti, simple flat-pan baked Indian flatbread seasoned with ghee and served with Gol (jaggery). Bohras make Gakhar breads with steamed wheat-dough baked on flat-pans. And Kheema Naans are breads baked with minced meat and whole spices.

Among delectable Bhora Mithas are Dudhi nu Doodh (grated bottle gourd cooked in milk and sugar), Khajla Barfee (puff pastry with flavoured highly condensed milk), Kalamra (mashed boiled rice with chironjee, pomegranates and pistachios).

Kharas include Cutlace (dip-fired mince-meet chops with spices) and Kheema ni Samosa (Samosas stuffed with spiced mince-meet).

We will end the piece by cooking one of the finest delicacies of the Bohra culinary tradition: Lagan ni Seekh.

LAGAN NI SEEKH (For four)

  • 450 minced meat (beef/mutton)
  • 3 potatoes, sliced thin
  • 2 onions sliced thin
  • 1 tomato sliced thin
  •  ginger paste 1 tbsp
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  •  3 green chillies, chopped
  • 1 small bunch mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 small bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Spring onion 1 stick cup, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 tsp paprika powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1.5 tsp garam masala
  • 4 eggs, smoothly beaten
  • 4 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp white oil

Method

  • Fry sliced onion till deep golden
  • Mix minced meat with ginger-garlic paste, salt, green chillies, cumin, coriander, garam masala, paprika, red chilli powder, chopped spring onions, cilantro, mint, 1 beaten egg, and the fried onion. Marinate meat overnight.
  • Keep the sliced potatoes and tomatoes at hand.
  • Grease a deep baking tray with ghee.
  • Arrange a thin layer of potato slices covering the tray.
  • Beat remaining three eggs with salt and pepper.
  • Pour the beaten eggs on the potatoes.
  • Pre-heat oven at 400 F
  • Put the tray in the oven and bake till the eggs settle to white.
  • Spread the marinated minced meat on the egg-baked potatoes. Add another layer of sliced potatoes. Cover the top with sliced potatoes.
  • Heat ghee in a pan. Drizzle the tray with the hot ghee.
  • Put the tray back in oven, bake until the meat is cooked through (about 30 mnts).
  • Garnish with mint leaves.
  • Serve with any Bohri plain bread.