Although food is integral to human survival, for Bohras it boils down to much more. After faith and culture, it is food that binds us together, brings us together. If there’s a community in Mumbai which truly lives by the maxim of ‘Live to eat’ rather than ‘Eat to live’, it is the Dawoodi Bohras. The Bohras believe that any occasion is an occasion to break bread together and this in essence is both their joie de vivre and the raison d’ etre of their existence.

Bohra Mulims and their distinctive cuisine and eating practices.

A Bohra meal begins by passing the salt. And it is only after each partaker seated around a big platter has tasted it that the first course is served.

The entire Bohra family dines out of one platter called the thaal. It can typically accommodate eight people. It is elevated with a tarakti (stand) placed on a square piece of cloth called a safra, laid out on the floor. The thaal should not be left unattended, so it is not placed until at least one person is seated for a meal.

During a community meal, food is not served until all eight diners are present, because the portions served are just right for eight. Each dish is placed in the centre of the thaal and every member pulls his or her share. Bohras have a no-wastage policy. Not a single grain of rice is left on the plate when it is taken away.

Outside the home, women and men sit at different thaals and eat using the right hand. Usage of the left hand is taboo in the thaal, even if is to pick up a spoon to scoop out ice cream.

All heads should be covered during a meal and Bohra women do so with their pardis (veils) that are part of their traditional brightly coloured and beautifully embroidered or appliquéd ridas, which are worn in place of the abaya. Bohra men are easy to identify in their white topis (head caps) with golden embroidery. Once everyone is seated, one serving member walks with water in a chelamchi lota (a kind of basin and jug) for everyone to wash their hands.

Tasneem’s Kings Kitchen is a joint effort of Tasneem who started out with home catering in Kathmandu and soon joined hands with Abbas Nalwala who runs Kings Kitchen, Mumbai’s leading Bohra caterer serving traditional Bohra jaman to Masjids and Mohallas across Mumbai everyday.

Let the feast begin…

Interestingly, the first, though not the only, course is dessert.

Bohras consider it auspicious to begin their meal with a sweet dish. In the Bohra language, all desserts are called mithaas and the savoury dishes kharaas. Bohras love ice cream, so it is served first, unless it’s celebration time, when the sodannu (cooked rice with ghee and sugar) takes the first place.

A meat starter follows and gives way to another dessert. At a Bohra wedding, several courses of kharaas and mithaas are served alternately, but on an ordinary day at home, one round of starters and two desserts is the norm Bohra families follow before the main course, or jaman, appears. Jaman can include a meat dish, which is eaten with chapattis or parathas, and a rice dish that could be anything from a biriyani to kaari chaawal (curry with rice) to dal chaawal palidu (lentil rice with curry).

Besides the usual accompaniment of a raita, soup could also be served with the rice. And when it’s time for the jaman to end, it is also time to bring in another round of dessert. But that’s not all. Dry fruits and paan (betel leaves) are a must before the family members taste the salt again to cleanse their tongues. Bohras believe that salt cures us of 72 diseases.

For Bohras, consuming meat is not only a matter of taste but also an act of piousness. Goat, lamb and chicken are relished, while beef is avoided. Certain types of fish are also eaten, but they have to be caught alive and can be killed only after the saying of “Bismillah” to make it halal.

No celebration in a Bohra home is complete without dal chaawal palidu and sodannu. The first day of Muharram is celebrated with a thaal full of 28 to 52 dishes. This is to ensure abundance in the ensuing year. Lachka – crushed and boiled wheat and roasted semolina with oodles of butter, jaggery and dry fruits – is an integral part of this meal. Khichda, a richly flavoured combination of lentils and mutton, garnished with green garlic, is a must on the 10th day of Muharram. Gol sherbet, a lemonade in which jaggery replaces sugar, is garnished with tukmuria seeds and especially relished during Ramadan.

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