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.