Written by: Somdatta Saha
India is a melting pot of different cultures, traditions and cuisines, where almost every dish has a unique story to tell. Some culinary creations received global recognition, while some are yet to be explored. But what unifies them all is the rich history each and every regional cuisine carries along with it. In this article, we are going to explore the chronicles of one such communal cuisine – the Bohra cuisine. Belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community, this cuisine is a confluence of Gujarati, Arabic and Middle Eastern cooking styles.
Originating in Yemen, the early settlement of the Dawoodi Bohra community in India can be traced to the state of Gujarat, where the word Bohra is said to be derived from. In Gujarati, the word ‘Bohra’ stands for ‘vohrvu’ or ‘vyavahar’, which means – ‘to trade’. It is said that the name has a reference to the community’s traditional occupation (trading) that continues to this day.
Food and eating etiquettes play an important role in characterising the Bohra (or Bohri) culture, where people swear by ‘communal dining’ and ‘no food wastage’ policies. The Bohras live by the saying, ‘Many hands are a blessing’ and for dining, this is an encouragement to eat in company. The traditional Bohra way of eating together is around a steel thaal, the standard size of which is designed to accommodate a family or any group of 8 or 9 people during a communal dinner, says the description on a website dedicated to the Dawoodi Bohras (www.thedawoodibohras.com). It is also said that the ‘thaal’ is elevated by a stand called ‘tarakti’, which is placed on a square-sized cloth called ‘safra’.
A traditional Bohra meal starts with a pinch of salt, as per food experts. The Bohras believe that salt clears the gut, cleanses the palate and helps fight several diseases. What makes this cuisine yet more interesting is – unlike the conventional pattern of eating, here a meal starts with desserts and then goes on to the savouries. For the uninitiated, in Bohra dialect, desserts are called ‘mithaas’ and the savouries are termed ‘kharaas’. The savoury starters are then followed by the main course that includes biryani, kari-chawal, dal-chawal et al. The meal finally ends with a pinch of salt (again) and mouth-freshening paan, with various flavourings and nuts within.
‘It used to be the case that at a Bohra feast, 2 or more courses of kharaas and mithaas were served alternately, but now – to promote healthy eating and minimise waste – Bohras have been counselled to keep the number of sweet and savoury courses down and for public events there is to be no more than one each,’ the website (www.thedawoodibohras.com) adds. On that note, it is also said that to cut down on food-wastage during a communal dining, one has to finish a course completely before moving on to the next one.
Bohra cuisine has an array of unique recipes, which are available in various restaurants serving traditional Bohra food, especially in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Surat and Bengaluru. Some of the popular Bohra dishes include ‘lagan ni seekh’, ‘Bohri Biryani’, ‘Bohra khichda’, ‘sarki’, ‘dal na samosa‘ and more.
If you are a foodie and like to explore cuisines, then Bohra thali is a must on the list for your next food expedition.
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