A Taste of Bohri Thaal | Eid Special | Homemade in India

Bohri Thaal - Bohri Mohalla
Bohri Thaal - Bohri Mohalla
Bohri Thaal – Bohri Mohalla

A story about Bohri Thaal and Mumbai’s Bohri Mohalla where people live by the motto of ‘Live to Eat’.

Welcomed by cloudy skies, we found ourselves in Mumbai’s Bohri Mohalla, this Ramzan/Eid. This locality in South Mumbai is home to many Gujarati Muslim traders famously known as Bohras. Much like Punjabis, they ‘live to eat’, so it’s only fitting that I packed my bags to embark on a journey to explore homemade Bohri Cuisine.

I have no qualms in admitting, that I shamelessly self-invited myself to Zeba’s house. We met through my brother, Saurabh. She was his classmate and it was fun every time I met her in the past. Zeba lives near Bohri Mohalla with her family in a beautiful ancestral house where her father, Mr. Hasnain Changi, spent his childhood. Much like theirs, there are many families in the area that have been living here, in fascinating old houses that tell so many stories. A unique blend of cultures, the community speaks a distinct dialect derived from Gujarati and has food influences from Yemen-Gujarat with a variety of dishes in their traditional big Thaal.

Zeba had already taken us to the market area where we got our taste of Patvelia, Baida Roti, Naan Chaap, Chana Bateta, Malpua, Phirni, Ragda, Nihari and funky local cold drinks. However, I couldn’t wait to eat at her home. Saurabh has been to their house earlier and he spoke highly of the Biryani, Mrs. Sakina Changi (Zeba’s mother) had prepared.

As we crossed the busy lanes, I spotted numerous ladies clad in colourful traditional wear, shopping for beautifully cut fresh fruits and packets of hot Patvelia for Iftar. With azan from the masjid in the background, we crossed a mosque where people were praying. After climbing a flight of stairs, we were greeted by lovely Sakina Aunty, who was busy marinating chicken for Biryani and Zeba’s ever-smiling Granny.

Looking at the slight drizzle outside of the large open window, we had just taken our seat when Sakina Aunty treated us with Kharak. A delicious home made sweet prepared with dried dates, cooked with milk, sugar and dry fruits. The milk is cooked till it thickens and has a barfi like consistency, while the dates soften up. Covered in a silver foil, they were being served to all the guests in the house. Soon Mr. Shabbir and Mrs. Shenaz (Zeba’s Uncle and Aunty) and two of Zeba’s friends joined us.

Discussing various food traditions and dishes, Hasnain Uncle kept us entertained throughout. From Daal-Chawal Palida to Baingan Bharta to Kaari Ghosht, we discussed food at length. Hearing him talk about food with so much zeal, I could sense, Uncle himself could host a food show. Sakina Aunty along with Shenaz Aunty shared many cooking techniques and recipes, explaining each dish and its ingredients. I felt the rush of learning about a cuisine, which I knew nothing about. I got so fascinated with the recipe of Kaari Ghosht that Sakina Aunty actually got some of it for me to taste.

Kaari Ghosht is made with Coconut milk, Mutton and special Kaari Masala that’s mostly homemade or is only available in Bohri Marketplaces. The gravy made with a hint of curry patta, tasted familiar yet quite different and the mutton was so soft that it came off the bones effortlessly. I absolutely loved it. Give me a plate of rice with it and I am good to go.

Bohri Kaari Gosht - Bohri Food - Bohri Mohalla Mumbai
Bohri Kaari Gosht – Bohri Food – Bohri Mohalla Mumbai

Zeba, Gurjas and I along with her friends spent some fun time together as the food was being prepared. Ranjana (Zeba’s House help) changed into her party clothes and signaled us also to clean up and get set for the festival.

And then, it was time for us to sit for the meal we had gathered for. A small bowl carrying salt, sat in the middle of a big thaal that had been laid down in the middle of the living room. We all covered our heads and sat down for a fiesta. As per tradition, there is always an order to the food served. Starting off with one sweet, followed by an appetizer, followed by a sweet, another appetizer and then main courseThis was followed by fruits, dry fruits and cold drinks. The menu consisted of Sheer Khurma, Red Sauce grilled Chicken, Mango Ice Cream, Keema Samosa, Dum Chicken Biryani, Fruits, Dry fruits and Guava Juice.

I have no other way to put it, but I LOVED each dish and every flavour. I don’t think the Bohri market area can ever serve food as delicious as served at home.

As we started our meal with delish Sheer Khurma, a sweet dish made with milk, sugar, dry fruits and vermicelli, Sakina Aunty told me, that the vermicelli is roasted slightly brown before its added to the milk. The milk itself is cooked with pistachios, almonds and cashews and sugar before it’s mixed with vermicelli. One can also add saffron or rose water to enhance its flavour and it’s a must on Eid.

And the stars of the meal for me were Keema Samosa and Dum Biryani. Crunchy thin pastry filled with minced meat and fried to perfection – the Keema Samosas were divine. Served with a wedge of lime and tomato ketchup, the samosas were smaller in size compared to regular Punjabi ones. They were juicy, crunchy, rich and flavoursome at the same time. I was pleasantly surprised with the delicious combination of lime juice and samosas.

And the centerpiece of the meal for me was the Biryani. The room perked up with the cheers from the eaters when the aromatic Biryani arrived. Prepared with masala, finest rice, fried potato and chicken all cooked together on dum. A technique used in slow cooking, dum infuses flavour and aroma to a dish. Just like Kolkata Biryani, this too had Potatoes, however, they were fried. I can’t recall the amount of servings I had of this Biryani. With juicy chicken pieces, sinful potatoes and finger licking masala, I just couldn’t take my hands off it.

The highlight of both Keema Samosa and the Biryani was that both were given a distinct flavour of Dhungar – smouldering piece of coal upon which ghee is poured to enhance the flavours from the smoke produced. A common technique used in these two Bohri dishes.

I was sitting next to Hasnain Uncle and he and I definitely gorged on Biryani more than any other dish in the thaal. It was almost comical how even after having juice, we wanted a spoon full of biryani as we wanted the flavour of Biryani to stay. In him, I had found a partner who reacted to the food with as much excitement as I do.

And I can’t put in words the amount of gratitude I feel towards Sakina Aunty, Zeba and Ranjana. Not only did they prepare the feast, they served it with much happiness as we sat down to eat, around the thaal.

As much as I am craving for this food while writing about it, I am also missing Zeba and her lovely family. Well-travelled, eloquent, spirited and food loving people, meeting each one of them was an enriching experience. With this story, I got to learn about years of ancestral traditions about a community during the most important time of the year for them. And I can’t thank them enough for being so benevolent. I have come back home with great memories of Mumbai in the Monsoons.


Insider tips:

Best way to reach South Mumbai’s Bohri Mohalla and explore food in Bhendi Bazaar:

Nearest Railway Station : Mumbai Central / Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal

Nearest Railway station via Mumbai Local : Byculla

Nearest Airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport


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