At first glance Bohri cuisine with its abundant use of meat, especially lamb, wide variety of kebabs, signature khichdi and biryani may seem a lot like Hyderabadi cuisine. But a meal at Radisson Blu’s Chill where Chef Abdul Hameed is whipping out a traditional Bohri spread will ensure a change of opinion. Where Hyderabadi cuisine is defined by a generous use of spice, especially red chilli and saffron, meat is the star of a Bohri dish, and the use of spice is never overpowering. Ask Chef Abdul Hameed this and he is quick to make a comparison, 'Unlike other Muslim weddings where traditional dishes are limited to biryani, rice, rotis, curries and gajar ka halva, a Bohri wedding or party will have a wide variety of food which is a mix of middle-eastern and Indian cuisine. We don’t use red chilli in any of our preparations,' he explains. 'The community’s food has evolved so much from their roots in Yemen that it now has an identity of its own. 'If Bohri food is to be cooked in the Middle East, they call an Indian Chef,' adds Abdul Hameed, who has been cooking for the last 15 years. Orginally from Bahraich, Abdul Hameed moved to Mumbai, the seat of Bohri cuisine.
The middle-eastern influences can be seen in their use of pulses like chickpeas and broken wheat in the non-meat dishes. The popular Arabic dessert Sigari Boregi, a cheese filled pastry roll find its Indian variant in the Bohri kitchen. Lubia and a preparation of eggplant with yoghurt can be found in the spread. The dabba ghosht, a signature and much loved Bohri dish is a combination of succulent lamb, spices and macaroni, sealed with egg and baked. The use of egg is another key feature of Bohri cuisine. Their version of the chicken kebab is marinated, cooked in a handi, coated with egg and then fried, unlike the usual kebabs which are cooked in a tandoor.
Traditionally, a Bohri meal is eaten out of a large steel plate called the thaal. 'Eight people can eat out of one thaal,' informs Abdul Hameed, adding that it is a way to ensure that food does not go waste. This model of community eating is a feature of most Arabic and North African traditions. Another interesting ritual is that the Bohri meal starts with a pinch of salt, followed by sweets. 'After sweets we have something light, like chicken kebabs and then move onto the main course. We begin and end our meals with a sweet and a pinch of salt,' he explains.
Ask him what the signature dish of the day is and he tells you that every dish is special. Those who have exhausted the list of haleem to try out this season should definitely try the Bohri variation – Mutton Khichri, made with rice instead of broken wheat. A vegetarian version of this is available as well. The Bohri khichri on the other hand is a light mutton pulao. The Bohri biryani is characterised by a distinct smoked flavour. Chef Tanmay of Radisson Blue informs is that the meat is smoked before it is put in Dum.
The festival does not restrict itself to strictly traditional items. A live counter sells ‘Unclewali sandwiches’, a grilled vegetable sandwich popular with the Bohri community in Pune. This will be a treat for the vegetarians. Live counters also include one for Baida roti, a paratha stuffed with mutton or chicken and coated with egg before roasting. Those with a sweet tooth may do well by leaving ample room for dessert; you will need it for the rich Kajoor Halva and Annanas pudding.
The Bohri food festival will be open for dinner at Chill, Radisson Blue, Banjara Hills till August 15.