A Bohra Feast

Ashvina Vakil

Five years ago a small group of food and wine lovers met in Shankar’s home for the first meet of the Pune Gourmet Club. From those tentative beginnings to now, five years later, the journey has been one of delightful culinary surprises and largely successful experiments with both food and wine.

Having traversed the gamut of cuisines, both international and Indian, we decided on a Bohra feast to celebrate the PGC’s fifth anniversary. The idea came from our two enthusiastic Bohra members – Mansoor Dalal and Husein Upletawala – and they took it upon themselves to decide on the menu and arrange for a well-known local caterer to serve up the feast on the traditional thaals.

Anniversary meets always attract large numbers and 70 plus members turned up at the Four Seasons clubhouse in Bhugaon (courtesy Abhay Wagle and Tara Maithreyan), ready to party. Buckets of chilling wine - Vinsura Brut, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Syrah -greeted members and their guests, who were instructed to gather in groups of six around the tables.

There was something about the atmosphere that turned a normally pretty well behaved bunch of people into rowdy revellers, and Shankar looked visibly harassed as the afternoon wore on. Mansoor, who tried to throw light on the history of the Bohra community and its culinary traditions, gamely gave up after trying to be heard above all the din! He realised that trying to subdue a group of happy imbibers wasn’t worth the effort – he might as well join in the revelry!

Traditionally, a Bohra family eats together out of one thaal, a large round metal plate on which food is served course by course; the idea is to promote unity and equality. PGC members, already bonding over wine, reacted to the thaals with surprising enthusiasm, although a few hastily stifled queries about quarter plates were heard!

The meal started with Smoked Chicken Samosas, Chicken Cream Tikka (chicken pieces fried with an egg batter) and Tandoori Potato with Kokum Chutney, and the mere whiff of the samosas seemed to send members into a frenzy. Only the novelty of the thaals managed to settle them down, and there was a momentary lull in decibel levels as they contemplated the offerings in front of them.

The Bohra meal is served in alternate sweet and savoury courses, starting and ending with a grain of salt. Sodanoo, cooked rice sprinkled with granulated sugar and ghee, and

Thuli (wheat and jaggery sweet) were next on the list, after which guests were free to dig into the Chana-Batata, and Dabba Gosht with mini parathas. Just as we were getting used to the savoury tastes, along came the Kesar-Badam-Pista sancha ice cream.

Pineapple Halwa and Jungbari Chicken Drumsticks with paratha followed, and by now we were eagerly entering into the spirit of things. All our conventional ideas about the order of dessert in a meal tossed aside, we waited for the Tuvar-Pulao with Mutton Palidu. It was certainly the highlight of the meal. Husein advised us to mix it with the Baingan Bharta, Papad, and Achaar and relish the ensuing mish-mash without being squeamish about it, and we are glad we took his advice!

Bohra food is a gentle intermingling of Arabic and Gujarati influences and interestingly, doesn’t sit heavy on the stomach. One of the advantages of eating out of a thaal is a certain restraint – courtesy demands you leave enough food for the others sharing your meal, and besides, no one wants to seem greedy with so many others watching your every move!

Copious amounts of wine were quaffed, with Good Earth’s Bleu (Cabernet Shiraz) and Bella (rose) also making an appearance during the course of the meal. The sound of corks popping was intermittently heard, as members toasted the anniversary with Vinsura’s Brut. As Rohan Mankani’s banner (thank you Rohan for the thoughtful gesture) declared, the PGC is about good food, wines and people. And on that Sunday in September, all three came together in joyful tandem!

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