Bohra Muslims are believed to have originally migrated from the Yemen to Gujarat in Western India and can now be found around the world. One principle that is central to the Bohra way of life is the idea that every member of the community should eat quality food – regardless of wealth. All Bohra households get their food from a FaizeMawaid-e-Burhani (local community center). Families pay what they can afford and food is supplied every day except Sundays.
Food plays a big part in the day-to-day lives of Bohra Muslims. With their roots in the Yemen and the first settlers making Gujarat their home, the Bohracuisine has been the influence of the food from both these areas.
As well as geographical influences, Bohra cooking also has its own distinctive style. Food is prepared and served in traditional ways and there are a number of rituals too. One tradition is the thaal – a large platter which holds enough food for eight people. The Bohra community is firm believers of eating together as a family, and the thaalprovides the perfect opportunity for this. Everyone sits on the floor,with the thaal as the center-piece, and helps themselves to the food.Beneath the platter is a square piece of cloth known as a Safra and on top of that is a stand which raises the tall from the ground.
Tradition dictates that the thaal should never be left unattended (or ignored) so it is not set out until at least one person is seated on the floor. And being a communal eating experience, it is only when all eight diners are seated that the food is served. Equally, diners can only get up once everyone finished eating. Dining is an experience that should be enjoyed and not rushed.
But it is not just the thaal which makes Bohracuisineso distinctive, there are unique rituals that also set it apart. One of these is the tradition of eating a grain or two of salt before eating a meal. This is said to clear the palate and prepare the taste buds for the cuisine. Another custom is to start the meal with a sweet dish. Instead of ending with a dessert each meal starts with a sweet – ice cream is particularly popular in the Bohra community. Other sweets include malida (made from wheat and jaggery) and kalamro (rice pudding made using yogurt).
Once the dessert has been eaten, a savory starter is served, followed by a main course. Both rice and meat feature heavily on the Bohra menu. Goat, chicken and lamb are enjoyed, but beef is generally avoided. The meal ends with another round of desserts before yet another round of salt to clear the palate and ward off disease.
If you are someone who likes to take their time over a meal and enjoy great food you should head to one of London’s fine-dining Indian restaurants. As well as beautifully prepared dishes you can also enjoy the atmosphere and experience of traditional Indian dining. Bring the family and if you want to start with a dessert, who’s stopping you?