I was approached by one of my friends to share my thoughts and memories on Sindhi cuisine. Normally, I would have said no, but this time around, I tried to scuttle my way out of it by saying that I am not a foodie because that is what my daughter believes, and for obvious reasons. I show no excitement for food, and that earns her ire. She will happily give me a pasting (in words) if I do not react to her mother’s yummy food, which I normally don’t.
After having said no to my friend, I started pondering that am I actually not a foodie? Then who is not a foodie? I believe everyone is, albeit with varying degrees. I am privileged to be blessed with two amazing women who are wonderful cooks, and thanks to their culinary skills that I always have had the yummiest food served with love. Be it, my mother first, and now my wife, I must admit both have been a blessing. I can’t thank them enough. I am guilty of taking them for granted, though.
Since my friend’s request was to share memories, I had second thoughts. Nostalgia gives me a kick and brings a smile to my face. So I thought, why not pen my memories around Sindhi cuisine.
A majority of my life has been spent in metropolis cities that are melting pot of varied cultures. As you know, Sindhi’s aren’t a vast populace, so its food culture remains mainly under wraps. I had spent my childhood on the outskirts of Mumbai (then Bombay) in a place called Ulhasnagar, where I was born and did most of my primary schooling. Ulhasnagar was one of the refugee centres at the time of partition, and so it is dominated by Sindhis, who migrated from undivided India in 1947.
My earliest memory of Sindhi food was the breakfast item called Daal or Chola Dhabal (Pav). There would be enterprising people out with their carts with about three aluminium handis placed on a charcoal burner on the streets. One handi used to have cooked chana daal, another one chickpeas (super soft, treated with tea powder to give it a dark colour) and the third handi had moong daal. He would also have containers with finely cut onions, chutney, pickle and coriander leaves as condiments as per his clientele’s taste. He would have many ladis of pav (it was called dhabal – double roti in Bambaiya). It was the most filling breakfast for us on Sunday mornings.
Pav with either daal or chola or mixed. And this yummy delicacy cost just for 25 paise back in the early 70s. Yes, yes, 25 paise! Unbelievable, isn’t it. My parents sent me with a rupee note (it was a note back then) to get the daal-chola-dhabal for the entire family. And so was the popularity of this that you would find all neighbourhood lining up for this breakfast.
Check this video to see how popular this item was for Sindhis. It is not as widely available now, but the memories are so fresh in my mind.
Two other Sindhi delicacies that have retained their popularity are Daal-Pakwan and Koki. These are widely available in metropolitan cities (we get them in Dubai too) and are very popular amongst other communities. The drill for Daal-Pakwan is the same – handis with the same ingredients. The pav is replaced by deep-fried layers of dough made of maida and is deep fried. On the other hand, Koki is like a paratha but with onions and spices mixed with dough and roasted on tawa on low flame. It is served best with yoghurt. Both, Daal-Pakwan and Koki are mainly breakfast items but are quite filling.
Another lesser-known Sindhi food is lotus stem or Kamal Kakdi. We call it bhee. It’s a Sindhi delicacy and is not easily available in the market. It’s priced more than other vegetables. Cleaning and cooking it is a task. And you must know how to relish it.
My friend asked me why do Sindhis add potato to all vegetables. Well, I don’t have an answer to it. What I know is that we are fond of eating a good quantity of bhajis (veggies) at every meal. To increase the amount of the vegetables, you add potato to it as a universal add along. In fact, potato in black pepper and cardamom curry is a popular dish during the big Ekadashi called Gyars in Sindhi.
Another potato delicacy of Sindhis is called Aloo-Tuk; a simple dish that goes perfect with Daal-Chawal. Potato would feel left out, so we add brinjal for the company. And it reminds me of another Sindhi breakfast delicacy called Seyun-Patata (sweet vermicelli with Aloo-Tuk).
Another breakfast delicacy in our home (me and my brother’s favourite) is Seyal Mani. It is made of leftover chappatis cooked with garlic, onion and tomato. Such was the craze for this delicacy that my brother would tell mom to make more chappatis for dinner to have leftover chappatis for the following day. This dish doesn’t taste the same with freshly made chappatis. When I moved to Muscat for a job, I came across this dish called Kuttu Paratha. Similar, but nowhere close to the yummy ‘Seyal Mani’ that my mother used to prepare.
In the Sindhi festival called Thadri, you are not supposed to light stove/gas and have to consume cold food. Delicacies are thus made the previous day and consumed the whole day of Thadri. It’s a much-deserved rest day for ladies and family would have fun by playing cards and other games while relishing Thadri special food.
As they say, karoge yaad toh har baat yaad aayegi. The gastronomic trip has left me nostalgic and I food and those times. There are so many more Sindhi dishes viz. Sai Bhaji, Bhuga Chawal, Sindhi Kadhi, Tayri, and the list goes on and on. I now realise that if I start recounting and writing about all the Sindhi dishes, I will need to write a book.
Last but not least, the most popular Sindhi delicacy is and will forever remain – papad. It is believed that Papad is originally a Sindhi item and was adapted by various other communities, and Lijjat made it a household name in India. No meal would be complete without papad, and hence a Sindhi household would have papad as the first item on their grocery list. Papad making is a tedious exercise, and many Sindhi ladies used to make papads and pickles as business to cater to the heavy demand.
The most popular Sindhi delicacy is the all-time favourite papad. It is believed that a Papad is a Sindhi item and was adapted by other communities in India. No meal in a Sindhi household is complete without papad, and it is the first item on their grocery list. Paniwari Khatair or water pickle is another Sindhi speciality. It is made of turnips and doesn’t contain a drop of oil.
So am I a foodie? I think I am now with all these memories gushing in. I just realised that Sindhis do have a long list of delicacies. My wife will surely hate me for placing a request for Seyal Mani and Gyars Patata, and I must thank my friend for making me revisit these lovely food memories.
(Cover image by Ritesh Uttamchandani)
The sweet taste of success
Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia | Mumbai
Mumbai-based Uttamchandani sibling trio – Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia – had a rather sweet initiation into the home-grown food business with Sev Mithai or Singharji Mithai and Mohanthal, both traditional Sindhi desserts during the lockdown months. Ritesh was keen that Shirley become a home chef and start her business because the siblings were known for their Sindhi food among their friends and acquaintances. “It was always a super hit with everyone during the get-togethers but I was quite wary of log kya kahenge, especially the traditional Sindhis,” recounts Shirley.
Ritesh wanted to share Sev Barfi with his friends on his birthday, and it was then that the idea first emerged. “It was around Ritesh’s birthday on July 30, 2020, that this idea first came up for discussion among us after one of his friends requested for it. We were thrilled to bits about the concept as we had received encouraging reviews from our friends to our food pop-ups. So we started the home delivery of mithais,” says Shirley. The trio was wary of people’s reaction, especially from the traditional Sindhis, but the sweet taste tickled their taste buds too, apart from finding favour among the non-Sindhis.
“The response that we got was unbelievable! I was making big thals of Sev Barfi every day, not once or twice but even thrice. Every single person loved this flavourful sweet,” says Shirley. It tickled the taste buds of even the non-Sindhis. “Some of them were kind enough to heap praises by saying that it is better than Tharu’s at Bandra and Jhama Sweets at Chembur. Well, being even compared to these legendary sweet shops itself was a huge compliment,” says Sonia, adding, “Also, because we are using elaichi (cardamom) and kesar (saffron) generously.”
On the menu
Since then, their business has grown manifold, and they have had several additions to the menu, including traditional Sindhi foods such as Daal-Pakwan-Aloo Tikki, Sindhi Kadhi-rice-aalo tuk, Kokis, sanha pakoras, Sindhi mitha lolas, gajar ka halwa, Kaju barfi, seyal machi (fish), bhee alu,etc.
The culinary skill among the Uttamchandani siblings is hereditary. “My parents were wonderful cooks. Papa used to make finger-licking kadhi teevan (mutton) and fish till about he was 80. He always insisted on moderate use of spices so that the taste of vegetables retain its flavour. My mother used to cook amazing food. Her nieces and nephews settled abroad used to come and visit us because she used to pamper them with yummy chole kokis, sanha pakoras and mitha lolas and carrot and onion pickles made in Sindhi style,” says Sonia with a tinge of nostalgia.
Sonia highlights how most of the upmarket eating places don’t have even Sindhi food added to their menu like south Indian, Punjabi or even Chinese, and that’s sad.
Ritesh attributes the rising popularity of Sindhi food among non-Sindhis to curiosity. “Over the years, our food culture has been influenced by other cuisines, and it has travelled to different parts of the world. It bodes well because, unlike the generation before mine that thinks it is diluting our culinary delights. I believe it is assimilation. Each Sindhi household has modified the dishes a bit, and still there’s a lot that remains the same,” he says. The Sev Mithai uses Sev as the main ingredient, and Sev is also used in the Kachchi dish, Sev Tamatar. Even Maharashtrians use Sev, so there are similarities, yet all the Sev dishes are different.
Their speciality is jaggery-based Sev Mithai. “Jaggery and milk are quite tricky to handle together but it’s Ritesh’s creative mind and the courage to experiment that has made this mithai a possibility and a success with those who don’t want to consume processed sugar. And this food experiment helped us even to make jaggery-based Mohanthal, which feels much lighter than the sugar version,” explains Shirley. Uttamchandani siblings have added orange-flavoured Sev Barfi as their next experiment.
“Food has made possible such beautiful connections. People whom I have never met have become good friends of ours now. I am glad that our offerings have found a home in each of our client’s palate and plate,” chirps in Shirley, who can’t imagine how all of it started and how our food and sweets have so far reached more than 300 homes! “The connections that we have made are simply priceless. It is everyone’s love and God’s grace that has kept us motivated,” add Uttamchandanis.
Archana Manwani in the Capital loved to host non-Sindhi friends for lunches and dinners. “It was their encouragement that led to this food business. I take orders 24 hours prior because I prepare my food with specially sourced ingredients, be it vegetables or spices,” she says, adding that she learned traditional ways of cooking from her grandmother and mother-in-law.
Manwani, who is registered on mother’s food app, Sindhinama, and runs her business through a Facebook page, is quite keen to promote Sindhi cuisine among Delhiites.
“I approached Director of Tourism, Delhi Government, to allot a stall in Dilli Haat for promotion of Sindhi cuisine. We got no response from him even after two reminders.”
The FSSAI licensed home chef explains how Sindhi food is distinct in its typical preparation of food in sehal style (pan fried onion and tomatoes with vegetables like bhindi, baingan tinda, gobhi, etc). “Spices like jeera, sarson, khaskhas, amchoor, anardana and imli are quite common in our food,” she says.
Her special Sindhi dishes include:
Besni Bhaji: chickpea floor tillkis made in onions and khas khas deep fried and then sehal style.
Methi Meha Muthdiya: A traditional sindhi dish muthdiya made of wheat flour and steamed and the cooked with methi leaves and tinda.
Sai Bhaji/Bhuga Chawar/Took Patata; Kadhi Chawar; Sehal Bhaji Dhodho.
On special occasions, it is Dal Pakwan, Tikki Dabal Chola, and Seyoo Patata.
Giving a rundown of how she got into the business, Mumbai-based home chef Poonam Shahani, who runs Mamma’s Cucina, says, “I used to cook for my family and friends of my children. Their compliments made me realise how so many of these dishes have never even been tried before. I started to realise that not many people are aware of what Sindhi food entails. And there’s a dearth of places that serve Sindhi food unless you visit one of the Sindhi camp areas in Mumbai.”
“Sindhi culture is getting lost somewhere. The younger generations don’t know how to cook Sindhi food. For the younger Sindhis, this food is like a piece of old memory served with love and platter. The flavour of my foods is clean and simple. I avoid using too much oil or ghee and customise spices according to a person’s taste. It reminds them of home and home-cooked food. The response has been great among non-Sindhis too! There is a Parsi man here who orders mutton and paya curry almost every other day.”
Sindhi food has a hint of Muslim influences, when it comes to our biryanis and mutton curries. This is because Muslim Sindhis and Hindu Sindhis lived together in pre-partition Sindh. In non-veg, the food in demand include Sindhi Mutton Basar Mein, Sayal Tewaran, Photewaro or Elaichi Kaare Mirchi Mein Mutton, Sindhi Paaya, Sindhi Mutton, Peas Keema, Sayal Green Masala Mein Machi while in veg, it is Sindhi Kadhi, Aaloo Took, Saibhaji, Toor Khati Daal, Dahi Curry, Bhi Aaloo Makwana ji Bhaji, Sindhi Veg Briyani Koki, and Daal Pakwan.
“I think it’s a mix of things. We use many vegetables that are nother otherwise found in other cuisines. We have a sabzi made of lotus stem called bhee aloo. We use drumsticks in Sindhi kadhi. We also use a technique to allow food to cook in its own juices called teewan. Teewan is essentially a gravy made of tomatoes, onions and spices. We make rice with it (seyal teewan), bread (seyal dabroti), roti (seyal mani) and mutton. We also prepare mutton curry with pepper and cardamom called Fote Bhugi Mutton,” says Shahani.
Chef Satyajit Kotwal of Satyajit’s Kitchen
Apart from having a unique flavour of its own, Sindhi food has an unmistakable mark of dynasties like Arabs and Mughal. The koftas biryanis and meat curries got infused into Sindhi cuisine during that time.
They have a popular way of cooking Daagh, Seyal, Saye Masaley Main, and Dhaas, unique to their own culture. The distinction that sets it apart from other cuisines lies in cooking, which includes slow cooking technique, layering of herbs and spices with the right combination of sweet and savoury taste.
Under vegetarian, my favourite would include Dhaas vegetables which are stuffed vegetables; it could be okra, apple gourds, capsicum, etc. Another one is Daagh which is a Sindhi curry prepared with brown onions. Seyal is another veg Sindhi breakfast prepared from leftover bread or rotis in a spicy or tangy curry-like gravy. Sindhi Kadhi is a unique and special dish prepared on festive occasions. It consists of a thick spicy gravy made from chickpea flour, unlike buttermilk, usually used for kadi preparation along with seasonal vegetables. Drinks that are famous with the Sindhis include thadal (made from almonds and poppy seeds), Khirni (hot drink made with milk, flavours of cardamoms and saffron), sharbat which is made from rose petals or sandalwood.
In non-veg, Bhuna Mutton is a famous Sindhi main course meal. Popular Sindhi biryanis and meat curries have a mix of flavor from the Arabs and Mughals. Pallo Machi is another popular Sindhi delicacy; it is Hilsa fish prepared with numerous cooking methods. It can be deep fried and garnished with local spices, can be cooked with onions and potatoes into a traditional fish meal or barbequed.
Different methods of Sindhi food preparations:
Sindhi foods are simple, and the flavour of vegetables is retained due to the minimum use of spices. Most common type of Sindhi cooking is Daag Mein, which is onion-tomato-based-curries. This method brings out the sweetness of caramelised onions to provide a balanced flavour to the curries. Another way of cooking is called Seyal where the amount of onions are added more than that of vegetables. The sliced or diced onions are cooked till translucent.
Saye Masale Mein is a Sindhi way of food preparation where a lot of coriander leaves are used along with garlic, ginger and green chillies and are cooked with grated tomatoes and spices. This mixture is basically used as a base in many Sindhi preparations.
Another popular method of Sindhi cooking is Daas, where whole vegetables like apple gourds, bitter gourds or capsicum are stuffed with a mixture of grated onion and Sindhi pesto and cooked till tender.
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
1) What is the influence of other cuisines on Sindhi food?
Sindhi cuisine is a result of many influences. Since Balochistan touches the border of Sindh, and so does Punjab, there is bound to be an immigration of ideas. Pre-partition played a crucial role in shaping Sindhi cuisine. This cuisine also has some impact on the Mughals, Arabs, and Turks since all these dynasties ruled the Sindh province once. As Sindh was once part of India, Indian cuisine also has a significant influence on it.
2) What sets Sindhi cuisine apart from others? Is it their way of using vegetables, spices, or their way of cooking?
I feel it’s an amalgamation of both! They have a unique style of cooking and have their favourites when it comes to the addition of masalas. They like to play with the base of their dishes. Their most classic recipes either have a tomato or onion base or a ginger-garlicky with a heavy dose of spiciness. Yes! Sindhis like their food spicy. But, not all their food is fiery, there’s an array of sweets, snacks, and breads too in this wonderful cuisine to pick from. When it comes to vegetables, leafy greens like spinach (palak), fenugreek leaves (methi) & dill (savaa), and others like ladyfingers (bhindi), potatoes (aloo) & drumsticks (seeng) are extensively used. Apart from this, accompaniments are also imperative in a typical Sindhi meal. Dishes such as fried potatoes or fried bhindi, papads, dahi, sweet boondi, etc., are the most common ones.
3) What are the items that are your favourite?
My favourite food is Dal Pakwan but not forget their simple sabzi like bhindi bashar or the yummy sai bhaji… dishes like koki n lola feature on my breakfast menu some days. Another classic item that I love and will have soon during Holi is Gheeyar.
4) How is Sindhi Kadhi different from other Kadhis?
Sindhi Kadhi is so flavorful which is made using tomatoes and some besan but what I like the most is the veggies that go in it, gavar and bhindi. The element of dahi is missing in a Sindhi kadhi.