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.